All-rounder Jimmy Neesham has turned down the offer of a central contract with New Zealand.
The reason that he has given is that he had already made commitments to play in overseas T20 franchise tournaments, and that he did not want to go back on those agreements.
Nevertheless, it is sign of a growing trend with players increasingly prioritising their own playing careers over the chance to play for their countries.
In the case of Neesham, although he would not publicly admit it either, there may have been an element of personal animus involved as well.
He was omitted from the original central contract list earlier this year, but then slots became available after Trent Boult announced his intention to scale back his international commitmentscompletely whilst Colin de Grandhomme retired from all forms of international cricket.
Blair Tickner and Finn Allen have been added to the central contract list instead.
What is a central contract?
A central contract is awarded by the national cricket board to those players who regularly represent their countries with often different contracts for red and white ball cricket.
Essentially, the contracts, which are typically awarded on an annual basis, makes the national board the employer of the players with the right of first refusal on their services when it comes to the competing demands of domestic cricket.
In exchange, players get a guaranteed salary and these are usually tiered according to the relative perceived value of the player.
How much are they worth?
Although nearly all boards offer central contracts, the value of them vary considerably depending on the wealth of the cricketing nation involved.
A player with one of the “Big Three” countries – India, Australia and England – can expect to be very well remunerated by a central contract.
However, with the less well-off nations, the figures drop and here comes the sticking point increasingly. The sums offered do not compare with what can be earned by playing regularly in the various franchise leagues that are proliferating.
Whilst there is the undoubted honour of playing for one’s country, at the same time, a cricketing career is relatively short and could be ended by injury any day. Players have limited opportunities to earn the sort of money that can set them and their families up for life.
Few can blame them for making such a choice.
Neesham’s international career
Neesham has played 12 tests for New Zealand, but he has not been capped at that level since 2017.
He is better known for his exploits in white ball cricket and has played in 71 ODIs, included in which was the World Cup final in 2019 at Lord’s.
Famously he was chosen to bat in the Super Over and hit a six off Jofra Archer, but still finished on the losing side with the match tied, but England winning the Cup courtesy of the number of boundaries scored.
He has also played 48 T20Is for his country, was in the team that lost the World Cup final in Dubai last November, and has been named in their squad for next month’s World Cup in Australia.
To date, he has scored 2,725 international runs and taken 108 wickets.
Indian cricket fans may know Neesham from his time in the Indian T20 league. He played for the Delhi Capitals in 2014, the Punjab Kings two years ago, the Mumbai Indians in 2021, and this season he was part of the roster for the Rajasthan Royals, although he only made one appearance for the franchise.
In addition, he has appeared in the Caribbean Premier League for Guyana Amazon Warriors and the Trinbago Knight Riders, in the Hundred for Welsh Fire, and had spells in county cricket for Derbyshire, Kent, and Essex.
Recently it has been confirmed that he will feature in the auction for the new South African franchise T20 league, which takes place in Cape Town next Monday.
A growing trend
Neesham will not be the first or last to make such a decision and there is very little that boards can do to prevent it because players are free agents.
India does have a policy of preventing its players, past and present, from playing in overseas leagues. But the trade-off is that they can earn good money playing in the Indian T20 league.
Other boards cannot offer such compensation.
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