It has been a fairly quiet weekend for English cricket. Shame we didn’t have a tri-series game for everyone to watch. However, there has been a bit of interesting off-field news: the ECB have cut the salary cap in county cricket by 10%.
Normally I’m a big fan of salary caps. As an NFL fan, I know that the cap keeps domestic competitions competitive. And as an Aston Villa fan (don’t hold it against me) I realise that the inequities in English football make it basically impossible for 95% of league clubs to win the Premiership in the forseeable future.
Unless you’re one of the top clubs (Man Utd, Chelsea etc) you’re basically there just to make up the numbers – something the disingenuously named Financial Fair Play will entrench. A salary cap that levels the playing field is desperately needed in football but impossible to implement unless it’s applied worldwide (something which seems virtually impossible to do).
Financial Fair Play, ostensibly devised to save clubs from themselves (i.e from overspending and going bust) imposes a cap that varies from team to team i.e. wages are restricted to a percentage of current turnover – thus formalising the competitive advantage enjoyed by the big boys and making it even harder for aspiring clubs to break into the elite. In my opinion, this regulation is just about the worst arrangement imaginable.
The whole point of salary caps, one assumes, is to keep the game competitive and financially viable. The cap in rugby union (which is set at the same level for every club) works pretty well. Although some of the bigger teams whinge about it – arguing it prevents them from competing with the French clubs (who have a higher cap) – the cap prevents the likes of Leicester (who have the biggest ground) from winning the league year after year.
The interesting thing, however, is that salary caps are usually increased incrementally over time. It’s steadily creeping up in NFL and the same is gradually happening in rugby, where they now allow clubs to recruit a marquee signing whose wages do not count against the cap. That’s why the news they’re actually lowering the cap in cricket raised my eyebrow. Indeed, it also raises a broader question: what exactly is the raison d’etre of the salary cap in English cricket? Many fans don’t even realise there is one.
I’ve got mixed feelings about the ECB’s latest attempt to resuscitate the domestic game. At a time when the standard of county matches needs to be increased (in whatever capacity possible) I’m not sure cutting counties’ playing budgets is the way to go. For example, how will counties be able to sign big name overseas players or afford to pay England players that no longer have a central contract?
I appreciate that the salary cap is a bit academic for many smaller counties, who spend well below the limit anyway, but if we’re looking to raise the standard of county cricket in general this move doesn’t make sense to me. Surrey, for example, may struggle to sign Kevin Pietersen now – not because they lack the financial resources, but because the cap might prohibit it.
Whatever you think of KP, it will be a shame if crowds are unable to watch him next year now he’s finally back to full fitness. Then again, some might argue that he’s earned enough cash in his career already and should simply take a pay cut.
It would be particularly interesting to hear the views of Durham fans about his issue. A few years ago they were penalised for violating the cap when Steve Harmison and Paul Collingwood returned to county action after being released by England. How did that make you feel at the time?
The ECB’s priority is obviously to encourage counties to produce their own, home-grown young players rather than relying on kolpak and overseas signings. There’s nothing wrong with that at all in theory. The incentives given to counties for developing English players is a good thing.
The flipside, of course, is that there are a large number of county teams and there might not be enough talent around (considering that the number of people playing league and recreational cricket is dwindling) to ensure that county cricket is of a sufficiently high standard.
When Michael Vaughan’s England were sweeping all before them in the early 2000s, there were plenty of kolpak and overseas players playing domestic English cricket; consequently the jump from division one county cricket and the international game was relatively small.
This is obviously a highly complex issue and there are no simple answers. Therefore we’d be interested to hear what you guys think. Is cutting the cap a good thing? Perhaps you think the cap should be raised – something Saracens are campaigning for in English rugby. Alternatively, you might want to scrap the cap altogether.
What would be best for English cricket in the short, medium and long term? It might take Einstein to figure this one out, let alone Giles Clarke, Colin Graves and Co.