here was once a time when any T20 played at Lord’s represented enough of a meeting of worlds old and new, without needing this kind of intrusion from the cricketing future.
But as Surrey and Middlesex’s players warmed up ahead of their Vitality Blast opener here, confirmation broke of a story that had been rumbling along quietly for some time, plenty louder through the day, and will in time no doubt prove another watershed moment for English game.
Jason Roy, England’s World Cup-winning opener, has agreed to give up his incremental contract with the ECB in order to play in the inaugural edition of Major League Cricket, the new T20 franchise tournament set to launch as the sport’s newest attempt to finally crack America later this summer.
And frankly, who could blame him? Roy is, at present, a single-format international cricketer, and in the format which, beyond this year’s World Cup, looks to have the least secure future of the three. He will not miss a single England match during his time in the US, nor even a T20 for Surrey, having committed to hanging around for Blast Finals Day should they get that far.
For a few weeks’ work stateside at the end of July, he will earn several times the value of his incremental deal, worth between £60,000 and £70,000 per year, and the ECB will not have to cough up what’s left to be paid of that salary, the contract having been due to run until October.
Roy has already reiterated his commitment to England as his “priority” and they have, in turn, confirmed the incumbent ODI opener’s decision will not affect his chances of keeping that shirt ahead of the autumn’s World Cup defence in India.
The nervous concern then, lies not in the substance of Roy’s transatlantic sojourn, which comes with the ECB’s blessing, but in what it might, or rather, will foreshadow.
England are not naive to the threat posed by franchise cricket’s growing dominance of the global landscape, one accelerated over the past year by the birth of several new tournaments, all of which have some level of IPL backing as the T20 web outside the international game becomes ever more tightly entwined.
Already, the ECB have shown signs of their increasing flexibility, sympathetic in allowing several non-centrally contracted players to turn down places on the white-ball tour of Bangladesh to take up more lucrative gigs at the Pakistan Super League earlier this year. There is an acceptance, too, that both England match fees and central contracts will have to be restructured and increase in value to compete, though quite where the required resource will come from remains to be seen.
Roy, though, is the first England player to withdraw from such a deal and will not be the last, perhaps not even the last this summer. MLC is the first franchise rival to arrive in a window so close to the heart of the English season and is bound to expand. This time next year, the breaks may not be quite so clean.
Having returned from a stint at Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL, Roy had been expected to play for Surrey here, only to be ruled out shortly before the toss (and soon after his statement had been released) by a calf issue picked up in the warm-up.
Even still, Surrey’s stacked lineup showed why they are among the favourites to end their 20-year wait for a second T20 title in posting 199-for-six to set up a 73-run victory.
Will Jacks hammered 43 off 22 balls, while the Curran brothers, Sam and Tom, shared a 118-run stand for the third wicket, the former making 68 only days after arriving back from the IPL and the latter exactly 50 playing as a specialist batter on his comeback from a stress fracture.
Helm’s excellent final over brought three wickets for only three runs and left the visitors just shy of 200, but that proved too tall a chasing order, Jacks and Gus Atkinson each taking three wickets as Middlesex’s promising start fell flat in a collapse from 93-for-three to 126-all-out.
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