The work of the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) this year has already gone a long way to improving the future prospects for young players so that they, unlike me, won't have to rely on other four-year- old geldings. The main achievement of the year has been to secure an increase in the minimum annual salary for a capped player from pounds 14,500 to pounds 18,500 for 1996.
David Graveney, the first full-time general secretary of the PCA, and his executive of Alan Fordham (Northamptonshire) and Matthew Fleming (Kent), also agreed attractive new pension arrangements for players. In the past, the counties have paid five per cent of a player's annual salary into a fund which on retirement has yielded for most only a one-off lump sum payment of little more than a year's pay. From next year, the counties' contribution doubles and, with players also paying five per cent, the end result will be an annual payment from when a player calls it a day of around a quarter of his last season's salary. This change from a lump sum payment is a real breakthrough. It provides for a proper income on retirement.
The one down side to the new pay rates for 1996 is that they increase the pressure on counties to award young players their county caps. In the past, caps have been given out in recognition of an outstanding performance or for consistency over a period of time.
Increasingly, it is becoming a way of keeping young players financially content who may otherwise become tempted by offers from neighbours. This was not the case for the two Northants 'youngsters', Richard Montgomerie and Russell Warren, both capped recently in their first full season. Although I thought they were given their caps a little early, Allan Lamb believed it would give them confidence for the rest of the season.
It all comes back to the benefit system. The award of a cap is crucial because it starts the clock ticking for the 10-year wait before a player has the chance to tap his supporters' appreciation for a decade of good service and put something away for when he retires.
The benefit system is not good for English cricketers or the game as a whole. I take my hat off to Kent's wicketkeeper, Steve Marsh, who, in addition to overseeing his benefit year, is captaining the side in the absence of Mark Benson. It is amazing he has not suffered the dip in form that some beneficiaries have experienced.
The PCA is younger and less well established than the footballers' equivalent, but the improvements it has secured are a sign that it is growing in strength. Graveney visited the Professional Footballers' Association at the beginning of the year for some guidance on how best to approach negotiations.
After the successes of 1995, the first item on the agenda for the new year ought to be the review of an outdated system that encourages players to hang on at counties for a big pay-day, stifling the development of young players, and despite the efforts of benefit committees, takes others with plenty still to contribute pretty much out of the county game for a season.
I spoke to Ashley Metcalfe, Yorkshire's beneficiary, after our success against them in the NatWest semi-final last week. He has not played that much this summer and was out first ball in the game, so I consoled him with the thought that at least he raised pounds 3,000 with the collection from the full house at Headingley. He assured me that he would much rather have had a place in the final at Lord's than the money. The point is that he should not have to choose. Or have to rely on donkeys running well at Hereford.