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The Netherlands (or rather, the Dutch cricket board – the KNCB) have accepted the ECB’s offer to take part in their shiny new 40-over competition (not to be confused with their old, irrelevant 40-over competition).

Ireland, meanwhile, have (somewhat controversially, in some quarters) decided not to take part, partly due to the difficulties involved in balancing the Irish national team’s international schedule with the English domestic season as well as its own. The incongruity of playing 40-over cricket in England and 50-over cricket the rest of the time has also been cited as a factor.

Scotland will, however, be joining the Netherlands in the competition, alongside “an ECB Recreational XI” (your guess is as good as mine).

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There’s been plenty of talk in recent months of the rise of the freelance cricketer, with first Andrew Symonds, then Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff being linked with the idea. Now it seems that the latter is set to lead the way, having turned down an ECB contract in favour of what some might call a mercenary existance.

On his official website, Flintoff has said that “I said when I retired from Test cricket that my ambition was to become the best one-day and Twenty20 player in the world and playing in all these different countries can only help”, keeping mention of the potential millions on offer if he plays for six teams on five continents as it has been suggested he might.

Just in case the IPL millions don’t quite cover Freddie’s bar bill, though, he is also set to take on a second job commentating for Eurosport on the Twenty20 Champions League next month. The retirement fund seems to be coming along nicely, although it remains to be seen whether Flintoff’s popularity with England fans takes a knock from this news.

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The ECB’s decision not to offer central contracts, nor even incremental contracts, to Steve Harmison or Monty Panesar has left both with their international futures in doubt. Harmison has been rumoured to be considering international retirement in any case, but Panesar now looks to have been cut adrift, particularly when the fact that Adil Rashid has been given an incremental contract is taken into account. Being England’s third-choice spin bowler isn’t a particularly attractive proposition, but at least he’ll always have Cardiff.

Just in case anyone thought the ECB were being radical, though, they gave full central contracts to Paul Collingwood, Alastair Cook and Ian Bell.

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Dutch cricket has had quite a summer – as England can attest – but it will no longer be able to rely on the services of ‘Don’t Call Him Dirty’ Dirk Nannes, who has been called up by Australia (at last) for the Twenty20 internationals at Old Trafford that will follow the Ashes. Although Nannes‘ appearances for the Netherlands do not preclude him from playing for Australia, were he to play for the latter it would mean he was ineligible to play for the ‘minnows’ again for at least four years (by which time he would be 37).

There may be some consolation for Dutch cricket fans in reports that their side may be included in the One-Day competition that the ECB are planning to replace the current Friends Provident Trophy with in their (relative) shake-up of county cricket. Given that Ireland and Scotland have had an involvement in the FPT for some time, this is likely to be welcomed as an opportunity for Dutch players to gain experience against a higher quality of opposition than it the case at the moment.

If that’s not enough to console Dutch fans, they can perhaps take some comfort in the fact that Nannes’ selection for the Aussies has brought pleasure to others

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The ECB has, somewhat out of character, done something that makes sense and decided that having two county Twenty20 competitions might be a little over the top, scrapping the proposed ‘P20’ league format (which was itself an alternative to the ‘EPL’ city-franchise-based competition which was previously favoured by some) in favour of expanding the existing Twenty20 Cup.

There would have been considerable foolhardiness in persisting with two twenty-over competitions in the face of waning support from the counties (which predictably faded further after it became apparent that there wasn’t as much money to be made as had previously been thought) and a general feeling that the format is reaching saturation point. According to the BBC, the expanded competition will span the whole season with most matches played on Thursdays, Fridays and at weekends, which also makes sense. In fact, the whole thing is so plausible and seemingly well-thought-out that it’s a little disconcerting.

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The ECB have announced that Pakistan will play two Tests and two Twenty20 matches (no ODIs, interestingly) against Australia in England (and possibly Wales – the venues are yet to be confirmed) next July.

Previously, hosting matches in England had been considered too expensive for the PCB, but that obstacle seems to have been overcome. English fans (as well as UK-based Aussies or Pakistan fans) can now look forward to Afridi vs Johnson and Gul vs Ponting at a ground near them.

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Although many would suggest that their recent form in the World Twenty20 hardly merits it, Australia’s cricketers are set for a pay rise after the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) and Cricket Australia agreed a new Memorandum of Understanding.

The move is being seen as motivated by a desire to stave off defections from the national side to a freelance (or, less generously, mercenary) existence of the sort that Andrew Symonds looks set to pioneer following his recent troubles.

It has also been revealed that the new deal will see the highest-paid player or players earn bonuses based on “their recognition and their popularity”, although reports that Ian Bell is strenuously lobbying the ECB against adopting a similar system are as yet unconfirmed.

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