The Professional Cricketers’ Association has today released figures to show how current players have helped save the game in excess of £3.8 million via a series of voluntary measures with further actions agreed by players totalling over £11 million in support of the ECB and first-class counties.
The COVID-19 pandemic first affected English cricket on Friday 13 March when the England tour of Sri Lanka was postponed and, since then, players have been at the forefront of supporting the game, taking huge financial sacrifices throughout the crisis.
Seven days later on Friday 20 March the domestic season was delayed, initially until 28 May, and then it was pushed back until 1 July, leaving players fearing for their short careers with the chances of any domestic cricket in 2020 quickly diminishing.
Throughout this period, domestic and international players worked collaboratively and professionally with the ECB and first-class counties with support from the PCA. With fixed term contracts with no lay-off clauses in place, the players voluntarily agreed to reductions in salaries and relinquishing of prize money resulting in a £3.8 million saving to the professional game. By the players agreeing to the Government’s job retention scheme the first-class counties benefited financially by an additional £4 million.
The cancellation of The Hundred caused further financial loss to the players of over £7 million and the delay in introducing domestic women’s contracts also contributed in excess of £100k in further cost-saving measures.
During this unsettling time, players focussed on enhancing themselves as people through engaging with PCA Personal Development Managers, with over 100 players taking on new courses in the first 50 days of lockdown, funded by the PCA.
A positive step was taken on 2 June when the return of international men’s cricket was announced by the ECB. This was achieved through significant effort and ingenuity by the governing body to play in a bio-secure bubble from 8 July, in many ways leading the way across sports in the UK. Nevertheless, the domestic game and women’s cricket still lacked any clarity.
In women’s cricket, this summer was set to be revolutionary, with eight new regional centres launching, each containing five new professional players. This was due to result in 40 domestic professional female players for the first time.
Players were set to be on full-time contracts from June and instead were left without income. Twenty-five of these players have been provided with a retainer to support them throughout the summer, negotiated between the ECB and PCA. It is expected 40 players will be on professional terms from 1 October.
Of the 420 men’s county contracted players, 134 were out of contract at the end of the summer, a huge percentage with little or no chance to prove themselves for a new contract. Despite this, players volunteered to reduce their salaries through the crisis.
Plans were officially announced on Monday 29 June to ensure men’s and women’s domestic cricket would resume from 1 August. This resulted in men’s players having under five weeks to prepare for the shortened, high intensity season whereas a usual pre-season allows for five months of strength and conditioning to get fully fit to take on the rigours of a county season.
Despite a return to training, many county players remained on salary cuts until the season began with players at some counties playing through August and September on reduced wages.
In the women’s game, the ECB reiterated their commitment to its development by announcing the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy. This provided competitive domestic cricket while the international game remained devoid of any opponents until late September, leaving players with little chance to prove themselves and remain on contract and in a job.
Contractually, all men’s county players had their formal appraisals by the end of August and 70 players remain without a contract for 2021 as it stands. An average year sees 45 players leave the game. The PCA Players’ Committee agreed in August to a series of measures to provide increased flexibility for counties to save players’ jobs. These included lowering the minimum salary to £24k, allowing extensions to rookie and academy players’ contracts for an additional year and reintroducing short term contracts.
Even with such measures in place, the future of professional cricketers is a precarious one due to the disastrous effects of COVID-19. With this in mind, by 31 August the PCA has financially supported the same number of players as it did for all of 2019 when it comes to education funding, meaning the reliance on financial support from players towards the PCA has never been more important in preparing for a smooth transition away from the professional game.
Throughout the COVID crisis, the players’ charity, the Professional Cricketers’ Trust, has lost in the region of £250,000 and has had to maintain the level of support to all PCA members who need it most. Despite reserves built up in recent years, this is not sustainable and the importance of the players’ charity in a health crisis has arguably never been more important. The PCA throughout the crisis has maintained its mental health support and is anticipating a record year in terms of the number of members supported.
PCA Chairman, Daryl Mitchell, said:
“As we enter the final stages of the most challenging summer of our careers, it is important to reflect and appreciate how the game of cricket and players in particular have worked together over the course of the last six months to protect current and future careers.
“With 134 men’s county players out of contract when the season was due to begin in April and the game set to welcome 40 new professionals in the women’s game, it meant a large percentage of our playing membership were fearing for their jobs. Despite all of this, players approached the challenge with understanding and the voluntary financial losses for players in 2020 reflect this.
“International and domestic players supported the game through volunteering in the region of £3.8 million. When other losses such as the cancellation of the Hundred, delayed contracts for the new domestic women’s structure and consent to furlough are taken into account, the game has saved in the region of £15 million since April thanks to player support.
“With the support of my Vice Chairs Heather Knight and James Harris, as well as the Players’ Committee I believe the current playing group has shown a great responsibility to protect each other and future players.”
PCA Interim Chief Executive, Rob Lynch, said:
“Actions of the players this summer show how deeply they care for the game of cricket. All decisions on volunteering salary reductions for players on short, fixed-term contracts should not be underestimated and the collaborative approach they have shown has been pleasing, led by Chairman Daryl Mitchell who has done an amazing job in leading the players voice.
“Our priority is our members and I’m proud of the support the PCA and the Professional Cricketers’ Trust have provided through such a challenging time as the health and welfare of our players is always our main focus and priority.
“At one stage it looked very unlikely we would see any cricket this summer and we give the ECB a huge amount of credit for their work in securing the return of international cricket and the subsequent return of the domestic game. While international players spent months away from loved ones in a bio-secure bubble, domestic players returned to play in a higher-risk environment as players worked together to ensure as much cricket could be played to protect the broadcast deal for 2020.
“Throughout this process the PCA has asked for transparency from the ECB and first-class counties and will continue to ensure players are aware of the situation in front of them as we work our way through this crisis.
“The collaborative approach to this point has been vital in working through the challenges and we aim to continue these relationships to maintain a healthy and vibrant sport for present and future professional cricketers.”