ICC weighs in on MCL retirement issue

At least three Full Member boards have written to the ICC expressing concern over current players asking for no objection certificates to participate in the Masters Champions League

Graeme Swann, Graeme Smith, Virender Sehwag, Brian Lara, Michael Vaughan and Azhar Mahmood at a MCL promotional event, Dubai, October 19, 2015

The ICC gave the Masters Champions League the go-ahead on the understanding that only retired players would take part in it  •  MCL

At least three Full Member boards have written to the ICC expressing concern over their current players asking for no objection certificates to participate in the Masters Champions League (MCL), which was approved as a Twenty20 event meant strictly for retired players. The ICC has warned that "actions of those involved with the MCL in seeking current player participation" is "unacceptable".
It is understood that the three aggrieved members are the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Cricket South Africa (CSA), and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).
In an e-mail sent to all the member boards, ICC senior operations manager Clive Hitchcock asked them to contact him immediately if they received a request from a current or non-retired player for an NOC to play in the MCL. According to Hitchcock, the ICC had granted an approval to the MCL last November, and notified all the board members.
"Our decision not to issue a Disapproved Notice was based on the application from MCL which clearly stated that it was an event for retired players only," Hitchcock wrote in the e-mail, which is in possession of ESPNcricinfo. "Emirates Cricket Board, who sanctioned the event, did so on the basis of their negotiations with MCL for a retired players event. Consequently, the actions of those involved with the MCL in seeking current player participation in the event is unacceptable to us."
Hitchcock pointed out that affected boards have highlighted to the ICC that the MCL has been signing up players who are yet to retire, thereby weakening their domestic cricket. "Within the past week we have received notification from two Full Members that its current players have just been approached to play in the event, by requesting those players to seek NOCs from their respective Board," Hitchcock said.
Haroon Lorgat, the CSA chief executive, said he had to take notice once his board received a "couple of queries" for NOCs from current South African domestic players. "I am concerned because on the back of what was meant to be [a tournament] for retired players they are now inviting or approaching who are currently playing in our domestic set-up," Lorgat said.
Lorgat did not disclose the names of the players, but said CSA had approached the ICC asking for intervention.
"You can't have domestic competitions affected," Lorgat said. "This is the prime part of our season. And they are not retired players. They are contracted to our domestic franchises."
The MCL's squads feature a number of South African players who haven't yet announced their retirement, including a few who have featured in the current domestic season, such as Ryan McLaren, Richard Levi and Robin Peterson.
WICB chief executive Michael Muirhead said his board had written to the ICC seeking clarity, although he added no West Indies player had yet asked for an NOC. West Indian players in the MCL roster include Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Fidel Edwards, who are yet to announce their retirements.
For the PCB, the challenge is of a different kind. Last week the PCB had made it clear that the Pakistan players who wanted to play in the MCL would need to submit in writing that they had "announced and confirmed their irrevocable resignation and retirement from international cricket on behalf of Pakistan".
The main issue for the PCB is the ten-day clash between the Pakistan Super League and the MCL, both of which are being staged in the UAE. The MCL is scheduled be held from January 28 to February 13, while the PSL is to be held from February 4 to 23. "MCL was earlier meant to end a few days before we started our league [PSL] in the UAE, but later the MCL and ECB made a some changes in their fixtures," Najam Sethi, the PCB's executive committee head, said. "Later we got a three-way agreement with MCL, PCB and ECB, but still it's overlapping, which isn't ideal, but we have agreed to it and we didn't have any other choice."
According to Sethi the PCB, despite the clash with the MCL, had stayed quiet when the ICC board was deliberating over whether to grant an approval to the MCL. "Had we opposed it, they could have been in trouble earlier," Sethi said.
According to an official privy to the negotiations, the MCL is signing up players who are not being selected for their national teams but are still playing domestic cricket, and forcing them to retire by asking them to get the NOCs. That, he says, is against the spirit of the original agreement. "It was about players who had stopped playing all cricket," the official said. "How does it matter if a player has not played for the country for a decade, he is still available for selection. But by signing up for MCL that option is being ruled out."
Hitchcock said the ICC was in touch with the MCL to resolve the issue. "In the meantime," he wrote in his email, "if you receive a request from one of your current/non-retired players to participate in the event would you please let me know immediately."
Zafar Shah, the head of the MCL, acknowledged that the ICC was in touch, and said the league was not forcing players to retire. "This is the perfect time for players who have never announced their retirement to do it now," Zafar told The National. "For example, Mohammad Yousuf never retired, he just found himself out and then not picked, he's not even playing domestically.
"The board [member] is saying they have to come out and say they have retired and I agree with them. Our format is very clear - retirement is a must. Otherwise we will not entertain anybody. But we don't have influence with players to tell them to go and retire.
"It's a teething issue because clarity is not there between players and their boards. It has never been done before. We are now setting this platform. Everybody will understand what to do from now."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson