x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Franchise cricket must be regulated to preserve international game

Rules must be put in place to discourage players such as Kevin Pietersen from turning into mercenaries if the future of the sport is to be protected.

Kevin Pietersen, who played for the Delhi Daredevils this season, is likely to focus on Twenty20 league cricket for much of the year for the rest of his career. Manan Vatyayana / AFP
Kevin Pietersen, who played for the Delhi Daredevils this season, is likely to focus on Twenty20 league cricket for much of the year for the rest of his career. Manan Vatyayana / AFP

When Kevin Pietersen announced his decision to retire from international limited-overs cricket, Nasser Hussain, the former England captain, was one of the first to address the woolly mammoth in the room.

"If, as he says, his body needs a break, and if he wants to spend more time with his family in what is a punishing schedule, then I don't have a problem – although it's only fair to point out he's not 32 until later this month, he's one of the fittest guys in the world game, and he recently spent three weeks at the IPL [Indian Premier League], when he could have been resting his body," Hussain wrote in his Daily Mail column.

"He can't have it both ways. But if he's retiring so that he can free up time to play in all the glitzy Twenty20 tournaments around the world and earn as much as possible, I'd be very disappointed."

We can almost take it for granted that Hussain will be disappointed.

Pietersen's latest IPL deal – the Delhi Daredevils are the third team he's played for – is worth £1.3 million (Dh7.33m) if he plays the full season.

Now that he will play no part in the one-day games in India next January and those in New Zealand that follow, it can also be safely assumed that he will be a major signing for a Big Bash franchise in Australia.

With cash-rich Twenty20 leagues proliferating around the world – how long before we see one in the Middle East or North America? – some might say that Pietersen can now go down the Chris Gayle route. But comparisons between the two are fatuous.

Gayle went the freelance route after a falling out with the West Indies Cricket Board in the aftermath of the 2011 World Cup. And unlike Pietersen, he was never on an extremely lucrative central contract.

The Pietersen case, a player in his prime turning his back on his country [or the one he chose to represent], is a landmark one for international cricket.

Football has seen plenty of examples, most notably the fabulously talented Bernd Schuster, the playmaker who opted for a career in Spain rather than play for the German national side under Jupp Derwall.

If those that run the international game do not read the signs, they will be little left to preside over in a few years' time.

The situation with respect to Twenty20 leagues is patently ridiculous. Gayle and others such as Kieron Pollard turn out for as many as five teams during the course of a 12-month period.

If all 10 Test-playing nations end up having such competitions, it is not hard to see why the international game will be the loser.

Without some rules coming into play, and soon, the game as we know it will cease to exist.

Cricket can be treated as a two-season sport. One loosely follows the northern Hemisphere summer, the other the southern one.

Given that, a player can be allowed to represent up to two Twenty20 teams, but no more. If he defaults, he should not be allowed to participate in any ICC-organised events or the Champions League Twenty20.

If a player flouts the rules regardless, there can still be a provision to punish the franchises that employ him.

Hit them where it hurts by threatening them with a five-year ban from the Champions League.

Some will call it restraint of trade, but sport would not exist without those restraints. You don't see Lionel Messi turning out for Boca Juniors, Zamalek and Kashima Antlers, in addition to Barcelona.

Those that advocate a complete free-market solution usually know nothing of sport or its history.

Without paying heed to some traditions, we will have no future to look forward to.


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