February 12, 2008

The big squeeze

In the battle between the ICL and the ICC-BCCI, New Zealand cricket is becoming a helpless casualty, and the loss of Shane Bond is a prime example

Looking out: no more black caps for Bond © Getty Images

Shane Bond's signing with the unsanctioned Indian Cricket League (ICL) makes him the first New Zealand player to be, for all intents and purposes, stolen from the team. Bond had unfinished business as a New Zealand player. The New Zealand public, while frustrated with his spasmodic appearances, were not ready to let go of him either.

Craig McMillan's health reasons for his retirement were plausible until he turned up in the inaugural ICL teams' photo, but the public thought, "Hey, we've loved him, hated him, and - though his stocks had risen recently - we can cope if he's not going to be around any longer." The stars of Chris Cairns, Chris Harris, Darryl Tuffey and Hamish Marshall had had their supernovas and were distant memories. But when negotiations between New Zealand Cricket (NZC) and Bond broke down, leading to a severance of ties, the festering little sunspot called the ICL quickly became a growing cancer on the surface of New Zealand cricket.

Surprisingly, though, the hostility that usually surrounds unpatriotic back-turnings of this sort was in this case not directed at Bond, but rather more towards the NZC. The people felt they could not blame Bond. However it is the rationale behind this reaction that is most concerning.

How can you blame Bond for accepting a deal that pretty much immediately provides financial security for him and his family? The deal he signed is rumoured to be in the vicinity of US$2.3 million over three years. With NZC, he would be somewhere around the top of the contracted players' pecking order, and hence would draw an annual retainer of around $100,000. With match fees of about $4700 per Test and $2000 per ODI, his immediate earning potential, before adding on bonuses such as prize money and sponsorship (the equivalent of his base ICL signing fee), would amount to approximately $200,000 per year. This is a best-case scenario, of course: when you take into account Bond's medical history, he would likely miss a good chunk of match fees each year. The disparity of pay is just too large for him to turn down the ICL.

Okay, so the ICL has robbed New Zealand of a match-winner, which is one thing to be despondent about, but what really scares New Zealanders is what will happen when the ICL scouts come sniffing round for emerging talent. Sure, the deals they hand out then may be considerably smaller, but they will be plenty big in a country that just cannot afford to match the Zee TV dollar. New Zealand simply does not have a talent bank of players and thus cannot afford to lose a few, however small that number may be. Right now they'd actually quite like to borrow a few.

The New Zealand public feel their cricket is at the frontline of the ICL v ICC/BCCI battle, with no weapons to defend itself. On the other side is the Indian Premier League (IPL), which has its eyes on the rest of New Zealand's top players: Stephen Fleming, Brendan McCullum, Jacob Oram, Daniel Vettori and Scott Styris. But here again, the IPL has probably taken Styris from Test cricket, and when the power-mongers who have paid megabucks for an IPL franchise decide they want their pound of flesh from the players, we can expect a lot more premature Test cricket retirements.

To the best of my knowledge, written into the ICL contract is a clause that stipulates that contracted players will be available to play for their countries when required ... but the ICC, BCCI don't want to share the goodies. So up pops a clause that stipulates that ICC's full member countries cannot release players to play in unsanctioned cricket events

If my sources are correct, in fact, this ICC/BCCI-concocted saviour, the IPL, may in fact prove to be a bigger cancer on New Zealand cricket than the presumed evil ICL. "Evil" is how the establishment would have you view the ICL. It's a competing league trying to take the best players away. Well, is it really?

To the best of my knowledge, written into the ICL contract is a clause that stipulates contracted players will be available to play for their countries when required. Therefore the ICL is, in fact, not trying to steal players from world cricket, but just providing an extra forum for them to participate in and earn from. So why all the hoopla? Simply because the ICC, BCCI and the television rights holders don't want to share the goodies. So up pops a ruling that stipulates that the ICC's full-member countries cannot allow players to play in unsanctioned cricket events, and thus Bond is released from his New Zealand contract and deemed to be unavailable for New Zealand selection.

The New Zealand public has rightly read the current situation as NZC buckling under the pressure of financial heavyweight and world cricket bully boys, the BCCI. In reality, it is the only way New Zealand's dependent cricket economy can lean, and the public do concede this point, but they don't like being treated as fools either. They have been told that Bond didn't want to play for New Zealand, which is incorrect. They have been told NZC risks an Indian backlash if it doesn't do what it's told, and that India may not tour, leaving NZC out of pocket to the tune of about $23 million. That's incorrect too, because India will have to reimburse NZC's loss. More accurately, NZC may miss out on an extra tour from India, offered as a sweetener for them to side with the BCCI on ICL matters.

Simply, the New Zealand public understands Bond had to take the money, but what they don't understand is how greed and selfishness have spiralled a situation so far out of control that the national team is being unnecessarily decimated.