Friday, November 19, 2004

Interview with David Morgan of the ECB published in "Yes No Sorry"

The England and Wales Cricket Board has agreed with the counties that they will not commit contractually to more than one overseas player for the 2005 season pending a review of the whole issue of non England qualified players in county cricket. In this edition of “Yes, No, Sorry” Paddy Briggs has obtained an exclusive interview with David Morgan, Chairman of the ECB to discuss this subject.

Imagine for a moment that Michael Vaughan had a gap in his schedule that would allow him to play cricket overseas for a couple of months. Imagine further that a struggling Australian State like Western Australia was in need of a class batsman and was able to offer Vaughan £100,000 for a short term contract to play for them. Finally imagine that Western Australia was able to afford this deal only because Cricket Australia gave them a substantial handout from the proceeds of international matches. Vaughan would no doubt jump at the chance, not only to get some hard experience of Australian conditions that would help him on the next Ashes tour, but also to make some handy money. It won’t happen of course – and not just because Vaughan’s schedule is unlikely to allow it. There is no way that the Australian cricket authorities would encourage the financing of their rival team’s players, and the State side has a plenty of home grown talent available anyway. But this situation, peculiar ‘though it may seem, is the norm not the exception in English County Cricket. In addition to the pragmatic signing of overseas Test players by the counties that can afford it there is also the issue of the employment of players with European passports – like Kent’s Danish born Amjad Khan or the many “European” South Africans (such as Nic Pothas, Kevin Pieterson, Greg Smith and Sven Koenig) who can’t play for England but will develop their skills and line their pockets with income generated by the England team.


Let us take Kent as the example of the current practice and, although this county is in some ways exceptional, it is far from the only case of the current practice of hiring overseas Test stars and EU qualified players as mercenaries. Late in 2002 the county hired the Australian Captain Steve Waugh on a short contract which saw him play four first class and five one day matches at the tail end of the season. The gamble that this would lead to success in either the County Championship or the National League did not pay off and Kent was out of the money in both competitions. In 2003 Kent employed, as well as the Danish Khan, Andrew Symonds, Greg Blewett, Mohammed Sami, and Muthia Muralitharan – so over twelve months they had six different foreign players most on part-season contracts hired to plug gaps created by injury or other absences or to help them achieve specific short term goals. The hiring of Murali was successful in that in five first class matches he took 33 wickets - although in eight one day matches he took only a rather disappointing 13. Nevertheless Murali’s signing kept Kent in the first divisions of both competitions for another season. In 2004, when Mohammed Sami was called away by Pakistan, Kent immediately signed yet another overseas player as “short term overseas player cover” as well as contracting the New Zealand Fast Bowler Ian Butler and Symonds again.

The ECB view

David Morgan described the hiring of Muralitharan as the “gunslinger” approach to employment. As in the Wild West a hired hand solved their problems for them – although the choice of the word “slinger” has perhaps unintended other implications in Murali’s’ case! Morgan was less than enthusiastic about Kent’s decision and proud that his beloved Glamorgan has prospered without over reliance on overseas stars and without signing any players with European passports. But if Glamorgan can do this, why not other counties? According to Morgan the problem is to do with European Union employment rules which could mean that the imposition of any quota on counties could be ruled unlawful. He referred to the case of Maros Kolpak, a player in the German handball league, who was released by his club because of a set quota on non-EU players in the league had been reached. Kolpak took the matter to the European Court of Justice and the court found that, once a non-EU national had obtained a work permit to ply his trade in a particular field in an EU country, he could not be restricted from doing so by arrangements such as quota systems. Morgan said that the ECB was still seeking counsel’s advice on the implications of Kolpak for English cricket but that so far counsel’s opinion on the general issue was that EU laws were likely to restrict rather than support any intent on the part of English cricket strongly, be selection and by quotas, to favour England qualified players.

Whilst David Morgan clearly sides with those who want to restrict non England qualified players in County Cricket he points out that the counties are divided on the issue. Carl Oppenshaw, the Chairman of Kent, told me that both Waugh and Muralitheran “paid for themselves” by adding to the gates in the games that they played. Morgan thought this unlikely but did agree with Oppenshaw’s other defence of Kent’s decision that both of these players had helped Kent’s younger players with coaching and advice whilst they were briefly with the county. Oppenshaw points out that in First Class matches last season Kent employed 20 players who between them made 198 appearances. Only five of these players were not England qualified and their 33 appearances was only 17% of the total for the county. Dennis Amiss, Chief Executive of Warwickshire, shares this view and points to the time in the 1970s when he played for the county alongside the West Indians Kanhai, Kallicharan and Murray – an era when notwithstanding this England held the Ashes and got to a World Cup final.

It is clear that the ECB feels that their hands are tied on the issue of overseas players both by their concerns about staying within the letter of the law, and by the less than unanimous views held by the counties themselves. One likely approach will be to introduce some financial inducements which will encourage counties to employ, select and develop prospective England qualified talent in preference to the hiring of cricketing mercenaries from overseas. But as is always the case with England cricket, there will be much debate and no doubt argument before this becomes a reality.