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November 20, 2012

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Emergence of new markets with T20 leagues

Samir Chopra
Shapoor Zadran dismissed India's openers, Afghanistan v India, World T20, Group A, Colombo, September, 19, 2012
One Afghani player in the IPL could lift cricket in his benighted country from the level of curiosity to that of street-level passion  © AFP
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Tristan Lavalette's piece last week on cricket in Serbia reminded me once again, that cricket is not yet a truly global sport, but it has great potential to become one. And a very important feature of the Twenty20 world has a great deal to do with that promise: the fact that clubs, not nations, can form the basis of an international league, and as such a new labour market can emerge, one made up of players not resigned to waiting for their country to make it big before they can.

In modern international cricket, nations rule the roost. If your country is an Associate, not Full, Member of the ICC, your chances of playing top-class competitive cricket and earning a living wage are considerably diminished. But things aren't so good even for the Full Members. If your country has already picked its national eleven, you are out on the sidelines. And the salary schedules in international cricket taper off very sharply: plenty at the top, little below. The international cricket league--indeed, whether T20 or 50-50, or well, in my wildest dreams, Tests--could offer these players a chance to compete against the best and make a career out of cricket. They will not be up against the glass ceiling. The Twenty20 league has caused much disruption in world cricket to established cricketing nations; it is worth remembering it can do much good to cricket's current poor cousins, the Associate nations and the journeymen cricketers from the Full Members.

In my new book Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket, in a section titled 'The World Labour Market' I wrote:

In general, Twenty20 leagues, delinked from any larger mission to produce a 'national team', demonstrate the potential for a world labour market to emerge in professional cricket players; they promise a livelihood to players who might never have entertained dreams of a professional career, especially if that career was premised on international cricket arranged by a national board through the ICC.

A straightforward and not implausible effect of this could be a promotion of the game worldwide that the ICC has been unable to bring about, and sometimes, as its dealings with Associate Members shows, seems uninterested in. Ryan Ten Doeschate has already demonstrated that Associate Members can supply players to the IPL; the Irish 'O Brien brothers, Kevin and Niall, raised hopes--ultimately dashed--of IPL contracts based on their 2011 World Cup performances; the Canadian Hiral Patel, who smashed a six off Shaun Tait in the 2011 World Cup, should have jolted a check loose from an IPL auction buyer as well; his presence in the 2012 IPL would have been a bigger boost for Canadian-- and possibly Gujarati--cricket than any ICC-sponsored initiative so far.

Most intriguingly, it is entirely plausible that one Afghani player in the IPL could lift cricket in his benighted country from the level of curiosity to that of street-level passion. While IPL franchises remain fixated on Indian players and more established international players, the presence of several players from the ICC's Associate Members--such as Alex Kervezee (the Netherlands), Kyle Coetzer (Scotland), Rizwan Cheema (Canada), Niall O'Brien (Ireland), Hamid Hassan (Afghanistan) and Freddie Klocker (Denmark)--in the 2012 Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) showed that such a movement of players and possible global development of the game could get underway in Twenty20 leagues. (The BPL requires each of its six franchises to buy at least one player from an Associate country.)37 For the time being, these players will hope for promotion to the IPL, but if other Twenty20 leagues take hold worldwide, they might find employment elsewhere as well. …

In cricket, national origin still makes a difference, and the tolerance for the globe-trotting professional is a little low. In contrast, cries of 'foreigner' do not arise quite as often when a non-native represents a country in other domains; an Indian-American doctor who carries a US passport after naturalization and represents the US at the annual conference of the Red Cross is quite straightforwardly an American. For a true world labour market in cricket to emerge, cricket leagues would have to be freed from any imperative to produce a strong national team. The global structure of cricket would have to evolve away from the current primacy of international cricket created by the arrangements of the ICC and its constituent national boards.

