May 9, 2009

Michael Jeh

Cricket in the time of IPL

Michael Jeh
James Hopes caught Herschelle Gibbs off Nathan Bracken, South Africa v Australia, 3rd ODI, Newlands, Cape Town, April 9, 2009
 © AFP
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So Cricket Australia has pulled Nathan Bracken, James Hopes and Shane Watson out of the IPL in order to manage their niggling injuries. It may well be the right thing for the country and all three players have the maturity and commonsense to not bleat too loudly (yet). As fringe players, they understand that their brand value is enhanced by playing international cricket.

It begs the inevitable question though: at what point will we begin to see the first cracks opening up between players and their home countries' boards? It’s unlikely that India will ever have to face this problem because the IPL is their very own cash cow. Other countries though, despite overtly supporting the BCCI’s money-spinner (if indeed it does make money which I suppose it does), might soon find themselves in a situation where they are at odds with their players if they exercise their right to withdraw them from IPL commitments.

One could argue that the first cracks have already opened but have been hastily papered over. Sri Lanka have been forced to bow to player pressure and accede to the superior pulling power of the IPL. The West Indian administrators have an uneasy truce with the whole concept, conscious that their main stars can afford to call their bluff because their depth does not allow for players like Gayle, Chanderpaul, Sarwan and Bravo to be left out of the national team if they are forced to choose cash over country.

On an individual basis, Shaun Tait has already expressed his displeasure over not being cleared to play in the IPL. Tait doesn’t quite have enough aces in his hand to call the shots so he is forced to accept that decision for the time being. Now with the latest situation involving Bracken, Hopes and Watson, the murmurs of discontent will eventually rise to a deafening crescendo sometime in the future. It’s a bold prediction but I can see it happening soon enough.

It’s clear that when it comes to making quick money, the players obviously have a different set of priorities to the national selectors. These three players are not silly enough to cruel their international cricket prospects just yet so they will reluctantly accept the verdict from Cricket Australia. There will come a day though when a player will strongly disagree with the need for rehabilitation or rest and will challenge that sort of edict. Depending on seniority and his own sense of whether he can afford to roar his displeasure, that situation may become quite heated.

It might even prematurely push some players into retirement so they can then be freed from all trade restrictions on their IPL contracts. The performances of Warne, Gilchrist and Hayden prove that being retired from international cricket does not mean you can’t cut it in IPL. If anything, they are fresher and stronger. The franchise owners themselves may be tempted to offer incentives to hasten early retirement. Why wouldn’t they? They have little to gain from big names like Gilchrist or Hayden being lost to national duty. Golden handshakes may become more common.

It will create a situation where injuries or workload concerns are pushed underground, where players don’t always confide in their national team’s medical staff about niggling injuries or exhaustion. From their perspective, it might be easier to mask the symptoms and try to hobble through the IPL. In cases like the Flintoff example, there may one day be post-mortems and blame games which put the physiotherapist and team doctor under pressure for not spotting the signs of injury. Perhaps that close, confidential bond that currently exists between players and medical staff will suffer. If in doubt, the medicos might be instructed to err on the side of caution and that will infuriate players who honestly don’t think they’re injured.

What about medical staff in IPL teams? Will they be under subtle pressure to underplay an injury (especially stress fractures or 'wear & tear' injuries) to nurse someone through a few T20 games? Their loyalty is to their IPL team, not the national team so what's wrong with patching somebody up to get through a short tournament. Medical opinions can differ - I can see some interesting conversations between doctors and physio's from opposite sides of the fence. "When did you know he was injured, how bad was it, why didn't you rest him earlier?"

Agents too will play their part in muddying the waters. Presumably, their commissions depend on the IPL contracts being honoured so they will be exerting their influence on the player to ensure he plays IPL. Do they have a duty to their client (the player), the national team or to themselves? In most cases, I can’t see the country’s interest coming first!

What happens in situations where the home states (eg: NSW) can see some benefit in denying the IPL team the use of their player, hoping that if that team does not make the Champions League stage, he is then available for their home state/provincial team? With that much money at stake, they have every good reason to want their star player wrapped in cotton wool and save him from injury. If that means his IPL team doesn’t qualify, gosh, wouldn’t that be convenient?

The thing about conspiracy theories is that they don’t always have to be true to create bad blood or mistrust. Trust is often the first casualty when relationships sour. Players, doctors, administrators, franchise owners, television moguls and fans are all stakeholders in this relationship one way or another. The best Powerplays may yet happen off the field and on the physio’s table!

