I was at Yorkshire training on Monday and the talk of nets was not Ben Stokes earning £1.7m in the IPL but Tymal Mills. It was all tongue in cheek but the players were saying ‘do we just focus on T20 now’ after hearing Mills had landed a £1.4m IPL contract.
A good county player earns around £100,000 but the majority about £70,000, slogging through the winter after winter, working hard in April through to September playing four-day cricket, 50 over and Twenty20. They could not dream of earning £1.4m in a career let alone six weeks like Mills.
The game is kidding itself if it thinks players, and kids in particular, will not be focusing on Twenty20. There are just too many great leagues around the world these days. Look at what happened in Australia this winter. Australia played South Africa before the Big Bash. It was a great spectacle, good Test series to watch and attracted crowds. Then Pakistan arrived and the Big Bash started. The crowds for international cricket dwindled. The Perth Scorchers played a game on a pitch that was used by the international team two days later. That is unheard of. The Perth Scorchers sold out. The Waca was three quarters full for Australia v Pakistan.
It is an indication of the way the game is heading. The administrators and those selling the television rights can talk as much as they want about the international game but times are changing. Yes it is different for the Ashes and when India are touring, or a World Cup is on, but these leagues are now hugely popular, the cricket is good and the events attractive for fans to attend while international cricket still lacks real context.
It is an indication of the way the game is heading. The administrators and those selling the television rights cantalk as much as they want about the international game but times are changing. Yes it is different for the Ashes and when India are touring, or a World Cup is on, but these leagues are now hugely popular, the cricket is good and the events attractive for fans to attend while international cricket still lacks real context.
It will be interesting to see what happens in Australia later this year when the Ashes series is on at the same time as the Big Bash. Covering Australia v Pakistan this winter and then the Big Bash there was definitely a real buzz around the Twenty20. The television ratings in Australia were huge; an average of around one million a night and even eclipsed the audiences for the Australian Open tennis.
These Twenty20 leagues are not new but this winter is the first time I have seen international cricket play second string to a domestic tournament. Again people are kidding themselves if they think these bilateral series matter. A Test championship has been proposed over two years. Children these days are not interested in waiting two years to find out the winner. They want to know which is the best team now.
Bilateral series other than Ashes series cannot compete. What is happening in Australia usually happens here soon after. In 2020 English cricket will have its own good domestic Twenty 20 tournament. What are we going to watch then? Will it be our version of the Big Bash or whatever bilateral series is on that summer? I am a Test match fanatic. I love it. I hope it stays around forever. But the younger players now must be thinking more towards making sure their game is geared to Twenty20.
The very best can play all formats, but that is only a few. The Tymal Mills story is just a reminder that if you go through difficulty as a young player playing the longer form of the game there is another option.
Some kids might now start looking at it and committing towards Twenty20 earlier. I would not blame them and it is not a bad thing. We are trying to increase the levels of interest in cricket and participation, so having Stokes and Mills earning million pound salaries is great for cricket.
It is exactly what the game needs. We have a parental culture in this country that is so geared towards football. It is a great game but I stand on the touchline watching kids football every week and their parents want their children to be professional footballers because of the money. They see the riches and the lifestyle the footballers achieve, even if they are not that good.
In cricket you have had to be a really top player to earn a great lifestyle. But that is changing with the advent of Twenty20 leagues. The likes of Mills are benefitting and he will not be the last. There will be a bigger pool of players earning top salaries and that might encourage parents to chivvy their kids in to playing cricket and see it as a proper career. People can deny that thought process happens but it is a reality. Why would parents push their kid, if they have other options like football, through the county system, earn £50,000 and may fail and be booted out at 25?
The changes will be felt more immediately at the highest level and England will have to react to the kind of money earned by Stokes. Kevin Pietersen earned huge sums from the IPL and wanted to do it every year but England made it very difficult for him. I will be very interested to see what England will do with Stokes.
As a player you will want to play in the IPL as much as possible if you can earn that kind of money every year so England will have to micromanage and treat individuals a bit more differently from the rest of the team. Players like Ben Stokes might have to be given a bit of leeway to miss England games.
He is not the kind of character to say he will just go off and play T20 if he does not get his way but he will not be the only one earning big sums. England have encouraged their players to go to the IPL so they have to react accordingly. Chris Woakes will earns £500,000 playing for Kolkata Knight Riders, which will be as much as he earns in a year for England.
I look at someone like Mark Wood. Great lad, desperate to play for England in Test match cricket. He was on the train with Stokes yesterday and I wondered if he thought ‘could I be Tymal Mills?’
The old dinosaurs will not say it is about the money, it is about playing for your country, but when you are talking about £1m for six weeks work nobody can refuse that and Wood has had so many injuries and niggles that keep delaying him getting back in the side there has to be a little thought in his mind saying ‘should I just play Twenty20?’
Why bowl 25 overs day after day when you can earn £1m for bowling four. The only way it can stop, and this is where the next television deal for England is so important because I am sure it will be a lot more than the last one, is they have to look after the Test player.
The ECB has to find money to make sure those players are earning equal amounts because if they are not the next generation will come through wanting to be Twenty20 specialists.
I do not have a clue what Mike Atherton or Nasser Hussain earned, and they played in a different era, but I suspect Stokes is earning in six weeks what those two did over their whole career from playing cricket.
Tonight at Lord’s more than 200 players who have represented England are all meeting up for a dinner arranged by Andrew Strauss. I can be sure the topic of conversation will be £1.7m. Hopefully if Stokes is a good lad he will buy us all a drink.