As a heavily rain-disrupted season came to a close, the First Division of cricket’s County Championship saw the title race go down to the wire as Nottinghamshire and Durham battled for victory on the final day late in September. However, it was a decision taken not by the counties but by the England & Wales Cricket Board a number of weeks previously that arguably proved decisive when a weakened Nottinghamshire side were left without their young England international star Stuart Broad.

With victory against Hampshire required to wrap up the title, Nottinghamshire’s effort was to fall at the final hurdle as Broad – under contract with the ECB and with instructions not to play for his county for the remainder of the season – found himself free to enjoy some of Nottingham’s other entertainment, being spotted on two nights during the match at Market Bar’s student nights. Meanwhile, it was Durham who were able to benefit from the presence of their England international Steve Harmison, who continued his talismanic role claiming seven wickets against Kent to guide the youngest cricketing county to their first ever Championship title.

After the introduction of ECB Central Contracts in 2002-03, the fate of the select band of players awarded the contracts has lay with their country rather than their county. Unlike the vast majority of county contracts that see players employed for nine months or less, Central Contracts run for twelve months and give power to the England head coach as to if and when he wants the contracted players to perform for their counties.

While the compensation package in place ensures that counties are not left completely empty-handed when their national stars are unavailable, it must have been a bitter pill to swallow for those at Trent Bridge to see the title slip from their grasp as Broad was free to party with the Nottingham University students. It is not that the reasons for Broad’s exclusion are not known – he is the youngest of England’s centrally contracted players and is in great need of a rest before England’s winter tours – but the sight of the fellow ECB-contracted Harmison leading Durham to victory showed the great influence that the national governing body holds over the county game.

Although the Central Contract system has undeniably seen a marked improvement in the national side, the Trent Bridge faithful will no doubt feel somewhat hard done by when they reflect on another near-miss for Nottinghamshire.

Ben Bloom

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