April 22, 2008

Greed of the hour

England players earn big money and are set to make even more, but do they need to talk so shamelessly about the means by which they think they can earn those figures?

Show KP the money © Getty Images

Who will pay for Kevin Pietersen's as yet unborn children's school fees? Allen Stanford, perhaps? Or how about the British Government? There's a novel idea. Not very Hello or OK, but real life for 93% of the British population.

I haven't heard any England players use the fact that the IPL is a massive global event, and the rest of the world's best players are involved, to justify their interest in playing in it, but rather the fact that there are pots of cash to be made.

When news broke of the Allen Stanford £10m match, Pietersen could barely contain himself, salivating at the prospect of pocketing "a mill" for one match. Pietersen could never be accused of hiding his light under a bushel. He is as upfront off the field as he is on it. But every now and again, there's room for a bit of subtlety and perspective.

I don't begrudge England cricketers the big bucks, but I do begrudge them talking so shamelessly and aggressively about the means by which they think they can earn them. It's the sense of entitlement that rankles. I was chatting with Andrew Miller, Cricinfo's UK editor, the other day, and he made the point that 30 years ago, when World Series Cricket dawned, players were exploited yet treated like pariahs for taking Packer's money. In 2008, when England players are, by any sensible relative measure, very well paid, mention of their desire to make even more regardless of the consequences prompts nothing more than a well-you-would-wouldn't-you shrug of the shoulders.

Last September, Pietersen claimed fatigue as the reason for his atypically moderate performances, and he was right. England play a huge amount of cricket, too much without doubt. The northern hemisphere summer, which affords the majority of the rest of the cricket world a break, makes England cricket a 12-month-a-year operation. The price is burnout (see Andrew Strauss, Marcus Trescothick etc.), but the rewards are considerable. And the rewards are there regardless of achievement - although Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, is trying to address that.

As England's limited-overs captain, Paul Collingwood is one of the most substantially remunerated in the squad, and last week at Lord's he admitted as much. "Central contracts have done a fantastic job over the last few years," he said. "They've given us time to get rest periods in, and we earn good money, there's no getting away from it."

But on the subject of the IPL, even he was aligned with his team-mates in his desire to have his cake and eat it. "The ECB are in a difficult position," he admitted. "We play all year round, so it's hard to get these competitions in among our schedule, but this tournament is a new thing, and it's hard to know how anybody will react. Hopefully we don't get into a situation where players have to make a choice, because that's what it's going to come down to."

I'm not generally disposed to feeling sympathy for the ECB, but on this issue I think it is between a rock and a hard place. Loyalty is an unfashionable concept in contemporary sport, and careers can be ended on the whim of a selector or the turn of an ankle. But for England players to force the ECB's hand in either allowing them to play in the IPL next year or fabricating this absurd winners-take-all match against Stanford's West Indies All-Stars (isn't that a contradiction in terms?) is just counter-productive.

England players should be able to play in the IPL because they should be able to pit their skills against their peers. Their presence would add to the event. But if England make a hash of trying to regain the Ashes next summer because they're too knackered, injured or distracted by the IPL or other sundry Twenty20 circuses, they will find themselves ridiculed or, worse, ignored by the British public.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sarah on April 24, 2008, 17:36 GMT

    I absolutely agree with you. I'm sure Pietersen, with his England contract and numerous advertising, can already afford to send at least two of his children to private school. He's in a better position than the rest of us as it is, and should be a lot more grateful.

  • Wim on April 23, 2008, 19:26 GMT

    I think money is spoiling cricket like it has ruined other sports. The Engish cricket scene will be spoilt unless the IPL can arrange to have its games in March or October. Yes the England players are reasonably well played but not if you compare it football or golf.

    But just maybe 20/20 will not have staying power. If you want to enjoy a three hour game turn to baseball.The 20/20 cricket game does not have the interesting stategy that the longer version has. Leary Constantine prodicted the end of cricket way back in the 30's. Too bad if he turns out to be right.

    Wim Vonk BC Canada

  • Chatty on April 22, 2008, 22:06 GMT

    Mr. Stern, I think the world has moved on from the days you mention. If a player fails, selectors don't persist out of loyalty. They will be kicked out. So, what is wrong with players making money when they can? I certainly am not a big fan of IPL. But, I will be a hypocrite if I criticised the players in this situation. That is the way not just in sports, but in every profession (perhaps not in journalism, I have no idea). Re. Regaining the Ashes - give me a break! What is this obsession with the Ashes. It's so tiring. Anyway, the Aussies are all playing in the IPL. So, to be fair by them, Enlish players should be equally knackered!

