A modern day cricketer's biggest dilemma - Country or club?
Cricket is, and has always been, a sport with a great legacy. It’s had superstars who have lit grounds with their dazzling displays of brilliance. The likes of Sir Sobers, Sir Botham, Sir Viv were the prime entertainers in the 60s, 70s and 80s, followed by Sachin, Lara, Warne, Gilchrist, KP, Sehwag in the 90s and 2000s, but one man who’s captured the imagination of cricket lovers all over the world with his pyrotechnics in the last few years has been the South African genius named Abraham Benjamin de Villiers.
The fact that he is the best entertainer in modern day cricket in something that’s undeniable.
Some time back, he issued a serious warning that “leading players will leave international cricket behind unless there are significant changes within the game”.
This got me thinking that such a comment coming from a leading cricketer should be a matter of huge concern for cricket’s governing body.
A cricket fan might ask: “Why would a cricketer be non-committal about playing for his country, isn’t it the ultimate honor, something he’d have dreamt of ever since he first held a cricket bat/ball?”
The answer is: “Yes, it used to be the ultimate honor, but perhaps not anymore; not in this age of T20 cricket!”
With so many cash-rich T20 leagues going on; the IPL and the Big Bash being the leaders in this, there’s little incentive for a cricketer to choose playing for his country ahead of playing for a franchise in one or more of these leagues. Citing de Villiers’s example itself, he is contracted with the RCB in the IPL until the end of 2017 in a deal worth Rs. 9.5 crore, which is almost 23.5 million rand, which is roughly ten times more than his national contract which is believed to be between 2 and 3 million rand.
Now, looking at the numbers above, why would he ever want to miss out on an IPL season if it clashes with a couple of Test matches that South Africa plays during that period? And he is just one example; there are many more, especially from the West Indies.
The problem is obvious: This vast gap between the money these cricketers get paid by their boards and also, in some cases, the kind of treatment meted out to them by the board, lead them towards the cash-rich leagues and players even mull retiring from international cricket if they are pressurized by their cricket board to put country ahead of franchises.
To make matters worse, despite becoming fully aware of the concerns raised by the players about packed international schedules taking a toll on their bodies and hence, forcing them to decide between T20 leagues that give money and international matches that pay lesser, the ICC isn’t willing to make any amendments to the international FTP till 2019! Appalling, to say the least.
A fine balancing act between the two is needed
So what can be the solution?
Well, there can be a few solutions:
First, and perhaps the most practical and simplest one to implement, would be for the ICC to accept that these lucrative T20 leagues are here to stay and to overlap the international cricket calendar with one or more of these leagues and asking the players to make the difficult choice, would only make matters worse. Hence, it’ll be better to make amendments to the FTP to make sure that players don’t need to make a choice between playing in a league or for their country in an international game, and can play both, their body permitting.
Second, when we say “their body permitting”, it’s another issue that’s raised by the players these days that too much cricket is causing injuries and hence, players are missing more matches than they are playing; some Australian and Indian fast bowlers are best examples of this.
So, the solution would be for the ICC to pick and choose smartly when it comes to scheduling matches. For instance, the one-day series between India and Australia earlier this year before the World T20 in March was of little or no significance for more reasons than one. It preceded a T20 season where teams wanted to play more and more T20 games to fine tune their skills before the World T20, and it had not even been 12 months since the last 50 overs World Cup and since the next one is 3 years away, teams weren't really looking to finalize a core group of players that can represent them at the next 50 over global event just yet.
Hence, a 5 match ODI series like that one could easily have been avoided to give the jaded players some much needed and deserved rest before a World Cup.
Cricket is facing its biggest crisis after match-fixing these days, with more and more players showing an inclination towards quitting the international game for domestic leagues, which ensure better paychecks and lesser strain on the body, but cricket can least afford to lose its valued stars to such leagues. It’ll rob international cricket off all its sheen in the years to come if this issue isn’t addressed right away!
A need for a balance between such leagues and international games along with reducing the no. of “inconsequential” matches and series is something the ICC needs to take a serious look at and implement much earlier than 2019, else I’m afraid in the future we’ll get to see our favorite cricketing stars only in colored clothing in T20 leagues and never in whites for their country, and AB, sadly in this case, might be a heart-breaking example to start with.