The ECB has announced the first recipients of England pace-bowling development contracts. Saqib Mahmood (Lancashire), Craig Overton (Somerset) and Olly Stone (Warwickshire) will continue to be employed by their counties, but the ECB will make significant contributions to their employment costs and, in return, take greater control over their playing programme throughout the year.
The contracts will also see ECB staff work with the young bowlers in an attempt to minimise injuries and maximise their potential. The contracts run until September 30 2020.
The identity of the first recipients is no real surprise. All three have played for England; two of them in Tests. Stone, the quickest of the trio, impressed on Test debut against Ireland and might well have played in the Ashes had a recurrence of the stress fracture that forced him home from the Caribbean tour at the start of 2019 not intervened. He is seen as exactly the sort of fast bowler who can help England win in Australia in 2021-22.
While Overton lacks the pace of the others, successive England management set-ups have been impressed with his competitive character and durability. The hope is that, with specialist training and perhaps a reduced workload, they may be able to coax a few more mph out of him.
Saqib, at this stage, looks more of a white-ball prospect; he has played just 16 first-class games and not taken a five-wicket haul. But he bowls at a brisk pace, can swing the ball both conventionally and reverse and, aged 22, would appear to have considerable potential for further development. While he proved expensive in his first T20I games in New Zealand last year, conceding 11.50 runs an over, he would appear to have the range of skills to be a good death bowler and could break into England’s squad for the T20 World Cup at the end of the year. He was the leading wicket-taker in the 2019 Royal London One-Day Cup.
There were a few notable omissions from the contract list, though. Jamie Overton might be said to have a higher ceiling (he is certainly quicker) than his twin brother, but has struggled with injuries. Henry Brookes, at Warwickshire, is considered by some as the best young fast-bowling talent in the country and also has a history of stress fractures. George Garton, the left-arm swing bowler, wasn’t a million miles from playing in the previous Ashes series in Australia, either, but appears not to have developed as hoped. All might have benefited from similar attention.
“Having a strong supply line of high-quality seam bowlers is an essential ingredient for sustained England team success in both white-ball and red-ball cricket,” Ashley Giles, the managing director of England men’s cricket, said. “We are very grateful to the first-class counties for agreeing to this, in particular, Lancashire, Somerset and Warwickshire. We are committed to working very closely with them to best develop players for the long-term benefit of English cricket and to ensure they are at their very best to perform at optimum levels throughout the domestic campaign.”
The new contracts are the first manifestation of the broadcast deal for the period 2020-24. Such an idea has been floated for several years but only the money offered by the deal – £1.1 billion over five years – has enable it to become a reality. The first tranche of money is paid at the start of February.
So hard up has the ECB been in recent months that England players on white-ball contracts have had their salaries paid by the counties for the last four months, although that money is now set to be repaid.