Cricket powerless to stop rebels

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

LANCE Klusener says he is owed “a six-figure sum in US dollars” by the organisers of the Indian Cricket League (ICL), which was bullied out of business by the sport’s establishment in 2008 amid evidence of match-fixing.

“They’ve more of less said, ‘If you want your money come here and sue us’,” Klusener said. “So, I’ve given up on that.”

But, asked what he would do if he had the chance to play in the competitions being planned by Subhash Chandra – the same billionaire businessman whose Essel Group was behind the ICL – Klusener said, “Cash up front and when do I start? You’ve got to pay the bills.”

Another unpaid veteran of the ICL, Nicky Boje, would also be interested but only “if it’s above board and not a rebel thing”.

“Some players worry about money and others worry about playing test cricket,” Boje said. “So, there will always be players interested in something like this.”

Or, as Klusener said, “Why can’t there be a league in places like the US? These are interesting times in which there are opportunities for cricket. If the ICC (International Cricket Council) are nervous that means there’s an opportunity.”

The suits are indeed nervous. “The ICC is aware of certain recent registrations which are of concern to the sport of cricket, and the matter is under investigation,” a spokesperson said.

He said ICC directors had been briefed on the issue at their board meeting on April 16 and that it was “being handled at senior management level”.

Sources in India say Chandra has bigger ambitions than the T20 circus that was the ICL. This time it seems he wants to stage competitions in all three formats, starting with city-based leagues in India and growing them into international entities.

So far, Essel have registered leagues in 15 different cities with India’s ministry of corporate affairs. Australian Cricket Control, Cricket Control Scotland, Kiwi Cricket Ltd and Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand) Cricket also exist at a letterhead level.

At risk, Tony Irish, the chairperson of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations suggested, was international cricket itself – a reality that has already shape-shifted significantly since the advent of the Indian Premier League.

“If this happens it’s going to be just another event that’s going to create player free agency,” Irish said. “It’s a trend and it’s happening. World cricket needs to acknowledge that and see how we can make international cricket more attractive to players.”

The game will be even less willing to admit that neither the ICC nor its members nor their affiliates own cricket – that we call Hashim Amla’s XI SA’s test team has less to do with patriotism than with marketing. Test cricket itself is a construct; there is nothing official about it because players are not appointed by governments.

Consequently, cricket’s controllers have no power to stop Essel or anyone else from establishing a rival structure. But they can make that difficult by threatening players with bans and barring access to grounds.

Money is both an enemy and an ally to Essel, who have reportedly offered Michael Clarke and David Warner 10-year contracts worth the equivalent of R470-million. Each.

But getting it all off the ground will cost Essel an estimated US$50-billion. That’s 10 times what Chandra himself is apparently worth. It also dwarfs the US$1.6-million still owed to ex-ICL players, which does not include the US$352 000 Essel recently agreed to pay 12 players when they took the matter to a Mumbai court.

“This would be good for cricket,” Klusener said. “But it would be nice if they paid their former players first.”

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