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England players 'substantially underpaid'
England players are "substantially underpaid" and require far greater compensation for missing out on the riches available in T20 leagues around the world, according to the chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA), the players' union.
Angus Porter is one of the key men charged with negotiating England's central contracts and he feels there is a chasm to be bridged before the players and the ECB can agree the next deal. The new contracts are due to be issued in October.
England's busy schedule is one key area of concern. With the international team playing cricket almost the whole way around the calendar, the opportunities available to England players to participate in the various domestic T20 leagues springing up around the world are sharply curtailed. As a result, according to Porter, their payment lags far behind their opposite numbers from other countries.
The players are also said to be concerned about the integrity of Test cricket. While the format remains most cherished by all current England players, Porter said they are worried that Tests played in May are compromised by the absence of key members of the opposition at the IPL and serve to devalue the premier form of the game.
"T20 leagues are very much an issue as we look at the next round of central contracts," Porter told ESPNcricinfo. "It would be wrong to focus purely on the IPL; the fact is that England players have very little time to appear in any of the highly profitable T20 leagues or even in the Champions League.
"It is quite wrong to presume that central contracts are adequate compensation. England players are substantially underpaid even before we factor in the lost earnings from potential T20 appearances. They are paid somewhere around half the amount of Australian players and most Australian players also have the opportunity to appear in the IPL and the BBL. We are asking that England players be given a chance to maximise their earnings."
While helping the players to do that is clearly one part of Porter's remit, it is not his only concern. "It is very important to the ECB that the integrity of the early season Tests is maintained," Porter said. "But it isn't necessarily so important to the opposition. The players are concerned that playing games against half-strength teams does long-term damage to the integrity of the format that all of them feel is the most important and prestigious.
"We understand there are complex issues here. We understand why the England schedule is so busy and we don't pretend there are simple answers. We are not thrusting a stake into the ground and saying our position cannot be moved. We just feel that a bit of flexibility is required and that a negotiated settlement is the answer. The players are certainly prepared to compromise and I hope the ECB are, too. The England players need to have a greater say in the schedule."
Talks between the two sides are at an early stage but it is clear that there are significant problems to be solved before the England team depart for the Ashes at the end of October.
As things stand, an uneasy compromise exists between the ECB and its contracted players, allowing them to appear in the IPL for around a month but rendering them far less attractive to franchises due to their partial availability - several went unsold in this year's IPL auction.
The 2013 IPL runs from April 3 to May 26 but the ECB has insisted their players are back in England by May 5, ahead of the New Zealand Test at Lord's, which begins on May 16. The New Zealand team is sure to be weakened by players who have chosen to appear in the IPL instead.
The ECB might have thought it had won the argument after subjugating Kevin Pietersen's attempted rebellion in 2012. Among other disagreements, Pietersen had wanted to play a whole season of IPL but was forced to back down when the England management made it clear that they were not willing to give any more ground. But Matt Prior is the latest England regular to suggest a rethink of England's early season schedule, while Owais Shah is believed to be thinking of becoming the first English cricketer to give up a contract in county cricket to make himself available as a travelling T20 professional. The issue is clearly not going away.
"There is no question that we are going to see cricketers go freelance," Porter said. "It may be Shah and it may be someone else. But you can understand players wanting to maximise their earning ability over the last few years of their career and, perhaps, extending that career by managing their workload. It will happen soon."
The involvement of England's players in the IPL may be academic for a few years, though. Between 2014 and 2016 the dates of the IPL are set to be pushed back a few weeks to accommodate major global events, making it practically impossible for England players to be involved. The World T20 takes place in Bangladesh in April 2014, the World Cup the following year runs until the end of March and the following World T20 takes place in India in April 2016.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo