Durham feel squeeze after Mark Wood’s central England deal is downgraded

Ali Martin
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Mark Wood still has his eyes on the Ashes and has been named in the Lions squad to travel to Australia.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: TGSPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Mark Wood still has his eyes on the Ashes and has been named in the Lions squad to travel to Australia. Photograph: TGSPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

Mark Wood has been downgraded from a full England central contract to one only for white‑ball cricket. But while this means the fast bowler will now return to the payroll at Durham, the county are phlegmatic about the impact it will have on their tight finances.

The 27-year-old returned from a third ankle operation at the start of the 2017 season and went on to have a significant impact for England’s one-day team during the first half of the summer. He bowled with pace and claimed a raft of high‑profile wickets that included Hashim Amla, Kane Williamson, David Warner and Steve Smith en route to the Champions Trophy semi-finals.

However, a Test comeback against South Africa in July after an 18-month absence was less fruitful, with only one wicket in two matches before a bruised left heel wiped much of the remainder of his season. England remain optimistic his talent will come through, to the extent that he will be part of the Lions squad in Australia with a view to a possible Ashes call-up mid-series.

England have, however, dropped him down from the list of top-level central contracts that will be announced on Friday, having paid his wages for the past two years. Instead he will pick up a contract only for white-ball cricket, which is an incremental salary that sits on top of a player’s regular county wages rather than takes them over entirely.

Among the many reasons behind Durham’s well-documented financial problems – a situation that came to a head last year with a £3.8m bailout by the England and Wales Cricket Board and enforced relegation – was that Steve Harmison, Graham Onions, Paul Collingwood and Liam Plunkett all came off central contracts within a short space of time at the start of the decade.

But officials at Durham insist Wood’s return to their books this time around is not as problematic, given there will be a parachute payment from the ECB that eases the transition. The recent departures of Onions and Keaton Jennings to Lancashire, and Paul Coughlin to Nottinghamshire, means they are looking to recruit players rather than offload, with new contracts handed to Graham Clark and Michael Richardson on Thursday.

Durham remain embattled, though. They are awaiting the outcome of an inquiry into the stand that partially collapsed during England’s Twenty20 against West Indies last month, and this week Jack Burnham, one of their most promising batsmen, was banned for a year after three positive tests for recreational drug use – understood to be cocaine.

Ben Stokes, Wood’s close friend and county team-mate, will at least remain on a full England central contract. The Test vice‑captain is awaiting the outcome of a police investigation into the early hours incident in Bristol on 25 September after which he was suspended indefinitely by the ECB and has left his place on the Ashes tour in significant doubt.

England awarded 10 central contracts and 11 limited-overs deals this time last year as Andrew Strauss, the team director, shook up the system to bring one-day specialists more in line with their Test counterparts. Steven Finn, the Middlesex seamer, was among those handed a full deal but could now drop off after missing out on an Ashes berth.

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