Politics August 27, 2007

ICL: A welcome corporate headache

Players have the right to play in the league they find most attractive without ruling themselves out of international selection

Is a monopoly a good thing? In our world dominated by free market economics the world of cricket manages to enjoy the fruits of commerce while imposing its monopolies. The only official events are those sanctioned by the ICC where only official sponsors are allowed to market their wares and competitors are pursued with the zeal of a witch hunt. The national cricket boards enjoy their own monopolies, forcing players to promote the official sponsors and participate in sanctioned events. Clearly there has to be some control of any sport but has cricket become too restrictive?

The Indian Cricket League offers the first real challenge to the official cricket structure since Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket. Compared with Packer's intergalactic venture, the ICL has begun with a minor constellation of international stars most of whom are Pakistani. WSC was fiercely resisted too but it helped international cricket develop quickly and improved the pay of top cricketers.

ICL will require more big stars if it is to have the same impact, and this is where the Indian and Pakistani cricket boards are applying thumbscrews. Players are being bullied to stick to official tournaments and events because the boards fear that a rival Asian league will undermine their power and reduce their revenues.

Players should be entitled to play in whatever league they wish, be it their official domestic cricket, county cricket, or the upstart ICL. Instead we have threats of bans and penalties.

This talk of bans is posturing. When Pakistan's cricket board realised it needed its Packer rebels they were brought back with desperate haste. The same self-serving approach will surely apply to reinstating Mohammad Yousuf for Test cricket and possibly even Inzamam and Abdul Razzaq, depending on results?

In the meantime, players have the right to play in the league they find most attractive without ruling themselves out of international selection. The response of the boards is one of fear, and if they were providing players and fans with a premier service the ICL would not be a threat. Their monopolistic positions have made the Asian cricket boards lazy and complacent. That's why I'm grateful that the ICL is causing a corporate headache. I don't see how it's bothering anybody else?

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here