Associates lose out

Only one winner in county v country debate

Martin Williamson looks at how the Associate countries will always lose out in the tug-of-war with counties

Martin Williamson

July 16, 2008

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Eoin Morgan: only one winner when it came to club or country © Getty Images
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A common gripe that keeps cropping up, especially where Ireland are concerned, is the number of players who are unavailable for matches because of their commitments in English county cricket.

In his column in the Sunday Tribune this week, Ger Siggins highlighted the problem, laying the blame at the door of the ECB.

"There is ample evidence that Irish cricket is being systematically plundered by English counties," he wrote. "The fact that there are a dozen-odd players attached to counties wouldn't be much of a problem if they played fair about player release. But they don't: already this season Morgan, Niall O'Brien and William Porterfield have "opted" to play for their employers ahead of their country. Even an ICC regulation that players must be released for ODIs failed to prise that trio from the clutches of the counties. And it is a similar story with Scots players.

"It is about time that the ECB showed some leadership and told the counties to allow their Irishmen and Scotsmen to play internationals. A FIFA-style regulation could be introduced where a player who is not released must not play for the club on any of the days of the Irish game."

Siggins' frustration is understandable and you have to sympathise for the Associates who are deprived of their best talent in this way. But, equally, it is too easy to lay the blame at the boards and to demand legislation to force the individuals to play when they are asked to.

As for the argument that FIFA, football's governing body, have such rules in place our colleagues on soccernet point out that in reality such measures are rarely implemented. Forcing a sportsman to do something he doesn't want to do is hardly to way to get the best out of him.

Look at it from the players' point of view. There are those whose ambitions end at playing for their country and who make tremendous sacrifices to do so. Almost all the leading Associates rely on such individuals, as only Kenya have a professional, full-time squad.

But there are others who want to make a career out of cricket. That is not available to them in Ireland, either in terms of cash or consistently high quality of opposition. So they head abroad, mainly to England, to hone their skills and earn good money while doing so. Some, such as Ed Joyce, even go on to play for their adopted countries.

Higgins cites examples of players contracted to English counties who opted to remain with them rather than play for Ireland, recommending that they should be banned from playing while their country is in action as an "incentive".

Take the case of Morgan. Last season he had just broken into the Middlesex side when he got an Ireland call-up. He faced a quandary. Middlesex were happy/obliged to release him, but made clear that he was not guaranteed a first-team place when he returned. If whoever filled his boots while he was away scored runs, Morgan would be back in the reserves with no guarantee of regaining his place. At the end of the season that could have made the difference between him being offered a new contract or released.

One could understand the county's position, and also Morgan's when he chose to remain with them. "He wants to qualify and play for England, and feels that by obtaining a regular place in the Middlesex team is the best way to achieve that," Phil Simmons, Ireland's coach, observed.

In such circumstances, legislation preventing Morgan from playing for Middlesex at that time would be completely counterproductive. It could also be illegal, and would hardly be likely to make the individual more inclined to play for his country in the future. In the case of the Morgans of this world, they might even retire from international cricket, albeit temporarily, to circumvent the problem.

The Associates are rightly concerned and it has been discussed within the ICC. Additional funding due to them from 2009 will help. But while it will reward those who give up so much to play for their countries, cash will not make any difference to those with ambitions to play on a bigger stage that Associate cricket can offer.

Whatever happens, there can be no winner. Either the country loses out or the players do. But to blame the employers or the individual is wrong. After all, how many of us would risk our careers in similar circumstances?

The reality is that the best players will always aspire to play at the highest level, and so they should. All the Associates can hope for is that they play for them as often as they can and bring all their experience into the national side, and act as an inspiration to the next generation.

Rather than reacting with anger when Joyce pulls on an England or Middlesex shirt, Ireland should be proud of what they have produced and wish him well. The hope has to be that the day will come when the Joyces and the Morgans of the future are only too eager to chose country over county.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Irishfan on (July 23, 2008, 2:30 GMT)

The problem I think is quite simple. Ireland and Scotland rarely play more than a one-off, or maybe back to back, ODIS. Even the three ODI series Ireland played against Bangladesh in March got over in about two weeks, including travelling time. So CI should insure that the money their players get paid over those two weeks will exceed what their counties will pay them over the same time. One day, playing for Ireland or Scotland will be more prestigious than playing for a county. But for now, money shouts!

