England captain Joe Root has admitted pay cuts for him and his international teammates will be on the table as English cricket begins assessing the financial hardships arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.
With no domestic cricket likely until June, with further delays expected, the prospect of a summer without a ball being bowled is a catastrophic reality the domestic game might have to come to terms with. As such, counties are starting to put in measures to soften what could be a critical blow while the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) assess how best to support their 18-team set-up along with other aspects of the professional and amateur game in this country.
On Thursday, Root’s county Yorkshire announced that a number of their “off-field” staff have been placed on furlough to make use of the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme. This ensures staff will be paid 80% of their salary by the government, up to £2,500. Glamorgan have confirmed similar measures are now in place.
At present, no players at Yorkshire or in the rest of county cricket have been asked to take a pay cut. However, dialogue between the ECB and Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) around a financial plan has included the prospect of cricketers taking a hit on their pay-packet for the good of the domestic set-up.
Players have been discussing such measures among themselves and there is an appreciation that any willingness to defer percentages of pay should be universal, across all PCA members. Given the contrast in figures between, say, established players at Test-match counties, and youngsters coming through at small counties, it may not be as simple to apply a blanket percentage drop across the board.
Any such a move will need to come from the top down. England’s international players are well remunerated with Test central contracts worth up to £600,000 a year and white ball deals up to £275,000. At present there are 16 players on full-time ECB deals with two – Tom Curran and Jack Leach – holding incremental contracts.
“I’m sure at some point in the coming weeks there will be a discussion,” said Root, though he cedes his influence on those matters, at present, is minimal. “But I’m also aware they are discussions that will take place between the PCA and the ECB. That’s not my area of expertise. I think we just have to concentrate on making sure we are as fit and as ready to go as we can be for whenever we get back to playing cricket.
“I’ve been in touch with the guys at Yorkshire. Not a lot of the talk has been around money, to be honest. It’s been about trying to keep each other up, conversations flowing, have a bit of fun.
“There’s not been a huge amount of talk of money so I think the club have tried to keep things very calm within the playing group, been very clear about their stance and how they are going to go about things moving forward. They’ve said they will try to keep everyone in best communication as possible.”
While those above his head sort these deals, Root has focused on the regular day-to-day issues of ensuring his family are safe and sound alongside ensuring his England team and Yorkshire teammates have been getting by.
Despite the indefinite stint at home, a rarity for an international cricketer who plays all three formats, aspects of the game beyond bat and ball are starting to be missed. “One of the things that you can never replicate is that dressing room environment, and building something together as a group of players,” says Root. Yet the 29-year old is making sure his spare time is not going to waste.
Last week he joined the Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust as a patron to help in their efforts to combat coronavirus following fellow England captain, Heather Knight, after she signed up to become an NHS volunteer. That sense of duty and renewed appreciation of the national health service is something Root hopes carries through, well-beyond the elimination of the virus.
“It is something I have wanted to get involved in for quite a while now. Very lucky in Sheffield we have that facility. It is great what the NHS has done and how they have dealt with the situation.
“The number of people who have volunteered is amazing and it is very special how communities have come together. It is motivating seeing how powerful it is when people come together and show support for a fantastic organisation like the NHS. We are very lucky to have it. We should appreciate it and not take it for granted. The work they are doing right now is amazing and they deserve almost the support and care they are getting. Hopefully that continues long after this pandemic finishes as well.”
Like the rest of the country, enforced time indoors has meant sifting through the various offerings on streaming services. That includes Amazon Prime which happens to feature The Test – a docuseries following the Australia men’s side across 18 months that culminates in their World Cup and Ashes series on English soil last summer.
Root, though, has been waiting to indulge, uncertain as to what to expect from an Australian-skewed production. “I resisted watching that for a good while,” he says. Now, though, he has taken the plunge working and made his way through a few episodes.
While it is helping whittle the hours of isolation away, it is also providing fuel to carry into further Ashes series ahead.
“Whilst we were away I exhausted a lot of the shows that I wanted to watch, it’s come round to watching that now,” says Root. “It’s been a good motivator to get back and train, get back on the bike, use it as a way of incentivising myself. I’ve only got to the start of the World Cup, so we’ll see how the rest of it unfolds.”
“A lot of the things we do in Test cricket revolves around planning for the Ashes series down under. It goes without saying that the Test championship is very important and every game carries a huge amount of weight But a lot of what we’re doing is about building for that series.”
The run-up to 2020/21’s opportunity to regain the urn could be more congested than usual with the Sri Lanka series to reschedule along with the summer’s three-Test series against West Indies and Pakistan. All three carry Test championship points which, one way or another, will need to be divvied up ahead of next year’s final. England are currently fourth on 146 points, behind New Zealand (180), Australia (296) and India (360).
But in this hiatus, the prospect of playing again, and competing in an Ashes series, is carrying Root and the rest of the England team through, especially after the 3-1 success in South Africa at the start of the year indicated this was a side on the right track.
“We have to use every single opportunity to build the team up to be absolutely ready for what those conditions throw at us, what Australia throws at us, on the field and off. We really use this time to ready ourselves to do something special down there because we know how challenging it can be to play there.
“You look at some of the guys we’ve brought into the squad over the last year or so, trying to add different elements that will work in those conditions. Guys like Mark Wood, like Olly Stone, fast bowling contracts that have come in to encourage guys to go out in county cricket and bowl as quick as they can, add that X-factor to what is a talented and skilful bowling group that we’ve got at the moment.
“If we can keep putting experience into a number of the young batters as well, give them game time, then we’re starting to build a team that has confidence, experience, is ready and hardened for the challenges Australia will throw at us.”