The Royal Gazette mastheadAfter months of bitter wrangling, contract negotiations between the national team and the Bermuda Cricket Board have concluded in a long-awaited agreement, it emerged last night. In a last ditch effort to bring the impasse over pay to a conclusion before the national squad leave for their five-week tour of Africa this evening, both the BCB and the players agreed to submit to mediation last week - with representatives from both sides spending almost seven hours yesterday locked in talks with mediator and lawyer Wendell Hollis.

The Board was represented by chief executive Neil Speight, secretary Marc Wetherhill and their lawyer Kelvin Hastings Smith, of Appleby Hunter Bailhache, while the interests of the players were fought by national team captain Clay Smith, Dwayne Leverock and Lionel Cann (right).

And late last night the BCB released a statement suggesting an agreement had been reached which was "satisfactory" to both sides - though when pressed the Board was unwilling to divulge specifically how much they had agreed to pay the players with a little over five months to go before the World Cup.

However, The Royal Gazette can reveal that in addition to having their work salaries covered by the Board, the players have negotiated a five-month match fee and bonus package worth in the region of $20,000 per-person, including a fee of roughly $1,000 per One-Day International, $750 per Intercontinental Cup game and a one-off payment in the region of $5,000 just for making the World Cup squad.

The deal makes Bermuda's cricketers far and away the richest of all the Associate member countries competing in the Caribbean early next year, with the likes of Scotland and Ireland, for example, unable to compensate their players for lost salaries while offering match fees of between only 50 and 100.

Though they have resisted commenting publicly so far, officials at the BCB have come under significant pressure from Government in the last two weeks to give in to the players' demands for extra money.

This was despite very serious concerns among most of the Board's executive that public money set aside for future tours or developmental projects would have to be sacrificed to appease a group of players intent on making a sizeable profit from their World Cup adventure.

Meanwhile, Speight told The Royal Gazette last night that the potential controversy resulting from "discrepancies" in Cann's salary compensation claim revealed two weeks ago "had been dealt with", and that the Southampton Rangers allrounder would join up as planned with the squad in Kenya on November 15.

The BCB also said in their statement that they wished to "distance themselves" from any allegations of dishonesty on Cann's part - as reported in The Royal Gazette on October 19 - implying instead that the concerns they had about inaccuracies on Cann's compensation claim had merely been the result of a of a complicated misunderstanding.

However, when this newspaper first approached the Board about the Cann allegations, a member of the executive confirmed that there were suspicions Cann had sought additional money by over-stating his income, and requested The Gazette hold the story for 24 hours while promising a statement the next day.

When a statement was not forthcoming, however, The Gazette decided to reveal what was going on behind the scenes. That aside, the Board said in their press release last night that they were relieved the contract negotiations had finally been concluded.

"The agreement is satisfactory to all concerned and permits the players to concentrate on preparation for the World Cup without any distractions which may have resulted from financial concerns," the statement read.

"Details of specific contractual issues will not be disclosed although the Bermuda Cricket Board will be making public in due course details of the allocation of funding pledged by the Bermuda Government, the preparations for the ICC Cricket World Cup and the initiatives and programmes devoted to ensuring Bermuda has a viable national cricket programme for generations to come."

And the players said in a statement: "We the national cricket team would like to take this opportunity to thank all the parties involved in assisting bringing this matter to a conclusion. "Special thanks to Mr. Wendell Hollis and the Department of Youth and Sport and Recreation. With the contract negotiations behind us, we can now solely focus on getting ready for the World Cup and we look forward to positive support and results."