The IPL, the Champions League, the BBL and the BPL show how this may occur in the not-too-distant future. Currently, thanks to the IPL and Champions League, which make it possible for a player to play for different sides during different competitions, the outlines of a world labour market made up of players not beholden to any nation are visible and highly suggestive. Worries about the motivations of potentially conflicted players--torn between their state sides and their IPL franchises when they play in the Champions League--arise precisely because of the conflict between 'home' and elsewhere. these would not be raised if the nativist link between them and their 'home state' was severed. As professionals, the players should perform as well as they can; they would not owe their domestic sides any more than what any employee might owe his former employer.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by ygkd on (November 20, 2012, 22:46 GMT)

cont/// No doubt, it was being able to devote sufficient time to improving in a state squad that made the difference for Holland. That his opportunity came through a tv show should have no bearing on his legitimacy as a player. Neither should it matter if someone of his age heads overseas in search of fulfillment. After all, a career in cricket does depend somewhat on chance. There is an academic study underway here that asks if you have considered changing leagues to become a better player. That is often hard enough. Changing states would be harder still. Playing for another country is not a step taken lightly. And it is nothing new. Ranji did it, because he had no choice. Grimmett did it, for a similar lack of opportunities. Do we call them journeymen and denounce them for it? Of course we do not. And neither should we, as a global cricket community, ignore the need for a decent ladder of opportunity, as this article rightly points out, wherever you are.

Posted by ygkd on (November 20, 2012, 22:29 GMT)

cont// There was one line from the above piece that particularly resonates - "plenty at the top, little below" to describe salaries in cricket. The problem is that cricket's opportunities are too stratified. Playing Aussie rules football, one can be well-reimbursed to play at a reasonable standard in a major country or metro league. A state league is a step up, but not dauntingly so, and is semi-professional at least. Beyond lies the AFL. It is an obvious ladder with consistent steps. Cricket has nothing quite like that. It was heartening to hear of Kepler Wessel's commitment to his Brisbane grade club during his time there, but that is a different era. Grade cricket is not what it used to be, supplanted by an elite junior system. I'm not sure it's the right approach. A vital rung is missing, the semi-pro one and this is as much an issue elsewhere as it is here. Ian Holland, the winner of the 'Cricket Superstar' reality tv show, is said to have consistently improved as a bowler since.

Posted by ygkd on (November 20, 2012, 20:51 GMT)

cont/ Therefore, initiatives like the BPL's spots for Associate players are essential if the game is to demonstrate that opportunities do exist before talented teens make a decision to go a different way. The problem is, however, that the BPL's position is not a majority one. Most T20 leagues have other priorities and that is drawing in the crowds with marquee players with the result that you see many big names flitting from one tournament to the next. This may be good for the fans, the coffers and the franchises but it does limit the available opportunities. At least the IPL has consistently given spots to lesser-known Indian players. Yet, as much as I'd like to, I can't see the T20 tournaments solving the difficulties of limited opportunities, while each looks to reserve its own window to grab the services of the established names. Perhaps it's time for worldwide T20 windows when leagues must run and players have to choose where they will go. Then the Associates would stand a chance.

Posted by ygkd on (November 20, 2012, 20:51 GMT)

cont/ Therefore, initiatives like the BPL's spots for Associate players are essential if the game is to demonstrate that opportunities do exist before talented teens make a decision to go a different way. The problem is, however, that the BPL's position is not a majority one. Most T20 leagues have other priorities and that is drawing in the crowds with marquee players with the result that you see many big names flitting from one tournament to the next. This may be good for the fans, the coffers and the franchises but it does limit the available opportunities. At least the IPL has consistently given spots to lesser-known Indian players. Yet, as much as I'd like to, I can't see the T20 tournaments solving the difficulties of limited opportunities, while each looks to reserve its own window to grab the services of the established names. Perhaps it's time for worldwide T20 windows when leagues must run and players have to choose where they will go. Then the Associates would stand a chance.

Posted by ygkd on (November 20, 2012, 20:35 GMT)

The lack of professional opportunities do unfortunately limit a wider uptake of the game. The fact is that when one considers cricket's reach, there are not that many elite-level opportunities in the game. In Australia, there has been something of an effort to take the game to indigenous communities. This is not an easy task because Aussie rules footy was there many years ago and offers two distinct advantages - it is similar to historically-recorded Aboriginal past-times and there are plenty of professional opportunities on offer. People of indigenous descent are said to number about 2% of the population in Australia but comprise nearly 12% of AFL club lists. If you are to add the footballers playing in the state feeder-competitions, there may be almost as much chance an indigenous sportsman will play footy professionally than any Aussie sportsman, of any background, has of being a state pro cricketer. The same would apply for other sports in other countries in relation to cricket.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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