Sir Ian Botham, Durham’s chairman, has reiterated his call for counties to be compensated for the loss of home-grown talent, warning that the ongoing drain of senior players from his club’s first XI could have a devastating long-term impact on the success of their acclaimed youth development system.
Speaking on Sky Sports during the second ODI at Trent Bridge, Botham pointed out that Durham have lost four players with England aspirations in the past 12 months, with last season’s departures of Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick for Surrey being followed by the twin loss to Nottinghamshire of Paul Coughlin, their T20 captain, and Keaton Jennings, whose move remains subject to them attaining first-division status for 2018.
The issue, Botham said, was not that the players wished to further their careers elsewhere, but that the unchecked departure of players who had been nurtured by the club from age-group level upwards could have a destabilising effect on the entire Academy system – a system that that was last year rated as “outstanding” by the ECB, and has been responsible for some of the most important players to have played for England in the past 15 years, including Steve Harmison, Paul Collingwood and Ben Stokes.
“I’m all for Coughlin going if he thinks he can further his career,” Botham said, “but we’ve got to replace him. They don’t just grow on trees. It’s taken us a few years to bring him through the system and now we’ve got a massive hole. Why aren’t we compensated by a transfer system? They could give us £200,000 and we could bring in a player to fill his boots. But we don’t get anything.”
Until this year, Durham’s progress in the 25 years since they were granted first-class status in 1992 had been little short of remarkable. They won the County Championship three times in six years between 2008 and 2013, and despite being the youngest first-class county by a distance, their record of producing England players puts more established clubs to shame. But, in the wake of last year’s financial bail-out by the ECB, which led to relegation and a subsequent points deduction, Botham fears that the fabric of the club is in danger of being eroded.
“Look at our record of bringing players through, then look around the other counties and see where Durham stands,” Botham said. “I suspect there’s maybe only one other county that’s even close to us. We want to further English cricket. The team continues to try to bring local boys through the ranks, but as soon as they get to any status in the game, we are looking over our shoulders wondering where is he going to next?
“It is a problem. I’m not asking for a transfer market as in football, all I am asking for is compensation so that we can keep our team at the same standard and maybe give an opportunity to another player from another county who doesn’t fit in there.
“Our academy is producing some very good young players, aged 15,16, 17, but we can’t throw them into county cricket yet. We’ve blooded a few this year, but we need senior players in the dressing room and, at the moment, I’m losing them left right and centre. I feel very sorry for the coaching staff and academy, because they aren’t seeing their achievements come to fruition.”
Another player who may be close to the exit, albeit for more natural reasons, is the club captain, Collingwood, who has committed to lead the side into the 2018 season, but at the age of 41, is clearly sizing up his future. “I’d give him a five-year contract tomorrow if he wanted it,” Botham said. “He’s magnificent in the dressing room, the way he nurtures players, builds them up, keeps them going. We need senior players like him.”
Botham also clarified his initial comments on the transfer saga, in which he had suggested that the chance to work with Mick Newell, Nottinghamshire’s director of cricket who is also an England selector, could have been a reason for Coughlin and Jennings to move to Trent Bridge, a view that was dismissed by Andrew Strauss, the director of England cricket, as “100% wrong”.
“We need to be transparent with these things,” Botham said. “We’ve lost four international players. My argument was ‘is there a conflict of interests?’ I was never questioning [Newell’s] integrity.”