ICL optimistic despite exodus threat

Nathan Astle prepares to play a shot during his unbeaten 68 ICL

The ICL appears to be facing an exodus of players who are eager to cash in on the BCCI's new amnesty offer but the unofficial league is confident of surviving the latest crisis. It's learnt that that the ICL management discussed the BCCI's offer on Wednesday and reiterated its decision to go ahead with plans for the next season in October.

"We are positive about going forward," a senior ICL official told Cricinfo. "Some of our players may be tempted by the BCCI's offer, but we are confident of retaining the players we want. We have legally binding contracts with the players and we expect them to honour those. Breaking contracts and walking away is not as simple as it sounds; there is a notice period, and no-objection clauses involved."

The official also dismissed suggestions that the league would be forced to shut down after it started downsizing its operations this year. The ICL cancelled its March programme due to the deepening economic recession as well as the non-availability of Pakistan players following cross-border political tensions. On Wednesday, barely an hour after the BCCI announced its amnesty offer, Himanshu Mody, the ICL's business head, revealed that the league would not be renewing the contracts of some players and support-staff members.

"Taking forward its Sports Performance Evaluation (SPE) process across all cricket operations, the ICL management has decided not to renew the contracts of some of the ICL players and support staff that have expired," Mody said in a public statement. "As cricket professionals they are free to decide and explore their options."

The ICL official Cricinfo spoke to, however, said this was all part of a long-term plan. "The idea is to have a sharper and leaner programme going ahead with players who are committed to the league," he said. "Obviously, what we do has to be financially viable too." Apparently, some senior Indian players and some foreign players, like Nathan Astle, the former New Zealand batsman, are among those whose contracts may not be renewed.

ICL officials claimed that the BCCI's amnesty is a "desperate ploy" to bring the ICL to its knees before they take the ICC to court for rejecting their request for official recognition. "We have a strong legal case because the new ICC rules on unofficial cricket comes into force only on June 1 and can't be applied in a retrospective manner," the official said. "As per the old rules, the ICC is on a sticky wicket legally. The ICC knows that and this is just a desperate ploy to break us."

The current ICC protocols for approving unofficial cricket events, which came into force in 2003, do not cover events not involving players currently contracted to its member boards, or reduced format events involving no more than three players contracted to those boards. The ICL started its Twenty20 programme in 2007 with its own contracted pool of players. Even though the ICC's new guidelines are tighter in this regard -- they clearly state that a cricket venture remains unofficial till granted approval by the home board -- it is doubtful whether they cannot be applied in a retrospective manner.

However, despite the ICL's confident posture, early indications are that it faces an uphill task in retaining a decent player base. Some key Indian ICL players admit that they are seriously looking at accepting the BCCI's offer because it "works well" for both the seniors and the youngsters.

As far as the senior players are concerned, the offer gives them an opportunity to safeguard their future in the official set-up, either as coaches, commentators or even administrators. And for the juniors, it opens the doors to return to their state teams at a time when the BCCI has enhanced player payments across the board.

Most importantly, the amnesty offer, which makes ICL players eligible for domestic cricket from June 1 if they cut all ties with the unofficial league before May 31, opens up opportunities in the lucrative IPL, which has been classified as a domestic event.

"At least 99% (of the ICL players) will think about this and may move back into the BCCI fold," a prominent ICL player told Cricinfo. "Even if you can't play international cricket now, the IPL is still there. A lot the ICL guys can make the IPL teams where there is a healthy international presence. This makes a big difference."

Another ICL player said that there are "two clear reasons" why the ICL will lose a lot of players. "Firstly, there has been no clarity on the future of ICL," he said. "Then, it is no secret that many of us have not been paid by the league for a while." Emotionally too, he says, the players admit they are "sick" of their outlaw status after having been barred from even practicing in their local college grounds by the BCCI's hardline anti-ICL stance.

The ICL official admitted that there is an issue with the dues but sought to link that with the performance appraisal process. "Once the process is complete and the picture becomes clear on who will be retained and who will not, the dues issue will be settled," he said. "As for the other issues, all I can say is that they walked into the ICL with their eyes wide open, so what's the problem now?"