TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
SA cricket should brace for a drain of talent and experience in the next two years due to a weak currency and the sport’s increasingly complicated politics.
Insiders say players are starting to value earning hard currency and not having to jump through transformation hoops above representing their country.
Dale Steyn, who has been rested for SA’s tour to the West Indies next month but is apparently planning to use some of that time to play for Glamorgan in England’s T20 competition, could be the latest example of the phenomenon.
Another might have been seen in January, when AB de Villiers declined to deny reports that he was considering retirement or how to manage his workload in his remaining years as a player.
Instead, De Villiers said, “There have been a few rumours floating around, and in most rumours there is always a little bit of truth.”
None of which surprised Tony Irish, the chief executive of the SA Cricketers’ Association as well as the executive chair of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations.
“Free agency is something we’ve been drawing attention to for three or four years,” Irish said on Wednesday. “This trend is getting stronger and stronger, right across the world. It is something we need to be concerned about in SA more and more.”
The marketability of SA’s players fuels this fire, as does the softening rand and the added pressure on players – even before they are considered prospects at international level – to succeed despite or because of the way transformation measures are implemented.
“For a long time being the No. 1 test team kept a lot of players on-side but that is changing now,” a senior administrator said. “We should be concerned. A lot of young players are seeing their futures elsewhere – for political reasons as well as earning potential.”
According to another stalwart suit, the crunch for SA cricket was “two years away”. An important factor in that happening or not, he said, was whether the evolving “ATP of cricket is going to hang together”.
At the centre of that analogy with the Association of Tennis Professionals, which runs tournaments around the world and has relegated the Davis Cup to tennis’ second division, is the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Cricket’s richest competition, the IPL is now in its ninth season and is believed to pay De Villiers more than 10 times what he earns from his contract with Cricket SA, minus match fees and incentives.
Australia’s Big Bash League is less lucrative than the IPL but well established. The Caribbean Premier League is, by those standards, not well paying. But it is stable and well run.
The Pakistan Super League was launched successfully in February. The tournament went off smoothly and players have been paid in full.
Some players are still owed money by the Bangladesh Premier League and the Masters Champions League is lagging behind in fulfilling its financial obligations.
If that network of tournaments proves sustainable countries like SA – whose status at international level is diminishing – will find it increasingly difficult to secure the commitment of their top players to the national cause.
Cricket in the Caribbean is already feeling that pinch, what with players refusing to sign contracts with the West Indies Cricket Board
Players opting to play some formats but not others at international level is another sign that free agency is gaining ground.
A few years from now, cricket could be looking at a future focused on club far more than on country.
For some, that is the way the game must go if it is to compete in the modern world. For others, it will be the end of cricket as they thought they knew it.