Darren Gough: It’s high time to rip up cricket’s central contracts

New Yorkshire Post Sports Weekend columnist Darren Gough
New Yorkshire Post Sports Weekend columnist Darren Gough
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The Yorkshire Post is delighted to welcome Darren Gough as new weekly columnist. He opens up with a broadside for England cricket chiefs.

THE domestic cricket season is under way and one of my biggest bugbears regarding the game today is the ECB’s central contracts system for Test and one-day players.

Columnist Darren Gough (Graphic: Graeme Bandeira)

Columnist Darren Gough (Graphic: Graeme Bandeira)

I was among the first group of England players handed a central contract and, initially, they did work and successfully managed my workload.

But now, I just think that central contracts are just providing England players with longevity and not actually improving the team’s overall standard. Not enough of them are playing enough county cricket and it is almost as if England players are seen as above it.

England Test players only seem to play it if they are out of form or get dropped. I think that is part of the problem we are having with county cricket. England selection over the years has been all over the shop, for me. You don’t know where the selectors are coming from.

Certainly, our one-day cricket has also not improved because of one-day central contracts either. It has only improved because the world has effectively gone mad with interest regarding one-day cricket and many leading modern-day players are developing their skills in India, Australia, Bangladesh and the Caribbean. That is the reason why our one-day international cricket has improved, not because of central contracts.

For me, players who do well in county cricket must have the incentive of knowing that if they do, they can get picked for England. But it is a closed shop at the minute with the selectors going for players at the bigger counties last winter and players who did not have good seasons.

Darren Gough

Players should not come out of county cricket because they just play three or four ODI/T20 games for England. Get them playing the county game.

We should ditch central contracts for one-day players without a doubt.

One-day cricket will still be an important brand and get players prepared to play for their country. But preparing by playing for their county is important. These one-day central contracts are, for me, designed to stop players playing county cricket. Is that the way to improve our game and technique of some of our players?

England have people like Mark Wood – who I am a massive fan of – who has just got back into the Test side after injury. But he has a white-ball only central contract and has gone to the IPL. But how can England pick him for the early Tests against Pakistan when he returns on something like May 21?

Our warm-up preparation for our winter Test tours away also needs to be looked at, too. You cannot play ‘Mickey Mouse’ warm-up games with pink balls in New Zealand and lose 14 or 15 wickets in a day and think that is good enough preparation. There was no competitive preparation for me whatsoever.

People keep telling me about managing the workload of players. What workload? They hardly play county cricket, just international matches.

We have not won an away Test since Bangladesh in 2016 and that was when Gareth Batty was our spin bowler. We are still asking all the same questions. We are great when the ball is seaming around and have bowlers who are fantastic at that. But we have no-one who can knock over the tail-end and no-one except Alastair Cook and Joe Root who can consistently bat for a long time. Although with Jonny Bairstow, we do have someone who can play fantastic innings.

But we just have too many batting collapses to put any sort of consistent pressure on sides. I just think we need to have a reassessment of where we are going in English Test and one-day cricket.

Look at our current Test rankings. Is that good enough for all the money England have spent? We are way down the ranking lists. I am just disillusioned by it all in how we make decisions.

For me, players who do well in county cricket must have the incentive of knowing that if they do, they can get picked for England. But it is a closed shop at the minute with the selectors going for players at the bigger counties last winter and players who did not have good seasons. That set a bad tone to anybody who missed out who did well in county cricket.

Look at James Vince, for example. He got selected for England after averaging 30 in county cricket last summer and Mason Crane got selected after averaging 45 with the ball. There are bowlers like Adil Rashid, Jack Leach and Dom Bess who have all consistently bowled well in the county game and better than Crane. What example does that set?

England’s new Test selection committee will involve Trevor Bayliss, which I think is a bit of a comical error. He admitted on live television last year that Mark Stoneman was picked and he had never seen him live. This is a guy who is in charge of coaching our Test side and he has admitted he has never seen one guy play. How can he be on the selection committee? Straightaway, Bayliss’s involvement tells me that Test players will be picked on recommendations rather than his own eye, which I cannot get my head around.

I also have concerns with our development programme. Look at our young players’ performance for the England Under-19s at the recent World Cup in New Zealand, which was very poor and embarrassing after all the money we have put into development and coaching and putting all those people in place at Loughborough.

The performance of our supposed ‘next best generation’ of players in the England Lions squad in the West Indies worried me specifically in terms of batsmen technically being unable to play spin. That was embarrassing, too.

We got one victory in six weeks out there after spending countless sums of money on these players going to Loughborough and then Australia before Christmas and South Africa on a pace bowlers programme. We then got battered by a third-rate West Indies side, whose next generation seemed further ahead than ours.

Then, there was the coaching debacle during the winter. I had no problem with sending out Paul Collingwood and Mark Ramprakash as specialist coaches for the Test side.

They were with England in the winter in Australia and New Zealand, but just before the important bits, the Test matches, they were sent to Barbados to coach the North-South series involving our young players in the West Indies. It was absolutely comical. They should have stayed Down Under for continuity to the end and they should have sent two different coaches to get experience in the West Indies.