The benefit year system breeds greed in cricket and is bad for the county game, and therefore the Test game

INSIDE CRICKET
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As a fellow spinner of increasing years, I took some pleasure in seeing the "veteran" John Emburey give a good account of himself in the Old Trafford Test a month before his 43rd birthday. In general, cricketers are not well paid. It is reassuring to see that at least some can keep going into their forties and hopefully put away a decent sum for retirement in the process.

The Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) is moving to try to improve the lot of the county player by securing an increase in the official minimum wage for a capped player. At the moment, he earns at least pounds 14,500, but the intention is to boost that by 25 per cent in 1996 achieving a minimum of over pounds 18,000. This would secure for the players some of the money that has come into the game in the last 12 months from satellite television.

At the moment, career cricketers have to rely on benefit seasons for the money that gives some security for the day when they have to retire. Even though I am the Northamptonshire beneficiary this year, I don't agree with the system. In truth, the Test players playing for counties based in big cities got richer from it and the average county player relatively poorer.

It would be much better if the PCA, the Test and County Cricket Board and the counties got together to ensure that a six-figure sum was put aside for all first-class professionals when they reach 40. There is certainly the money in the game today to make this provision for everyone. The existing pension arrangements, where contributions paid by the county yield a player little more than one annual salary on his 40th birthday, are inadequate.

The benefit breeds greed and is bad for the county game, and therefore the Test game. Sometimes players stay in the game when they have just about achieved all they are going to achieve because a benefit is around the corner, depriving a young talent, and maybe a future international, a county contract and valuable experience.

Even cricketers who have a good few years left in them - and plenty to offer the game - are affected by the pressures of the benefit. When their turn comes their contribution is consequently diluted. Despite the good work of the beneficiary's committees around the country the pressure of organising and attending events builds up on the beneficiary, affects performance and takes up time that could be spent with young cricketers.

It is even worse for players outside the big cities. I had four events in five days last week, rewarding but exhausting. For one of them, a six- a-side Pro-Am, I had to call on the services of some of the team that played Warwickshire over the weekend, hardly an ideal preparation for such a big game.

Some of these players will already be thinking about the winter and new contracts. The financial pressure on players makes this inevitable. This is also bad for their game as it distracts young cricketers from the task of improving technique and fulfilling potential. There are only so many jobs abroad for them and many face a winter away from the game, sometimes on the dole. Even those who do get one of the few cricket jobs abroad, usually in Australian Grade cricket or South Africa, may suffer some burn-out from 12-month cricket, damaging a promising career.

One idea to help young players would be for the TCCB to salary some for the winter and place them in schools to supervise indoor nets. This would help with the development of the next generation and keep players thinking about their game instead of signing on. Some players do spend winters with schools already but the response to their contribution from schoolmasters is sometimes lukewarm. As an alternative, players could be attached to clubs, where enthusiasm would be guaranteed, to look after their promising youngsters.

The increase in the minimum salary for a capped player, for which the PCA is aiming, will surely come. But the benefit year system also needs a close look. When the authorities are considering the structure of the County Championship and its competitiveness, personal finances are often overlooked in the search for ways of improving it, and, with it, ultimately the Test team.

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