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by Aussie dinks on (May 12, 2009, 6:13 GMT)

I don't know how people can say that outside of India there is no interest In the IPL. I watch every night almost with my family and friends except the early morning matches. My family are all Aussies and most of my friends are from South Africa and yes English living in Australia.

Posted by Arnab Gupta on (May 12, 2009, 0:50 GMT)

My comment is a rebuttal to 'waterbuffalo' who says no one really gives a damn about T20.

Well, is the comparison valid when you compare a bilateral series between a team that has played no cricket for months and one that is fielding a second string, and a World Cup??

If you do want to compare, compare the T20 World Cup to the 1975 WC... now does it seem a better picture? The T20-WC was a success, there were some thrilling matches, and just like the 1975-WC final, we do remember the thrill of the Ind-Pak final.

Plus, there was pretty attractive cricket otherwise too.

The point is that all formats have their charms, and the idea should never be to *replace* or *compare* one form of cricket with another.

Posted by Saptarshi on (May 11, 2009, 13:56 GMT)

Ponting, Hussey did not get paid much so they refused. Haddin was not picked in the auction. No one was interested in him. Clarke demanded a very high base price which no one was willing to pay for his abilities. So get off ur high horse and start living in the real world. All this baggy green dream is just a fallacy which was well exposed 30 years ago by an Australian named Kerry Packer.

Posted by redneck on (May 11, 2009, 2:06 GMT)

the australian cricket team is the most prestigious sporting team our nation has! no player grew up in australia wanting to play ipl, they grew up wanting to represent their country and with a mind set the country comes first eg ponting & hussey both stating they had more important things on the line than ipl and withdrew from this years comp, players such as clarke, johnston & haddin refused to even nominate for the auction as they had other priorities that come first. if the senior players are doing this off thier own accord then there should be no issue making the rest fall in line aswell! when there is a gap in international commitments then go make a buck or 2 with the boards blessing! if there is to be a window in the international calender for ipl then there should be no limmit to the ammount of international players in any one ipl side, why should the rest of the cricket world stop just for india! no other country could care less about the ipl!

Posted by waterbuffalo on (May 10, 2009, 20:24 GMT)

I agree with Sam S. If a player chooses club and money over country he can say good bye to country. I am sure if Capello wants a player for England that guy will have to say yes, because Capello will drop him if he says no or lies. Australia should have no problem finding replacements, not so sure about other countries though, can you tell Flintoff and Pieterson not to play? Dropping them would be suicide, so it is going to be a problem for years to come. And all because of a joke version of the game. Do you honestly think that anyone cares that Pakistan beat Australia in a 20/20 match? Therein lies the problem. 20/20 is at the bottom of the totem pole, nobody will remember a single result(between nations) in 20 years time, even though we still remember the World Cup Final of 1975.

Posted by Vikram Maingi on (May 10, 2009, 17:39 GMT)

In the forthcoming World T20 tourney, after a very-very long time, Australia will not start a multi-nation tournament. India, Pakistan and South Africa are likely to perform better than Australia.

Posted by Michael Jeh on (May 10, 2009, 8:55 GMT)

Thanks for the comments so far. I don't think creating a window for IPL will really solve this issue because the main problem seems to be that national boards are trying to 'protect' their players for future matches, after the IPL has finished. This latest example with the Aussie players is exactly that - it's not that these last few days of IPL clashes with any existing cricket but if players get injured or tired, they won't be at 100% for future games for Australia. Creating a window for IPL won't solve this issue because there will always be future cricket coming up that may influence some conservative thinking by the country's selectors. Unless there's no cricket for weeks after IPL finishes (unlikely), the window solution won't stop this situation from happening again. On the other hand, it can be a positive too. Players like Symonds, Brett Lee can use IPL to get some match practice so it can sometimes be a positive thing for a country. It's not all bad.

Posted by Sam S on (May 10, 2009, 1:29 GMT)

If fringe players ever want to be considered for their country's selection then they will have to shut up and be dominated by their country's boards. Howeve, a time will come when players both seasoned and fringe will speak out loud on their behalk. The fat cats holding board's positions are living it up while the players are doing the hard work. It is time that the piper is paid his dues.

Posted by Pubudu on (May 9, 2009, 23:22 GMT)

Adrian, the window isn't just the problem. What if you are injured before the window, and try to hide this injury from team admins etc? The solution is to set up an INDEPENDENT (BCCI - hands off) medical team to asses players and their fitness. This team's loyalty would be to medicine and the well being of the player. The team physios etc are there just for day to day maintenance and conditioning etc. That way its the player that's taken care of and not some third party interest.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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