According to the singer Billy Bragg, trade unions are powerful and virtuous entities which support the workers against the abuses of their employers. They ensure fair pay, equitable treatment and protection from abuse. For professional cricketers and England and Wales, that role is filled by the Professional Cricketers’ Association.
The PCA helps support professional players in several ways. They help negotiate central contracts for England internationals, teach rookie players important lessons about what it means to be a modern sportsman, and support players after they leave the game. What they don’t do, in virtually any circumstances, is protect their members in any public way from the actions of the ECB. After several incidents in the past few years, I have been left wondering where the reaction from the player’s union was.
This post was prompted by a story posted today on the Daily Mail website. To summarise: Because of the large pay disparity between players who are and aren’t on central contracts, non-contracted players who played in 4 Tests, 10 limited overs games, or a combination of the two, would receive a £50,000 bonus. In the current England team, that would mean Stoneman, Vince, Malan, Curran and Roland-Jones are all due a large payout.
Except, of course, for the fact that the ECB are unmitigated arseholes and so have chosen to instead return to the old system of incremental contracts made solely at the discretion of the team’s director, Andrew Strauss. Of the five players who would have qualified for the bonus only Toby Roland-Jones has been offered an incremental contract, leaving the other four £50,000 out-of-pocket.
Now it may well be that the ECB were fully within their legal rights to get rid of these bonuses. I am not a lawyer, I haven’t seen the players’ contracts, I have no expertise in these areas. It certainly seems unethical to me though, withdrawing a bonus without informing the players involved. I would hope, if I were in that position and was a member of a players’ union, that they would intercede on my behalf. Instead, the PCA has remained silent on the issue.
But It All Amounts To Nothing If Together We Don’t Stand
Of course, sometimes silence is preferable to the alternative. As the saying goes, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” In past years, the two things the PCA has most been associated with in the press have been when they have come out on entirely the wrong side of events.
In 2014, England played against India at Edgbaston in a T20I. During that game, the last of England’s summer that year, Moeen Ali was booed by a significant number of Indian fans. The reason? Because he’s a Muslim of Pakistani heritage. It was bigotry, pure and simple. It was certainly against the terms and conditions for people who bought their tickets. It was quite possibly illegal (again I reiterate, I am not a lawyer). But it was also something the ECB would wish to minimise, both in order not to antagonise the powerful BCCI and to present the appearance that there is little to no racism within cricket.
To that end, the PCA’s chairman Angus Porter said in an interview soon after that:
“There is an element of taking it as a compliment. You are more likely to boo someone when you think they are someone to be feared. Take it as a positive, you’d rather be booed than ignored.”
Personally, I think cricketers would take it as a positive if they weren’t ever subjected to racist abuse, and if that did happen then at least their union should support them rather than telling them to “take the positives”. After a swift and decisive backlash Porter did apologise for his words, but the fact he said them at all was pretty damning.
The second example of the PCA’s folly, and the one more apposite to this blog, is the infamous press release that the PCA and ECB jointly wrote about Kevin Pietersen. Of course the headline quote was about allegations “from people outside cricket”, which indirectly gave this blog its name, but there are some other gems in there as well. This paragraph, for example, has not aged well after England’s 4-0 thrashing in Australia:
“The England team needs to rebuild after the whitewash in Australia. To do that, we must invest in our captain, Alastair Cook, supporting him in creating a culture in which he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other.”
But the quote which really angers me regarding the PCA’s continued silence is this:
“Clearly, what happens in the dressing room or team meetings should remain in that environment and not be shared with people not connected with the team.”
This is so hypocritical, it is bordering on comedy. I can think of few players in the history of English cricket that have been leaked against more than KP. If anything unflattering to Pietersen occurred within the private confines of the England camp, you could be assured that it would be in the paper the next day. I can’t recall the PCA ever standing up for him (I presume he’s a member) and demanding that the leakers be punished.
But Who’ll Defend The Workers Who Cannot Organise?
It is fairly easy to pick out several England cricketers in recent years who have been the subject of repeated ‘anonymous’ leaks questioning their character, ability or fitness. Joe Root, Adil Rashid, Gary Ballance and Jonny Bairstow, just to name the Yorkshire contingent. These largely baseless allegations from “sources inside the England camp” (or however it’s phrased) could have real negative consequences for these players’ careers. Clubs could be less likely to sign them, or lower the amount they are prepared to pay for them. I want the players’ union to stand up to the ECB and demand either the leaks stop or the leakers (and let’s face it, we know who most of them are) should be sacked.
Likewise, the ECB’s punishments are often arbitrary and unwarranted. If we just take the recent tour of Australia as an example, following the first Test and the revelations of Jonny Bairstow’s odd meeting with Cameron Bancroft there was a curfew placed on the whole England team. Because of the actions of one player, the whole team was punished.
A few weeks later, Ben Duckett dumped a drink over Jimmy Anderson and was severely punished with suspension from the Lions team. It emerged soon after that other players had done similar things during the night, but only Duckett was punished at all.
And throughout the whole tour, Ben Stokes was named in the squad but unofficially suspended. Really, anything with the word “unofficial” is going to be a bit dodgy. Now, it’s possible that visa issues would have prevented Stokes entering the country, but it seems equally likely that the ECB failed to follow any kind of due process with someone who is presumably a PCA member.
Being a fan of cricket, I have more affection for the players than anyone else in the game. I certainly like them more than the sport’s administrators, the coaches, the journalists, the commentators, and even the other fans. I want them to be well paid, well prepared for life as a professional sportsman, and also well prepared for life after cricket. The PCA appears to achieve these things, and I am grateful.
But I also want the players to be defended when attacked, or abused, or treated unfairly, and it is here that I find the PCA lacking. The players deserve better, and I hope their union faces up to that challenge.
As always, we welcome your comments below.
Great piece Danny!
The PCA is a joke organisation who are probably too busy having a selfie with Alastair Cook. The ECB couldn’t have wished for a trade union to negotiate with who are more spineless and jelly like if they had tried.
Every time you think the ECB can’t go any lower, they manage to find yet another level below their previous low. This latest bit of appalling man management has to be put in the following context…
England have just been hammered in yet another Ashes overseas tour. Nobody at the top has been called to account. Going into the tour it was well understood that our so called “big players” had to turn up in the first 3 test matches. That meant Cook, Root, and Bairstow for the batters. Non of them did. In addition, our other so called big name batsman was not even in the country because of the night life in Bristol. All of these players are on nice juicy central contracts. And non of them turned up at Brisbane, Adelaide, or Perth. Ashes gone.
This left a few inexpierienced players with the task of trying to bail England out. These included Stoneman, Vince and Malan. Now I have serious issues with Vince batting at three in test cricket, but he made a fight of it at Brisbane. So did Stoneman. Without their efforts England would have been shot out for 200. As to Malan, he was probably Englands player of the series. Cook finally appeared in Melbourne long after the ashes ship had sailed away, and like wise Bairstow. Too little to late. Yet the inexperienced players are going to be thanked by having their £50 grand taken from them. Fucking disgraceful
What was it Strauss used to bang on about? Oh yes, trust! TRUST, TRUST TRUST. I wouldn’t trust Strauss to clean my windows.
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I would trust him to clean my windows. Then I would expect him to have a good look at what was inside my house in case he could use any of that information to make me look bad.
Well said Danny. This is an absolute disgrace. How low can the ECB go? Like you it’s the players who I wholeheartedly support, through the good and bad times. I’ve been dwelling on the reasons why TRJ was the only player to receive the benefit. I’ve never paid attention to the difference in salaries paid to those on a central contract and the rest. Maybe and I’m not saying this is justified, it was felt that the non contracted players increased their income with their participation in test matches, while Roland-Jones missed out. Please don’t think for one minute that I am condoning this, I’m simply searching for the excuse that could be coming from the ECB.
TRJ = Middlesex.
I can’t remember which county Strauss is from. Can anyone else?
So is Malan though. Maybe Strauss doesn’t rate him?
I missed this s in a blink. I can’t imagine that he doesn’t rate him given what he’s contributed.
I have to say I’m still unconvinced about Malan. His weakness last summer seemed to be against the swinging ball, which wasn’t really happening in Australia. In New Zealand and England, he could well be ‘found out’ and lose his place by August.
That said, I’m not entirely convinced that Toby Roland-Jones is necessarily the answer to England’s problems either. He’s already 30, so I don’t see him being a possibility for filling the void that Broad and Anderson will leave when they retire in the next few years. Nor is he different enough from their bowling styles to think he’d be particularly valuable as part of the existing bowling attack, certainly away from home.
The England Lions are putting up another top display.
The Lions have plenty of decent-ish players, how can they possibly be this incompetent? You have to point the finger at the head coach
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Do they? Because in their top 6 last night they had 4 players with first class averages under 40. Which is pretty similar to the senior Test team, which also has 4 batsmen with career averages under 40 (Stoneman, Vince, Malan and Stokes).
In 2017, 167 players played in Division 1 Championship games. Of those, 17 averaged over 40 and only 10 of those are eligible for England. Ballance, Cook, Stoneman, Burns, Livingstone, Lawrence, Browne, Westley, Roy and Foakes. There aren’t really many people beating down the door for an England place.
So is Malan and he missed out.
Lol this is the ECB that we’re talking about.
Well said this is awful treatment of the players who have lost out on the bonus. Making it a discretionary payment is even worse. It just shows how unprofessional the set up is.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdOCWUgwiWs (I’ll be humming that all night)
England fielding has been excellent (some great catches and 4 run outs) but NZ recovered well thanks to Santner. 224 to win should be straightforward (should be)
I’m not anti-Stokes, but some days I get tired of the narrativising the press do. England won this game mainly on an excellent opening spell from Willey & Woakes, backed up by a crucial run out from Willey and a couple of important wickets from Ali.
Stokes chipped in with a couple of wickets down the order and as someone fairly high up in the batting line up was one of the ones to see the (easy) total chased down.
Good work from Stokes, but the absurd over-praise is a turn off for me.
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I suppose it’s just another example of this weird group think/accepted wisdom that is so systemic throughout cricket. Stokes has always been seen as a golden boy by the establishment, this then is the line of the press, and you end up with you and me feeling exactly the same about it.
Sometimes it feels so random though: Ben Duckett?
I think it’s clear his face fits. And with England if your face fits you can do whatever you want. If your face doesn’t fit, it is irrelevant how well you perform. You are just one bad performance away from being dropped.
Always remarkable to me how the media are so on board with which faces fit and which don’t. It’s almost as if they are told what to write! Shocking.
Sky have just raised their prices again. 50p per month for the sports channel and £1.50 for
the entertainment package. Those footballers and over paid football pundits need to be kept in Ferrari’s I guess.
It strikes me that the current hero worship is part of a deliberate post-Bristol redemption narrative, even he hasn’t actually been redeemed as yet. There seems to be an element of wilful denial about that aspect of things. It’s as though he’s being built up to be too big a star to fail – and definitely too big a commercial draw to be not playing, no matter what.
Interesting to note the difference between how Stokes’ has been dealt with, and how other players arrested and charged with serious criminal offences were treated. Following his arrest for indecent exposure, Derbyshire suspended Shiv Thakor, saying at the time that “the player continues to be suspended on full pay and he is suspended from all cricket activity by ECB.” This position was maintained throughout the legal process from arrest to conviction. Likewise Alex Hepburn, who has been suspended by Worcestershire pending his trial for rape.
Sexual offences obviously carry wider safeguarding and reputational issues, but so do serious violence offences, and by any logic, Stokes should have been dealt with by the same standards. Presumably the PCA was involved in all three cases, so it’s surprising that it hasn’t pointed out the different treatment their members receive.
In the PCA’s defence (not something I often say), making that argument seems more like to gain one of their members (Stokes) a suspension rather than helping the other two. Therefore, perhaps they are actually doing their members more good by staying quiet?