We know – because it has leaked out of Leicester and has been fully covered on this site by Paul Bolton’s excellent county reports – that Warwickshire wish to sign James Taylor next season even though he has another year to run on his contract at Grace Road.
We also know via his column in the Independent that Matthew Hoggard, Leicestershire’s captain, is none too happy about this. “They can bugger off”, he writes. “We want to keep our youngsters, thank you very much”.
So Ashley Giles, Warwickshire’s cricket director and a Test selector, has delivered his message to Taylor: “Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you’ve got to do is call and I’ll be there, yes I will, you’ve got a friend”, or words to that effect. Taylor, wisely, has kept his own counsel so far.
There is a history of players moving counties – very often ending up at Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire, the two teams most likely to covet Taylor’s talent – and enhancing their careers in the process.
There was Bob Willis heading off to Edgbaston in the Seventies, Chris Broad to Trent Bridge in the Eighties, Nick Knight to Warwickshire in the Nineties. More recently we have seen how Graeme Swann, Ryan Sidebottom and Chris Tremlett have become major international players after a change of county.
There are several reasons for this. All of us, including selectors, tend to notice a new name at a fresh club. A change of counties invites the spotlight and hints at a restless ambition. Moreover the players involved are presented with a new challenge.
They can start afresh as they go about proving their worth to new colleagues. They can also shed some baggage along the way in an attempt to change those immovable, preconceived ideas that have taken root at their first counties – “He’s too soft, too selfish, too posh, too busy in the bar etc…”
It also helps to move to counties which are enjoying some success. They attract more coverage in the press and on television. Excelling in a Lord’s final never did anyone’s international prospects any harm.
Currently, Leicestershire are struggling both financially and on the field. As I write they are bottom of Division Two in the County Championship, second from bottom – above Scotland – in their Clydesdale Bank 40 group although they have had some Twenty20 success.
So what should Taylor do? It’s up to him, of course. He does have the reassurance that he has become a regular member of the England Lions while still at Leicestershire. The selectors know about him and they rate him. But how much easier would it be for him to make an impact in a better side in the first division? Is it inevitable that he will follow the route out of Leicester taken by Stuart Broad three years ago?
Oh, and there is one other factor that I nearly forgot to mention. The chances are that any county which tempts Taylor away from Grace Road will be prepared to pay him a significantly higher salary than the one he receives now.
It will surprise me if Taylor is still at Grace Road next year. Moreover, if he opts to leave, that decision would be very easy to understand and justify. It may well be the right one for him.
But where does that leave Leicestershire? Very angry in the case of Hoggard. The club can argue that they painstakingly nourish new talent only for it to be grabbed by their big neighbours – though they will receive some compensation via the fee payments system if Taylor goes on to play international cricket.
And where does that leave county cricket? We are getting ever closer to money doing all the talking just as it does in football. At the moment it is only the inability of Surrey to translate a large income into success on the field that gives the poorer counties hope.
Currently there is no transfer fee in cricket to bolster poor counties, with the capacity to unearth quality players. The only solution for those counties seems to be to persuade their talented young cricketers to sign long contracts. Then, if they are to be poached, the poachers must pay substantial compensation in lieu of a transfer fee.
Something like that might happen with Taylor. Hoggard realises this but is understandably fed up at the prospect of losing one of his best cricketers: “Warwickshire have come to us with the attitude that because they’ve got more money to throw around they can take our player away and give us a few sweeties to soften the blow”.
The sad conundrum for Leicestershire is this: if they let Taylor go now they will, at least, get some sweeties; if they hang on to him until his contract is up next year, they will get none.