Cricket Could Undergo A Metamorphosis
T-20 franchisee cricket lures players away from national duty
Even the most staunch loyalists and traditionalists who believed that for cricketers it would ultimately be country over club, that Test cricket will never die and that all three formats could co-exist cannot fail to see the warning signals. The changing shape and tone of international cricket has been on view for some time but of late it has become much more marked and there is little doubt now that T-20 franchisee cricket is luring players away from national duty.
The prospect of the IPL franchises becoming primary employers of foreign cricketers over their national boards is moving closer with multi-tournament contracts already being offered to some players. Eight of the IPL's ten franchises own at least one team in another league abroad and the owners of Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals have both acquired teams in new T-20 tournaments in South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
Australian captain Pat Cummins, for one, is not surprised at how fast the landscape is changing. “There are going to be other opportunities that are going to be really hard for players to say no to. I think realistically we have got to manage players a bit differently to what we have in the past,’’ Cummins said in a recent interview.
Let’s hear it from Neil Maxwell who is aware of the changing face of cricket and the metamorphosis that is taking place. “Some players have been offered multi-club deals," says Australia’s most prominent player agent, adding “The cricket landscape is changing rapidly and already contracting an Australian player has taken a different format.”
The growing number of T20 leagues offering lucrative contracts to the game's best talent means national teams are forced to play second fiddle. Even a cursory glance at the dwindling fortunes of the West Indies will underscore this.
Their cricketers are among the best in the shortest format of the game and consequently are in great demand to play for various franchisees. As a result West Indies have struggled for years to field their best players due to scheduling clashes. Currently West Indies are ranked No 7 in the ICC T-20 rankings. The situation is likely to become alarming for other national boards as well, as they struggle to match the multi-league contracts offered to their star players by private franchise owners.
A clear indication of the IPL's expanding footprint came last year when its franchises snapped up all six teams in the lucrative T20 league in South Africa. The Indian conglomerates now want their best overseas recruits to represent them in multiple leagues and according to reports informal conversations have already begun with players from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies.
This has led to some cricket boards taking defensive measures to protect their talent. For example Cricket Australia recently announced a 7.5% pay increase for its centrally contracted players, while also raising the salary cap in its Big Bash League. The England and Wales Cricket Board is planning to increase match fees and offer multi-year contracts to key players to retain its top talent.
Maxwell, who manages Cummins and fast bowler Josh Hazlewood, said boards were offering longer-term contracts for the first time as a direct result of the competition. "This will evolve again as players get more and more choice as to when and where they play."
Maxwell drew a parallel with soccer and likened the financial might of the IPL to the English Premier League (EPL), whose clubs employ the cream of international talent.
He is of the view that while cricket has traditionally survived off country v country competition this is no more sustainable in the long term. "The landscape is changing, similar to the EPL system where playing for the club is the priority."
The sport is clearly reaching a tipping point with franchise T20 fast becoming the dominating format and all other forms of cricket left fighting for the crumbs. According to Maxwell cricket is probably heading towards a similar situation to football, where the franchise sides become like Premier League clubs, and where international cricket is marginalised to preordained windows.
While the likes of World Cups and the Ashes series would retain their eminence, players prioritising the franchise T-20 game over regular bilateral cricket is very much on the cards.
The Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA) has long identified the potential conflict between T20 leagues and international cricket. According to FICA's Chief Executive Tom Moffat it has been advocating for a fixed global schedule so the two can co-exist, an initiative he believes has become more urgent as private ownership across leagues has accelerated over the past year or thereabouts. “This would likely be best achieved through formal scheduling windows, which we know players are supportive of," Moffat said.
One major board not losing any sleep over the changing landscape is the BCCI, whose coffers are filled with the proceeds from the IPL and which bans its own players from competing in overseas leagues. But even that long-standing policy might come under pressure given the ambition of the IPL franchise owners to expand their global footprint.
It will be interesting to see how things play out between the BCCI and the Indian franchise owners in the years to come. There is every chance of a conflict brewing and indeed the rapidly changing scenario could see the face of cricket being altered to an extent not seen since the days of Kerry Packer and WSC.