Will ICC review tame T20 circus?

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

HASHIM Amla is as level-headed as cricketers come. But even he has run away and joined the circus. In fact, he’s been trying to do so for two years now. Finally, he’s succeeded.

Twice, Amla put himself up for auction to play in the Indian Premier League (IPL) this year and last. And twice one of the game’s finest batsmen has gone ignored and unsold.

So he switched circuses. Bingo: Amla’s services have been secured by the Knight Riders.

They are not owned by David Hasselhoff. Instead, they are a franchise in the 2016 Caribbean Premier League (CPL). They are, officially, the Trinbago Knight Riders, which is handy for those who can’t be bothered to understand that Trinidad and Tobago is one country comprised of two islands.

Fine. Amla is as entitled to put himself out there as any other player good enough to catch a franchise owner’s eye.

But before last year he regarded the IPL and its lesser – and less crazy – cousins as distractions from the proper job of playing international cricket. What changed?

“He wants to play some cricket in the Caribbean before SA’s tour there (in June for a one-day triangular tournament also featuring Australia), and he wants to take a holiday there as well,” Amla’s agent, Ismail Kajee, said.

That explains the CPL deal. What about Amla’s IPL fishing expeditions?

“It’s not money-driven,” Kajee said. “I wouldn’t be a good agent if I told players there wasn’t money to be made from T20 cricket, but in Hashim’s case it’s not money-driven.

“He wants to play in some of the T20 competitions, but not all. He also wants to play county cricket this year.”

Nice try, but that won’t quell the alarm bells. If someone as deeply rooted in cricket’s conventions as Amla is willing to subject himself to the fakery of a T20 circus, what hope does the game as we know and prefer it have of not being usurped by its own terrible infant?

“Test cricket will always be there and the gloss will come off T20 at some point – there’s already too many of these tournaments,” Kajee said.

Tony Irish, who wears two sizes of the same hat as the executive chairman of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations and the chief executive of the SA Cricketers’ Association, would be happy to hear that. But he is nonetheless worried about the future of what we call international cricket. 

“The trend to free agency is definitely on the up, not much among our (SA) players but it’s a worldwide thing,” Irish said.

“We survey the players regularly and we ask about priorities. Players will tell you that T20 leagues are becoming more and more attractive.

“That’s firstly about the money and the way the cricket economy is going and the fact that these T20 leagues pay a lot more than these players can earn from traditional cricket. Secondly, it’s about the unattractiveness of international cricket, particularly bilateral international cricket, in the sense that there’s just more and more and more of it and that it’s lacking in context.”

So Irish is hopeful that the commitment the International Cricket Council (ICC) made last week to undoing the Big Three as the axis of superpower will put the game on a different, more sustainable path. 

“Players tell us that they still value playing for their country and that they value test cricket,” Irish said. “But the way the international calendar is structured is the issue.

“So it’s positive news that the ICC came out and said they need a comprehensive review of the structure of cricket and not just of bilateral cricket or test cricket – the whole structure.

“The concerns are there, but there’s a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel in the sense that there’s an acknowledgement that things need to change.

“It’s about everyone working together to regulate the entire landscape. Whoever pays the most money is going to come out on top if there’s no regulation and no middle structure.”

For now, tournaments are strewn wherever cricket has married money. Invariably, they are awash with South Africans – perhaps because, as veteran administrator and long-time player agent Arthur Turner wrote on his website this week, “The (SA) franchise system is at an all-time low with regards to standards, profile and sponsors.

“In fact, the franchise game is no longer a professional product as it is too weak and is on the verge of collapse.”

Cricket SA president Chris Nenzani said he did not “intend to respond to and contest” Turner’s opinion.

Instead, he offered, “We will continue to do our best to administer cricket in the interest of the nation amid challenging contextual factors.”

That won’t make players run away from the circus.

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