Alec Stewart: Counties and franchise players need ‘mutual respect’, contract system ‘needs to change’
Alec Stewart has warned that the contractual relationship between English franchise cricketers and their domestic counties “needs to be changed” in a wide-ranging interview with Sky Sports.
Speaking during a rain delay on Day Two of Surrey’s home County Championship fixture against Middlesex, Stewart, who is director of cricket at Surrey, touched on the impact of franchise cricket on county resources, international and domestic schedules as well as development pathways to first-class cricket in England.
“This year is the biggest number of staff we’ve ever had,” said Stewart. “We’ve got four in the IPL, we will lose two or three to the Ashes and then there’s England white-ball cricket at the end of the summer – so we have that to cater for.
“It’s a problem for the county game in the coming years, so it needs to be discussed, ideally in the next 12 months or even 24 months. I think the way the contract system works needs to be changed, and I know I have other directors of cricket who share a similar opinion. We want all the players to earn big money, we aren’t here to deprive them.
“But players have to understand that when they’re here, they’re ours. When they’re with a franchise they are their player. But we are the ones who give them a 12-month contract, 12 months’ health insurance, 12 months’ physio provision, 12 months of coaching, getting our coaches to use a sidearm to prepare them for conditions. Where does that fit in the bigger picture? Which for us is Surrey and England. I think there will be a change in the coming years, it definitely needs looking at.”
Sam Curran, Jason Roy and Reece Topley have all missed the start of Surrey’s season to play in the IPL, with all three also expected to play parts for England across the international summer. Notably, after an injury ruled Topley out of the IPL, he returned to The Oval to complete his rehab. Will Jacks has also missed the start of Surrey’s County Championship campaign after picking up an injury playing for England in the winter and Ollie Pope is not playing in their ongoing fixture as he prepares for the first Test match of the summer.
Ben Foakes and Jamie Overton also hold an England Central Contract and Incremental Contract respectively, and could miss substantial parts of Surrey’s campaigns across formats.
“It’s the man hours of a physio who may spend hours putting a player back together, he may miss the Blast, but then he’ll go off and play in another franchise competition,” Stewart said. “What is the correct way for players to be happy, but counties to be happy as well?”
Speaking of what the future of white-ball county cricket could look like in a franchise T20 global marketplace, Stewart elaborated on how the rise of ‘freelance cricket’ could affect the English domestic landscape.
“If you are just a T20 cricketer, you are of value to us for six weeks and maybe the two weeks leading into the tournament,” he said. “We will take full control of you then, give you everything you want. Outside of that, they may be with their franchises or on their own when they do need their own S&Cs [strength and conditioning work] and physios. We can provide a facility, and we may charge you for it, but we can provide it, and I think that is being fair to the county and the player.
“If they just came in for that period, a little bit like an overseas player, then for me that would work. Whether the PCA and the players would see it that way is up for debate, but I’m just trying to look at it in a fair and honest way.”
Stewart also elaborated on the struggle of keeping young players earmarked for successful futures interested in international and county cricket. With the possibility to earn vast sums of money in different leagues across the world, some players opting to sign white-ball-only deals with counties has long been acknowledged as standard. But younger players such as Will Smeed starting to opt for exclusively white ball has accelerated fears of the continuation of the longer formats of the game.
“Gus Atkinson has had a taste of franchise cricket,” said Stewart. “But we keep telling him that franchise cricket won’t go away. With his ability, he should challenge himself to become the best red-ball cricketer and the best white-ball cricketer. In years to come, if you have to make a decision then do so. But why give something up at such a young age when you can be a world-class Test and international cricketer.
“I still believe your reputation is gained through Test cricket. In franchise cricket, you only get six-week contracts. I know there is talk of 12-month franchise contracts, but at the moment with a six-week contract, if you have a bad tournament, where are they? They’re out on their own, and that’s why this county system needs to be looked at so that players can’t think: ‘Oh well that didn’t work I’ll just go back to my county.’ There needs to be a mutual respect from county to players and from players to county.”
Atkinson, 25, took eight wickets in his first outing for Surrey in the County Championship this year, including 6-68 in the first innings. He took 13 wickets for Surrey on four Championship appearances last year, at an average of less than 30.