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.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • kps on February 14, 2008, 4:41 GMT

    IPL is doing to cricket what macauley suggested and britain did to rule india. he felt indian society is too strong social and cultural bonds to easily be ruled by britain. he suggested that we divide and rule them. BCCI with all its money could not make its teams in tests and ODI ever reach number 1 spot. that was reserved for australia because of their professional approach to game. so break australian national team. pinch ponting, symonds, brett lee and few others and on next tour india can beat australia. pinch shane bond and vittory from NZ and we can beat NZ. take makhaya nitiny and steyn from SA and then beat them. and we will be number one. This IPL is death of cricket unless it dies its natural death. well it may. money and fools can not live together long. once IPL dies and money dries up a bit, we will again have cricketers who will be ready to die for their country instead of for a tamasha.

  • Jason on February 13, 2008, 19:39 GMT

    Although KiwiNicker's final comment may have been a bit tongue in cheek, what is there to stop the more impoverished cricketing nations leading the charge and breaking away from the ICC/BCCI hegemony? In fact, if sufficient dollars are doing the talking, then maybe it won't just be the so-called lower tier nations that break ranks(!) There is a clear impression (and I'd welcome some informed comment on this) that money is not a problem for certain cricketing interests in India - if so, why not finance a new global competition, to the benefit of all? Rather than meekly bowing to the ICC/BCCI and seeing them as the sole "saviours/guardians" of the world game, perhaps other avenues can be pursued with some real vigour and intent!

  • James on February 13, 2008, 18:07 GMT

    It's not a question of allowing professional cricket to become more important or not - we don't have a choice. National associations can't compete with professional owners. They have to develop schoolkids, maintain grounds all around the country, women's cricket, and comply with rules. They don't even own the rights to matches with touring teams, and can't sell the TV rights. They depend on the ICC entirely.

    The pro owners can sell, buy and pay whoever and whatever they want, and they have the world to choose from. If we want to have credible intl cricket we need to protect it.

    The NZ 11 who AREN'T allowed to play are now better than the NZ 11 who ARE allowed to play for their country.

    Finally , though it hasn't been tested, telling a player he can't play for a particular team IS restraint of trade. This may well become an issue if this carries on much longer.

    We need rules that protect national teams, and allow them to pick their best 11, regardless of who's paying who what.

  • Grudge on February 13, 2008, 16:08 GMT

    GeorgeF, you are right in the view that national teams are important. But are wrong that people wouldn't play after they made enough money. This format is entertaining and people will play on for two reasons: (i) interest on cricket never dies for a lot of people and (ii) People will try make as much money as possible as long as they can.

    You think Sachin didnt make enough money? He loves the game of cricket. He will keep playing as long as he can.

    Unlike you, I hope this game won't die a quick death, instead I hope IPL & ICL will have a healthy competetion and futher the game.

  • Madan on February 13, 2008, 6:37 GMT

    If the BCCI is also going to rob players - albeit temporarily -for its 'IPL' maybe the longterm solution is to go the football way on national teams as well. Cut down the plethora of international matches being played and instead have a World Test Series and an ODI Cup and a T20 cup. Telecast ICL and IPL matches worldwide just like football league matches...that will ensure people are not robbed of watching the best cricketers in the world. Not cricket the way we know (knew??) it, I know, but the road has already been taken by the players and anymore pig-headed stonewalling by the BCCI and the ICC will kill cricket once and for all. And yes, a World Test series might pose huge organizational problems because it might just go on and on. But a solution has to be found, we can't let Test cricket die just like that..not when WACA and Sydney produced great cracking matches this year.

  • Peter on February 13, 2008, 2:45 GMT

    While I really enjoy the format of 20/20, even Kerry Packer saw the need for national sides where possible, and playing in a circus that doesn't have national teams will struggle to get crowd support. Which team would we support? Why would we care who wins? Why would we even watch it? I agree that the ICC/BCCI league is just as big a problem as the IPL (in fact worse, as it is a reaction aimed at spoiling,rather than an innovation). I think the 20/20 leagues, while rewarding players greatly, will not lead to lasting contracts or careers. No amount of money will keep people enthusiastic to play for very long if they wonder what the point of it all is, and it may lead to premature retirements rather than enhanced careers. If you;ve already earned enough money and gained financial security, why play on? Why tour places you don't want to go to? Why put up with the injuries and inane sponsorship rules so prevalent these days? I sincerely hope it dies a quick death!

  • Pavel on February 12, 2008, 21:58 GMT

    James555, you may have a point, but football (as well as other sports such as rugby) does have problems with clubs refusing to release players for country selection: in effect, this is as if first-class cricket, or even T20 (well paid for) took over from Tests as the most important form of the game. Is this something you are also prepared to allow?

  • Grudge on February 12, 2008, 21:57 GMT

    I am an Indian and I completely agree with the author. This is probably the Cricket Generation where talented cricketers could make a million USD a year. How can anyone blame either Bond or the ICL for this? It's the BCCI and to an extent ICC and the NZC. Right on author. I don't get this: If the ICC thinks its ok for players to play for their country and for County Cricket and the IPL, why not ICL? It was the ICL's idea to begin with and IPL copied it and now the ICC is supporting the IPL and trying to make them a Monopoly. This is illegal. A healthy competetion between the ICL and IPL could be very entertaining and could be a huge positive for cricket as a whole.

  • Praveen on February 12, 2008, 20:02 GMT

    BCCI is being shameless in bullying other cricket boards to maltreat their players, the way bond has been done in. This is pathetic and a very unsporting act. A game of cricket played anywhere by anybody will still be a cricket. Being a mentor of the game in India, they should take this (ICL venture) as an encouragement to the game rather than a threat to their existence. I still understand them competeing with it by launching ventures as IPL but competeing by way of such foul plays and ensuring that ICL cease to exist, to me is cowardice.

    I dont know if anything can be done.

    I have a suggestion for ICL guys. Lure Tendulkar to sign up the ICL and any act of anti tendulkar in India will clean the mess for once and for ever as people will see to it that BCCI learns its lesson by its own.

    Or something as awekening as that must take place as people's attention till date hasn't been drawn onto it and thats why no substantial momentum against this BCCI policy is being built.

  • nicholas on February 12, 2008, 15:58 GMT

    Spot on Mark, Well Done!

    The IPL threatens to cause major problems for many countries. $500K for a few weeks work or 20% of that for the season or even year - alot of 2nd tier players will walk - we are talking about not just up and coming talent but also established pros who are on the fringes of test cricket. Ultimately when the call comes where will they be? At least the ICL offers national cricket associations an option to get their best players back on the park - or it did until the BCCI/ICC stepped in..

    Would it not be simplier to allow all players to play wherever they want but ensuring they are available for international cricket when called upon? That's how the county championship works in the UK - overseas players come and go according to what their boards will allow them to do and some clubs may have 2/3 replacements for 1 overseas spot during the course of the season. Surely if they cannot play for whoever they want then it's restraint of trade?

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