Posted by jkplatinum25 on (July 18, 2008, 2:12 GMT)

I believe that players must be released from their contracts to play international cricket. Certain measures/rules can be devised to ensure that players are released from county contracts to play international matches. For example, if a series is lasting 3 ODI matches, the top playes should play at least one ODI match, in other words, top players should be required to play one-third (1/3) of an international series. Ireland and Scotland are talented teams but if their best players such as Porterfield, Morgon, Poonia and O'Brien do not play for their country then their 'celebrity' and their identity disappear into oblivion since persons would forget that these great players came from small cricketing countries.

Posted by Turlough on (July 17, 2008, 14:28 GMT)

It's funny, "Clickinfo", the line you take on the ECB's relations with European cricket is much the same which arouses so much indignation and sanctimony when it's "not the BCCI's problem." Where's the horrified defence of the primacy of international cricket so doggedly espoused by Cricinfo and other organs in relation to the IPL? Where the disdain for the quick buck merchant? How can it possibly be considered appropriate for a player who abandoned his national team to a world record defeat "to further his career" to captain that same national side again? Do Morgan, Porterfield et al think they'll be able to mess the ECB around the way they do CI if they ever achieve this rather distant goal of representing England? Do they think a history bottling out of ODIs will stand to them in their future international careers?

We have a word in Ireland for this kind of thinking and the blasé, compliant attitude which Martin Williamson prescribes; minnowism.

Posted by Clickinfo on (July 17, 2008, 10:31 GMT)

Turlough appears to have missed the point in his rush to get all hot under the collar. He assumes that playing for Ireland is the height of these guys ambitions and that the board are to blame for "refusing to take a tough line with the refuseniks". Such as? Ban them? Oh yes, that will solve everything. Fine them? How? The problem is not the ECB, although that is a convenient target for the ignorant to attack. What can they do and why on earth should they do anything anyway? It's Ireland and Scotland's problems and not theirs. And if you think playing against New Zealand in front of 200 people in a match (fewer than attend county games despite your ranting) which nobody can even be bothered to broadcast is more "prestigious" than playing in front of 20,000 in a Twenty20 game, then you're a bigger fool than your mail suggests.

Posted by Turlough on (July 16, 2008, 22:30 GMT)

Claptrap. Typical rationalisation on the side of the big battalions. As for furthering one's career, anyone who'd sooner play a county match in front of four frozen pensioners at Aching-on-the-Kneeze or a Twenty20 thrashabout which will be consumed and forgotten like last night's pizza instead of a full ODI against one of the top sides in the world isn't thinking about prestige or their career, unless those words are euphemisms for money. The problem here is the ECB and its various arms and agents riding roughshod over European cricket. Cricket Ireland are primarily to blame for failing the establish or (even examine the possibility of establishing) a viable domestic structure and refusing to take a tough line with the refuseniks.

As for being proud to see Joyce or Morgan or Porterfield turn their backs on Irish cricket, words fail me. "Know your place and run along, you little Associate scamps."

Posted by Clickinfo on (July 16, 2008, 18:32 GMT)

Rich B - agree, but the point being made seems to be that you cannot force players to do what they don't want to do. If you or I was told that we had to risk our jobs/career to play cricket for our country then we would face a tough choice. Some would play, others would put their long-term career first. I agree with the author that you cannot force people to do something which jeapordizes that because somebody, probably who never has to face such a choice, decides it is right.

Posted by Rich_B on (July 16, 2008, 17:39 GMT)

Of course players with pro contracts must play for their counties for the whole season, but what Siggins is asking for will hardly change that.

Basically, due to retirements, injuries and several key players playing for counties, Ireland were effectively reduced to an 'A' team for what was supposed to be the centrepiece of their summer season - on ODI against New Zealand. The result was they got trounced.

Whilst there's limited interest in ECC tournaments and Friends Provident matches (which are about development as much as anything else) on the odd occasion which really matters (a match against a full member which counts to the world league table or the Twenty20 world cup qualifier) Associates must be able to field their best team. We're only talking about the odd day or weekend a summer here.

It's a situation which must be remedied before next year's world cup qualifier or one of the Super 8 teams from 2007 may not be there in 2011.

Should players be made to chose country over county? Send us your thoughts.
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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.
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