Unrestricted movement between the growing number of festivals can lead to questionable loyalty
You are a T20 cricketer, who has spent the last three weeks in the league playing for an under-performing team. Your final group game is approaching, and only a win would be enough to get you through to next week’s knockout stages – but you’ve got a problem.
Your agent has been calling to tell you that a team in another league is looking for a replacement for a player who has left the country. You are their first choice, but the contract may expire unless you are available next week. How does this knowledge affect your thinking in your game that you need to win?
The same thing has happened on a daily basis this month: every time a team is eliminated from the SA20, their overseas stars jump on a plane to Dubai or Dhaka to play in the ILT20 or the BPL. More than a dozen players – including Sam Curran, Liam Livingstone and Jimmy Neesham – have appeared in more than one league this month.
For financially successful cricketers, the financial incentives are clear: an early exit from one league can open up another week to catch up, increasing the overall income. Any time it would be in the players’ favor for their team to win should cause panic; a company employee describes it as “a sign of a broken game”.
There is no suggestion that any player has deliberately failed in one league in order to ensure their presence in another. But, as one assistant says: “It’s a wonderful thing to have in the back of your mind.” The blame is not on the players, who are making the most of T20 cricket, but on the management who have allowed an unregulated market to evolve.
There are also some puzzling cases of players representing Indian franchises but playing in the only other IPL. Last month, Nicholas Pooran played for Durban Super Giants – the South African offshoot of his IPL team, Lucknow – against MI Cape Town. His time lasted three matches: nine days later, he played – and managed – MI Emirates in Dubai.
This situation does not work for fans, regardless of their preferences. Purists are lamenting the demise of cricket around the world, but even the younger fans who grew up with the tournament are not well served. Is there a clear way to follow – let alone support – a license whose team changes daily, often without public announcement?
The six ILT20 franchises fielded 129 players – most of them from overseas – in 30 group matches this season. The seven BPL franchises have used 133 between them in the first 28 games; that number will increase further this week when Keshav Maharaj plays Fortune Barishal, despite South Africa’s lowest-ranked Test team playing New Zealand.
What is important is that the five leagues – BBL, SA20, ILT20, BPL and PSL – will hold one part of their season between the end of January and the end of February. The problem was exacerbated this time by the World Cup, which continued until November 19, but will be again in 2024-2025 with the Champions Trophy starting at the beginning of February. Everyone wants a window, but there isn’t all the space.
There are other efforts to reach a resolution. FICA, the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations, will invite the players to an international meeting to plan the process in the second half of this year. “The outlook for the current players is dire,” Tom Moffat, CEO of FICA, told ESPNcricinfo. “They are at the core, and they should be at the center of this conversation.
“This is the issue of planning… the same organizations that govern international cricket also have many domestic players. Although it is difficult to achieve, if the international schedule is designed around a clear window of international cricket, then, league, it can make it clear, create the right balance, and manage the players much better.”
The answer must include cooperation – demonstrated by the Caribbean Premier League avoiding conflict with Mazana in its 2024 window – and long-term thinking. It is surprising that game windows are often not heard until a few weeks before they start, and that they are removed from the Future Tours Program (FTP) despite many other orders.
But the men’s international program has effectively been shut down until March 2027 through the FTP, and cricket’s governing body can’t wait much longer to deal with the wrong incentives the players have created. Instead, boards should find common solutions to these problems that can be submitted for approval at the ICC level. This may include:
1. Renewal of contracts
Most leagues work with contracts that combine players being paid the majority of their salary through retainers, with match fees and win bonuses that only represent a fraction. Changing the money can be avoided in some cases where players can benefit from money to withdraw early.
2. Legal ‘cooling off periods’
Franchise league contracts and No-Objection Certificates (NOCs) are also written to state that players must declare their presence in the knockout stages upon entering the program or signing a contract. If they declare their presence in the deaf phase, they are excluded from any other domestic cricket until the following deadline, regardless of their team’s progress.
3. Change the ‘Bravo Rule’ of Blast
England’s T20 Blast previously said that, in knock-out matches, counties could only play players who had played in one-day matches, a rule made in response to the signing of Essex Dwayne Bravo specifically on Finals Day in 2010. Other boards are set to follow suit, allowing teams to use local talent in their team. Ironically, the ECB introduced the same rule during Mazana’s second season – then removed it during the third.
4. Limits of NOC for players with central agreement
Boards may consider following the lead of the Pakistan Cricket Board and setting a limit on the number of NOCs they give their players in a given window, making the long term unattractive for those who want to spend a large part of the year playing in the league. .
A fourth idea was promoted by Ricky Ponting last week, but his comments – he was speaking as he was unveiled as the new coach of the Washington Freedom, in addition to his stints with the Delhi Capitals and Hobart Hurricanes – indicate the extent of the problem. Change will require leadership in a sport that is not in the minority.
Cricket has long been committed to the free market and its governance now depends on peace between stakeholders. Players – and their supporters – have more energy than ever, and they want to make hay when the sun shines. Boards want to keep their players, and keep them happy. Leagues want to attract fans, and turn a profit. The only interest that did not stand is that of the game, without a central authority with enough power to participate in the game.
Franchises want to grow their reputation, and to be successful. Here’s an important question: How do the owners of SA20 teams feel about the idea that their early elimination could open up an extra week of opportunities for their players elsewhere? The irony is not lost on anyone if ordinary investors can become the groups pushing for legislation.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98