James Anderson and Stephen Harmison, two of England's brightest young fast bowlers, gained reward for their encouraging performances during the winter when they were awarded central contracts by the England and Wales Cricket Board yesterday.
The two six-month contracts will cover this summer's international programme, when England are scheduled to play in seven Tests and a one-day series against Zimbabwe and South Africa, along with three limited-over games against Pakistan.
There are now 11 players contracted to the ECB. However, unlike Nasser Hussain, Alec Stewart, Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Mark Butcher, Andrew Flintoff, Andrew Caddick, Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard, who have 12-month contracts and are paid solely by the ECB, Anderson and Harmison will continue to draw a salary from their counties as well as from the Board.
That only two additional players have been awarded contracts shows the ECB's belt-tightening following England's refusal to play their World Cup match against Zimbabwe in Harare which will cost the Board over £1m.
"The thinking behind the awarding of these central contracts was two-fold," David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, said. "Firstly, to recognise the achievements of our young players and secondly to enable the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, to manage the amount of cricket our players are involved in.
"For both cricketing and financial reasons the selectors have only made two additions to the nine players already contracted up to this autumn."
To give the two contracts to young fast bowlers is a wise decision because it is they who need the greatest protection from county cricket's heavy workload. Under the guidance of Fletcher and through consultation with their county coaches, English cricket now has the ideal opportunity to nurture the 20-year-old Anderson and the 24-year-old Harmison.
"It's great news and I'm really thrilled to have got a contract for the summer," Anderson said. "The challenge for me now is to try and win a regular place in the Test side and carry on from where I left off in the winter."
England's first Test of the summer is against Zimbabwe at Lord's but it is events off the field that are expected to grab the headlines. Campaigners who oppose Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe have stated they intend to demonstrate at and disrupt each of the matches they play on the tour.
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