Is it time for transfer fees in cricket?

When I think back to the things that have most disappointed me supporting Somerset then there are a few highlights. There are all those second-placed finishes and cup final defeats of course. The so-called Battle of Shepton Mallet and the subsequent public fallout which led to three of my boyhood heroes to leave Somerset, particularly I.T. Botham. And the horrible injury to Craig Kieswetter that ultimately led to his premature retirement; a big loss to Somerset and the game.

And then there was Jos Buttler leaving Somerset for Lancashire in 2014.

Every one of us who saw Jos play when he was a promising youngster knew we had a precocious talent in our ranks. A batsman with skills like few others, a potential Hollywood star of English cricketers and a Somerset boy who loved to wear the Wyvern. It would be the love affair to last forever. Or so we thought.

I won’t venture into the background of why Jos left or the rights and wrongs, but it still breaks my heart when I see him wearing the red rose and not those of the county he calls home and still loves. That’s not to say I am not incredibly proud of how he has developed into a truly world class player. I am, and so are the vast majority of Somerset fans.

But let’s remove the emotion for one second. What rankled me back then, and still rankles me today, is that Jos was allowed to leave for Lancashire without any financial benefit to Somerset – the club that developed him and handed him the platform to showcase his talents. This is not the fault of the player, of course. Now, if he had been a Premier League footballer of equal ability and standing, then Jos Buttler moving from club-to-club would have been subject to a multi-million pound transfer fee.

Yet Somerset, who have invested millions of pounds into their academy and player development infrastructure and have produced three England players this last few months alone, get nothing. Not a penny for their time and investment. And that cannot be right.

And it is not just Somerset I am thinking of here as Kent should have been duly compensated when Sam Northeast departed for Hampshire this season, regardless of his contract situation or sterling service and loyalty shown by the player. Replacing Northeast was always going to be a tall order for the Canterbury-based club – possibly impossible!

And I look at the transfer rumours circulating these past few days with Warwickshire set to announce the signing of Gloucestershire’s Liam Norwell and are also chasing all-rounder Ben Raine from Leicestershire, who are also trying to protect Zak Chappell from several suitors. Worcestershire are battling hard to retain Joe Clarke and Ed Barnard from predators too. Players the “selling” clubs will also struggle to replace.

And Somerset are being linked with Jack Brooks from Yorkshire. The Leeds-based club are hardly a small, struggling outfit but I would still expect my club to pay a fee for the player’s services as I would if the situation was reversed. Yorkshire, it is suggested, will soften the blow by taking Ben Duckett from Northants – a club I am sure could do with some suitable compensation as players of Duckett’s abilities are hard to replace.

Losing bright young players is never easy for any club in any sport, but an incoming fee can soften the blow somewhat, and can be used to fund replacements or for investment back into that counties academy. And it can be more sinister than that at times. Moving sport again some Exeter City supporting friends of mine tell me quite graphically than when The Grecians sold George Friend to Wolves way back when the £250,000 transfer fee was the difference between survival and extinction. There may be a certain amount of creative licence in this statement but the fact was City were in a dreadful financial state at the time and the money most welcome.

It makes you wonder if all counties will continue to invest in academies. There was a time, not that long ago, when Somerset relied on having teams full of ageing journeymen complimented by a few promising kids that trained with the first team in the hope that one would develop. Some did, of course, but by-and-large the cider county fed off the scraps off other counties hoping to unearth a gem. As business plans go that is not the best.

Rarely – if ever – would I want cricket to emulate football – a beautiful game that has become distorted by greed and parasites – but in this case I think the game of cricket needs to follow suit. We have watched while contracts in cricket have become nothing more than a few words on toilet paper and we must protect the counties, especially those who work hard to develop young talent. Or we will see more of the financial heavyweight counties stockpiling players while second tier outfits struggle.

So I think it is time for financial compensation to be paid to ‘selling’ counties with immediate effect. But one thing I wouldn’t want, Jim White live on Sky Sports on cricket transfer deadline day getting all hot-under-the-collar with the latest ‘breaking news’ because Kapil Dev has been seen at Lords, or the cleaners have arrived for their shift at Bristol. That would be taking things too far.

With Somerset having so many good young players in their ranks, and only limited opportunities, there is a very real possibility that some may move on to better their career prospects. And, if that is the case, then Somerset should enjoy the financial return for their efforts. That is only fair