x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 September 2017

The T20 cricketer is not in sync with national pride

Becoming a mercenary who plays for money is as much a matter of choice as a result of poor governance.

Chris Gayle has become the prototype of the future cricketer.
Chris Gayle has become the prototype of the future cricketer.

Chris Gayle may finally return to the West Indies side this summer in England. He has not played international cricket since he fell out with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) last year, soon after the World Cup.

No doubt the occasion will be a grand one, the kind reserved for the return of beloved exiles.

But it is not as if cricket has missed him. Since his dispute, you could have caught Gayle doing his thing in the Indian Premier League (IPL) in April 2011, the Champions League in October, Zimbabwe's T20 tournament in November, Australia's Big Bash in December, the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) in February 2012 and the IPL again.

There have been a couple of domestic assignments thrown in and opportunities missed; he could have snuck in a brief stint in South Africa's T20 tournament in March this year.

He could have been seen playing for Somerset in the Friend's Life T20 in England this summer.

And it is a surprise the Pakistan Cricket Board has not based their entire bid to bring back international cricket squarely on the potential of luring Gayle for a stint in one of their T20 tournaments.

So no, he has not really been missed. Have the West Indies missed him? That is arguable. It is not as if results with him, even as the captain, were better than what they have been this last year.

In fact, without him, the West Indies have become a little bit tougher to beat. It is not much but it is something and it is more than they have had for many years.

Instead, Gayle has come to represent a prototype for a future cricketer in a sport full of franchise-based Twenty20 leagues.

For this cricketer national representation is not necessarily the peak achievement.

Actually Gayle's case, and the dispute with the WICB, has its own history and context. To ascribe an entire oncoming movement to him is not only premature, it might be misplaced.

Tim May, the head of the Federation of International Players' Associations (FICA), was asked last week where he stood on Gayle.

"FICA believes a player has the right to choose where he plays and for whom - the days of "playing for your country" as the only way you could earn a professional living as a cricketer are well and truly behind us.

International cricket needs to realise there is a competitor to their ability to contract players, and to ensure they react appropriately and progressively to these new market forces."

May is an intelligent man fulfilling a necessary role. But this observation is simplistic (and dangerous: it is not as if leaving the world to market forces has been a particularly good idea).

Private franchises are not competing with national boards, not yet anyway.

A national board has an investment in its players over and above what any franchise makes. At some level every player who makes it - and thus puts himself in the shop window for franchises - is there because of the board. They have put in the money to find him, to develop him, to make him what he is.

The moment franchises start locating and grooming talent, they will be a rightful competitor. Right now they are hiring readied talent on short-term deals. If you are being unkind, you might even call that temporary poaching.

May's prescription, in theory, is better. "International cricket bodies need to make international cricket attractive to players.

These measures should include smarter programming of matches, addressing the volume of cricket, offering fair terms and conditions in contracts, meeting their contractual obligations and embracing player input."

In reality, the response of most cricket boards has been to set up their own lucrative Twenty20 league, further clogging up the international calendar. No greater proof of cricket's collective poverty of intellect is necessary.

Should boards work towards resolution, the trickiest obstacle will be the No-Objection Certificate (NOC) which most players require from their boards before playing elsewhere. NOCs can be challenged legally but not necessarily overcome (and each country's judiciary will have its own view): it is not, in principle, so outrageous for an employee to seek permission from his employer before accepting an assignment from another employer, no matter how briefly.

Ultimately the cricketer will have to choose. Many boards will never be able to compete with what franchises pay. That is just economics.

If he chooses a Twenty20 league over a national commitment then he must also be prepared to be dropped and not be considered for national selection.

That must work both ways. Gayle has chosen to come back - for now - which perhaps shows cricket to have lately underestimated the pull of national representation.


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