Cricket's governing bodies must move quickly to close the wage gap in the international game or risk a mass exodus to domestic Twenty20 leagues, the MCC world cricket committee has declared.
Following its annual meeting, held in Sydney on Tuesday and Wednesday, the committee used the contrasting examples of the Bangladesh allrounder Shakib Al Hasan and the England wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow to highlight the vast discrepancies in player wages around the world. It also discussed the fact that underpaid players will be more susceptible to the lure of corrupt approaches from would-be spot-fixers.
Shakib told the committee, which features the likes of Ricky Ponting, Brendon McCullum and Kumar Sangakkara, that numerous younger Bangladesh players were no longer viewing Test cricket as their goal due to the greater financial security afforded them by T20.
"We'd love to see the ICC get more involved in making sure the money goes where it should go - to players," Ponting said. "It's also about understanding that domestic T20 tournaments are giving players almost an easy out to not represent their country and be remunerated in a better way to play those domestic tournaments. The IPL is a big, powerful beast that has probably been the contributing factor to other T20 tournaments around the world. You can't blame players for playing in tournaments like that, some of the countries we're talking about and the dollars guys are on to go and play in the IPL versus play the whole year for their countries is chalk and cheese.
"That's where it's important to ensure some of these payments even up somewhere. You don't see English or Australian players not representing their countries to play the IPL, and that's because they're remunerated well. So it's about making sure we have the best players playing Test cricket for the majority of the year and also getting them on long-term national contracts as well so [there's not] the temptation to go and play to have some security for the back part of their lives. Making sure the contracts are closer to the Australian or English player and so lessening the opportunity for those guys to leave and not want to represent their country.
"Shakib spoke about coming from Bangladesh and some of the issues and dramas they've had over the years but he also spoke about the ICC needing to take control of where the money goes because he knows a lot of money is going to the right place but it's not getting through to the players the way it probably should."
The vastly contrasting levels of remuneration from country to country were highlighted in an ESPNcricinfo investigation in October, which showed that Australia's captain Steven Smith stood to earn US$1.469 million in 2017, while his Zimbabwean counterpart Graeme Cremer would earn a mere $86,000. India's captain Virat Kohli would pull in approximately $1 million for 2017, while the coach Ravi Shastri collected an annual salary of $1.17 million.
Wage imbalances were also addressed in the context of the women's game, which has grown exponentially in terms of exposure and marketability in recent times, underlined by the success of last year's World Cup in England and the continuing expansion of the WBBL in Australia. While encouraged by these points of progress, the MCC committee's members noted that the game's richer countries, England and Australia in particular, were streaking ahead of others in terms of wage growth, and that the WBBL and the English T20 Super League needed to be recognised with distinct calendar windows akin to that for the IPL.
"The committee is concerned, however, of the danger of the rich getting richer and the other countries not being able to keep up," the spokesman said. "Some form of minimum wage and payment structure should therefore be introduced to help close the gap and the present imbalance in international cricket. For women's cricket to be really successful, the game needs at least eight nations to compete - with only six realistically challenging for honours at present.
"The committee would also like to see a window created in the international cricket structure for the Big Bash and Super League to ensure that the best players play in it. At present there is some international cricket scheduled during the Women's Big Bash, which prevents some of the game's best cricketers from playing in the tournament."
Players on the committee also expressed the belief that more should be done to utilise the world's players associations as links between cricketers and the efforts of governing bodies to reduce the risks of corrupt activity around the game. "It is a lot to do with the much-publicised experiences Brendon McCullum had after he reported a few incidents and leading on from that, it was highlighted that there are certain trust issues when it comes to players reporting approaches. I think the most important thing is to have players reporting any and all approaches made to them," Sangakkara said. "You can see that happening more and more, so the education system is working, the information is passing properly through from the players with relevant experience or someone they can relate to rather than having an official come and talk down to them about it.
"The players associations play a great part in many aspects of world cricket, especially when it comes to player welfare, and this is another important aspect of the game they can really play an active part in, and I think the players themselves would welcome such a change. There's a lot of cricket being played around the world from a very young age, in Sri Lanka there's a vibrant inter-school tournament that starts off when a child is 11 years old, all the way up to Under-19s, Under-17s travelling internationally and playing televised games.
"There are reports of bookies and fixers targeting young, talented players, trying to identify them and get their hooks into them from a young age. So it is important that saying no to corruption and understanding the role of oneself in that decision-making process is ingrained from a very young age, getting awareness programmes through, making it part of cricket at a very young age. When a player understands the value of making the right decisions that does go a long way in supporting that decision-making but, at the end of the day, if you're taught from a young age that it's the right thing to do it's probably more important. The parity of pay would also support it."
Among other matters, the committee was staunch in pushing for standardised use of DRS technology to accompany the start of the inaugural World Test Championship in 2019. "The committee recommends that ICC standardise the use of DRS technology for all matches in the competition. Currently, not all international Test series are played with DRS, and some contests only use certain elements of the technology, such as ball-tracking, but may lack other elements, like HotSpot.
"ICC's World Test Championship should be played under the same regulations regardless of which teams are taking part in the matches and where in the world they take place, to ensure a level playing field and consistency of application throughout the competition; the ICC should be prepared to fund the system, possibly through a global sponsor, to assist host countries that cannot at present afford to pay for the required technology."