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David Wiese: 'You can understand why players would want to get knocked out early from one T20 league to play another'

The Namibia allrounder plays franchise cricket all over the world and sees that the future is not fully sustainable

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
David Wiese won the 2023 PSL with Lahore Qalandars  •  Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

David Wiese won the 2023 PSL with Lahore Qalandars  •  Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

"I'm a bit of a mercenary," David Wiese concedes in the first episode of his new podcast, Hitman for Hire. In the past 18 months, he has played for - deep breath - St Lucia Kings, Deccan Gladiators, Gulf Giants, Lahore Qalandars, Kolkata Knight Riders, Yorkshire Vikings, MI New York, Northern Superchargers, Joburg Super Kings and the Titans, as well as his second international team, Namibia.
If you have ever mindlessly flicked on some T20, you have probably spotted Wiese. He is hard to miss: nearly two metres tall, wearing a top-knot and with a compression sleeve that covers his tattoos. He turns 39 in May and has no shame admitting that he is cashing in while his body allows him to. "If you're not realistic about it, then you're only bluffing yourself," he tells ESPNcricinfo from his home in Pretoria.
The podcast comprises regular chats between Wiese and presenter Sam Keir across last year when Wiese's calendar was busier than ever. "People always have the perception that franchise cricket is all glitz and glamour, especially with the IPL," he says. "But there is another side of it, the human side of it, being away from your family, not performing, and the pressures that come with playing franchise cricket.
"People don't know what goes on behind the scenes. The whole franchise league system can become a lonely place when things aren't going well for you. Effectively, every single tournament is an audition for the next tournament. You have one, maybe two bad tournaments, and you're gone. There's nothing left for you to do. You're basically retired."
Wiese could never have predicted the path that his career has taken. When he made his first-class debut in 2005, he was an internal auditing student at the University of Pretoria; England's Twenty20 Cup was in its infancy, and there was no IPL or T20 World Cup. "I never really put that much pressure on myself," he says. "It's always been about the love of the game."
But that was tested at times last year, not least when leaving his young family at home. "My kids are four and two. South Africa's not like the UK, where if you take them out of school, you get fined, so they did come away with me quite a bit last year - but it does still get tough. I've missed my eldest daughter's birthday for the last three years; my wedding anniversary is almost non-existent.
"I think if I'd had kids a little bit younger in my career, I probably wouldn't still be doing this," Wiese admits. "As they get older, it does get more difficult. My eldest daughter thinks that if she doesn't say goodbye to me, I'm not going to leave, so she just refuses to say goodbye. Those are the small things that are tough - but they'll also understand that it's so I can set things up for their future."
He is considering a future in coaching, which he hopes will allow him to flip his work-life balance on its head. "I'm not delusional: I've probably only got one or two years left in me. If I can maximise that, it'll mean being away from the family a little bit, but then I'll be able to retire when my daughters are six and four and spend nine months of the year surrounded by family."
When he signed a Kolpak deal with Sussex in 2017, Wiese expected to spend the rest of his career playing all formats in county cricket. But when the UK left the European Union in early 2020, he became an overseas player rather than a local in county cricket, pushing him towards the T20 circuit and effectively ending his first-class career.
Namibia, for whom he qualifies through his father, gave him a second international career in 2021 and have allowed him to take control of his schedule. He will play for them in a third successive T20 World Cup in June, where they will face Australia, England, Oman and Scotland in the initial group stage. "Since the opportunity first came up, Namibia have always been high on my agenda," he says.
"They actually gave me a platform again. Even though I was playing in the PSL, the CPL and other tournaments, I hadn't been picked up in the IPL since 2016. I'd like to think that maybe having more exposure at the T20 World Cup playing for Namibia - we made the Super 12 stage [in 2021] and did well against the bigger teams - was the reason why I was picked up again last year [by Kolkata Knight Riders]."
Wiese has been a beneficiary of the franchise boom, which has presented him and many other players with countless lucrative opportunities to play around the world, but he holds some reservations about the sport's messy, unregulated landscape. "There are certain teams that dictate their own rules, bend things to suit them, and people just accept it and move on," he says.
"There's not one standard. There are leagues that let teams have six overseas players, some leagues have five, some four. If you can get to the stage where you kind of have an MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] that is standard across everything, that would help with it not being so confusing and guys not taking advantage of the system.
"But until that happens… it's a difficult one, because every single franchise tournament is governed by a different board and they can kind of do whatever they want to. If they want to change things to suit certain people, or if they want to do things to maximise their profits, you can't stop that. They essentially own the league, right?"
In February, Wiese's Joburg Super Kings were knocked out of the SA20 in the second qualifier; days later, some of his team-mates were playing in the ILT20 or the Bangladesh Premier League. "I had opportunities that I turned down," he says. "It doesn't sit right, hoping you get knocked out of one tournament and then you can go to another. Whether the ICC can step in and try to regulate it, so that if you sign for one league you can't play for another league that coincides with it, I don't know… you're opening yourself up to restraint of trade.
Wiese suggests teams could consider incentivising the playoffs.
"At this stage, you've got your contract, which you can divide pro rata across ten games, but if you make the playoffs, you're just dividing it by 11 or 12 games; you actually get paid less per game by making the finals… if you make the playoffs, the only way you're actually going to get extra money out of it is by winning the tournament and [getting] the prize money.
"You can understand why guys would say, 'Well, if we get knocked out early in this tournament, I can go somewhere else and make an extra $20,000-30,000 out of another tournament.' And that is a true mercenary, right there. You'll see it happening more often now, with teams owning more than one team in different leagues. You can't stop it, unless you regulate by saying guys have to at least be there for a certain amount of round-robin games before they can play in the playoffs. It's something they're going to have to address at some stage."
It is rare to hear an active player nibbling - if not quite biting - the hand that feeds them. "Do you want to be the guy that stands up and says something and then tarnishes your reputation? You've got agents and players associations, and they're the guys who should sort all those things out. If you go in and ruffle feathers somewhere, it might just cost you in the long run. It's always been a case of keep your head down, do your job and you'll get your rewards."
Wiese is not alone in having heard rumours about the prospect of a franchise league starting in Saudi Arabia, which he believes would be "a game-changer" for players. "We know what Saudi leagues have done for other sports and if they get involved in cricket, you could see astronomical numbers coming in."
But he is less optimistic about the prospects of other leagues. "I feel like the bubble's got to burst at some stage. With all due respect, how much revenue can a Canada league bring in? I remember I played one year in the T20 Hong Kong Blitz [in 2018]. That only lasted for one year [the tournament was played for three seasons from 2016 to 2018], and you just don't see [how they make] money… and I don't know how much more it can take.
"I know a lot of the numbers are not specifically about filling up stadiums. It's more about viewership and how many ads they can sell. But for me, I feel like the bubble is going to burst at some stage, and there's only going to be the main tournaments that are going to hold. All of these smaller tournaments, it's going to be fly-by-night, one or two seasons - then it's not sustainable.
"I don't know how it's going to look in ten years, to be honest. It's getting so condensed. I don't know if it's going to get to the stage where they follow football and actually have an international window, then everything else is franchise cricket; so you play your internationals, you've got your World Cups, and then everything else is franchise-based."
It might sound like a dystopian prediction - but there are few players more qualified than Wiese to make it.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98