  • arajeet on April 22, 2008, 19:20 GMT

    Ofcourse the money involved in IPL is massive.But truely british players are shameless to speak in such a manner

  • Mathew on April 22, 2008, 13:32 GMT

    "I don't begrudge England cricketers the big bucks, but..." Are you sure, Mr Stern? Becasue that's what it sounds like when one reads your article. So, by what you are suggesting people like me who work for a bank should not be too bothered about the money in it, rather be happy for the privilege of keeping the banking industry in good health! I have the suggestion for the likes of John Stern and Gideon Haigh - why don't you guys get into the England team and show us all how the game is to be played in the right spirit without bothering about the monetary rewards. Can you? If you can't, stop moaning.

  • George on April 22, 2008, 13:07 GMT

    I wouldn't worry, John. The IPL and 20-20 will struggle to succeed over the long-term.

    First, 20-20 accentuates one of the main issues with limited-overs cricket - that one-sided, and therefore unexciting, games are the norm.

    Second, that persuading the Indian domestic cricket fans to side with city teams when their own favorite players might be playing against them is impossible.

    Third, the interest in IPL outside India is minimal. It's about the same as my interest in the Pura Cup in Australia (I'll look at the scorecards, and take an interest in who is doing well but can I remember who won the competition?).

    Fourth, the lack of subtlety and skill required for 20:20, especially for bowlers, will eventually take it's toll. It really is fast food stuff. Immediately satisfying, ultimately unfulfilling and it is 100% guaranteed that cricket's administrators will kill this golden goose through over-exposure in a very short time. It's the only way they know.

  • James on April 22, 2008, 11:33 GMT

    The more I learn about the IPL, the more I find it repugnant. I really fear for international cricket, particularly test cricket. Tests should be about the absolute best players of the competing nations playing at the peak of their abilities. May the best team win. With the future tours programme chock full, I fear the inclusion of competitions like the IPL will lead to tests being won by the least knackered team of second rate players.

    I do not deny that an IPL competition could be good. Pitting the best players against the best players in high octane contests could be beneficial to players, but surely some common sense must be exercised. Cricket's leaders should do things in the interest of cricket and not big business. I don't see how taking leading players out of county/domestic cricket and national sides, and turning them into money-grabbers, is conducive to improving the quality of international cricket in the long run.

  • nicholas on April 22, 2008, 10:50 GMT

    John Stern - are you australian?

    Only Pieterson has talked about money - was born in SA after all...

    Most players I've heard - Cook, Sidebottom, Vaughan, Bopara, aren't exactly falling over themselves to go to the IPL and I'm not sure the IPL want them! Most of the england side are test match focussed and it's only a minority who would go - Pieterson, Collingwood etc

    The ECB have told the players not to do IPL until AFTER the 2009 ashes - so any burnout from IPL won't happen.

    Your comment about the england players pitting their wits against the best seems way off the mark. 20/20 is a slapfest, it's hardly going to help them improve as test match cricketers - the opposite in fact.

    So apart from half your statements being incorrect and the other half contradicting current opinion - was there any point in writing this article?

  • usha on April 22, 2008, 10:11 GMT

    Mr. Stern like many of his english compatriots have actually only been dumbstruck and are scared by the fact that an erstwhile colony of theirs has challenged them in what used to be their own turf. This is just another attempt at pooh-poohing a rival competition. The same approach was taken in the wisden almanac article on the bad behaviour of players. The words were chosen so that Indians still appeared worse than the instigators i.e. the english and the aussies. Since then Zaheer has showed them what swing bowling actually was- so they had to include him in the book. Come off it guys wake up, Lords is no longer the Mecca, its Mumbai -- love it or hate it you have to digest it. The sooner you face it the better. If the english are so superior why have you not won a world cup yet? All the 'colonies' have won it you know. Had this been held in England this article would have a different tone to it.

  • Ibrahim on April 22, 2008, 9:16 GMT

    You said it, Mr. Stern. It's a good day for Cricinfo Magazine; Gideon Haigh fired off a dead-straight salvo as well.

  • No featured comments at the moment.