Why are cricketers these days preferring franchise-based T20 leagues over Test cricket?
Speaking ahead of the third Test against England at Johannesburg, AB de Villiers dropped a bombshell when he refused to rule out the rumours regarding his impending retirement and said that he was focusing on the rest of the series as of now.
“There has been a few rumours floating around and in most rumours there is always a little bit of truth,” said De Villiers after taking over the Test captaincy for the Proteas. “It is not just in the last while, in the last two or three years, I've been searching for the right answers to play a little bit less cricket in one way or another to keep myself fresh and to keep enjoying the game."
Cricketers these days are a pampered lot with their huge pay packages and king-size lifestyles. What De Villiers was clearly alluding to was a potential Test retirement which would make him available to feature in the T20 leagues around the world.
But when someone of the calibre of De Villiers, who is in the form of his life, considers retirement to opt for the more lucrative proposition of franchise-based T20s, it is surely not a great advertisement for Test cricket.
Cash-rich leagues promise huge financial gains
Perhaps for the first time in their lives, cricketers find themselves divided between their allegiances to the nation and the financial gains promised by the cash-rich franchises. Even when players want to be just content with representing their nations, their fortitude is being deeply tasted by the money that is being thrown at them by the franchises.
And that was exactly the point AB de Villiers was making when he said: "There are big tournaments going on around the world at the moment and some of them you cannot ignore because financially they do make a huge difference in our lives."
The payments involved are, in fact, so lucrative that they have tipped the scales in favour of franchise-based cricket. Andrew Symonds earned an incredible $1.4 million for six weeks work in the inaugural edition of the IPL back in 2008. Players like Yuvraj Singh and Glenn Maxwell have elicited multi-million dollar bids. And a defining case in point would also be that of Chris Morris.
In 2013, Morris started out in the IPL auction with a base price of US$20,000 but was ultimately snapped up by the CSK for an incredible $625,000 which was 31 times his initial base price. Morris earned a whopping 5.5 million in rands which turned him from an unknown quantity to a multi-million dollar player in the space of ten minutes. "I have never in my life seen this much money," Morris gasped.
Even though the Big Bash League brought up an increment of $100,000 in 2015, it's salary cap of $1.30 million is nowhere close to the IPL. The Indian Premier League has a player's salary cap of $9 million which makes it a natural destination for players from all around the world.
With so much money being thrown around, the structure of cricket is changing. Players anxious to have a share of the pie are not at all reluctant to forgo their international commitments. And the other side of the story is equally concerning: cricketers are growing up these days with the sole desire of being successful T20 cricketers. With franchise-based cricket able to lend them fame and financial security, representing the nation in the longer format no longer remains the primary choice for a budding cricketer.
KC Cariappa who was bought by the KKR for an astonishing Rs. 2.4 crore - 24 times his base price - had not come through the ranks playing Test cricket at the domestic level but was spotted for his good performances in the Karnataka Premier League which is a state-level franchise-based T20 competition.
And players like Chris Gayle and Kevin Pietersen who have been pariahs in their own cricketing worlds have managed to stay in the limelight, earning big bucks by belting out match-winning performances for franchises around the world.
Just cricket or entertainment?
While youngsters often use franchise-based cricket as a leverage to shoot through to fame, the more experienced cricketers take to it as it is less taxing. Though the level of commitment remains high and the T20 format is physically demanding, there is hardly the pressure that once undergoes while representing the country.
This form of cricket is also high on the entertainment quotient with the world of glamour coming together with sport to form a heady cocktail. Brendom McCullum speaking to cricket.com.au last year said, "The IPL – financially it’s obviously great for players and that’s one of the things that everyone views is that it’s this big money-spinning tournament, and yes it is. But geez I got to bat next to Ricky Ponting in my first ever game in the IPL.
"I idolised Ricky Ponting growing up and here I was at the other end to him, and leading into a game watching him train, getting alongside him, speaking to him about the game, sharing a beer with him. These sorts of experiences, they were never around before the IPL, and what it’s done for world cricket and the relationships it’s created."
And the strange thing is that it is not ostensibly cricketing skills but marketability that fetches a player huge price tags in these competitions. Speaking about how competitions like the IPL have altered the ecosystem of the sport, Rahul Dravid mused back in 2013, "The other day I walked the ramp as part of a promotional event. When I started my career, I never imagined this would be part of a cricketer's life!"
With spontaneous entertainment, king-sized lifestyles, an easy camaraderie between international players and of course, huge pay packages, franchise-based T20 cricket is a now a fun-filled and easy way for cricketers to earn the big bucks. No matter how much cricketers strike the politically correct notes of Test matches being the ultimate form of cricket, franchise-based T20s remain the ultimate cash cow that they are increasingly finding hard to ignore.