In 2016, back when PSG’s Brazilian superstar Neymar was playing for Spanish club Barcelona, Brazil had two important international assignments the same year– the Copa America and the Rio Olympics.
Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) naturally wanted their biggest star in both competitions. But Barcelona refused to let its star player take part in two tournaments as it would risk his fitness ahead of the club football season.
Is IPL replacing international cricket?
West Indies all-rounder Andre Russell smashing a ball into the stands for Abu Dhabi Knight Riders in the ILT20
After discussions that ran for seven months, Barcelona finally allowed Neymar to take part in either one of the competitions. Neymar and CBF chose the Olympics.
Without the team’s talisman, Brazil got knocked out of the group-stage in Copa America. But in the other competition, Neymar led Brazil to its first-ever gold medal in Olympic football.
Neymar’s incident is just one of many in the world of football. In Europe and South America, the players are contracted under the club and club wages make up the majority of their earnings. Hence, Clubs have more authority over the footballer than the national football body.
In cricket, a scenario like this seems highly implausible. Even though Twenty20 franchise leagues, especially the Indian Premier League (IPL), have considerable pull, in most top cricketing nations the players are still under the control of their cricket boards.
But now, the IPL franchises want to change that. They have begun laying the groundwork to sign top cricketers for lucrative year-long contracts.
If successful, this would bring a seismic change in cricket, shift the axis of power in the game and make international cricket take a backseat to club cricket, akin to football.
The grand plan
British weekly ‘The Economist’ reported earlier this month that Venky Mysore, the chief executive of Kolkata Knight Riders, had plans of signing year-long contracts with cricketers.
Now, signing players for 12 months for KKR, which is active only two months a year during the IPL, seems pointless. But the Knight Riders don’t just have one team, they have four.
Knight Riders have teams in the Caribbean Premier League (Trinidad and Tobago Knight Riders) and the UAE-based International League T20 (Abu Dhabi Knight Riders). They also have a team in the soon-to-start Major League Cricket in the US (Los Angeles Knight Riders).
Venky’s plan, hence, is to sign marquee players and have them play for all KKR franchises throughout the year.
The Knight Riders are not the only IPL franchise that could benefit from an arrangement like that as seven other IPL franchises also own teams in other leagues.
The Ambani group’s Mumbai Indians have three more teams in the UAE (MI Emirates), South Africa (MI Cape Town) and the US (MI New York).
Chennai Super Kings, Delhi Capitals and Rajasthan Royals have two other teams while Lucknow Super Giants, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Punjab Kings have one team outside of India.
Plans in motion
Venky and other IPL franchise owners have progressed way past the planning stage. The plans have already been set in motion to make this a reality, which came to the foray after a recent revelation.
KKR CEO Venky Mysore
KKR CEO Venky MysoreTwitter
Federation of International Cricket Association (FICA) executive chairman Heath Mills recently revealed that several cricketers from England, Australia, the West Indies, New Zealand and South Africa have been informally approached by IPL franchises. The franchises wanted to know if they would be interested in signing year-long contracts.
British newspaper ‘The Times’ also reported that six English cricketers, including England internationals, have received such proposals from IPL franchises. The players have been offered as much as £5 million a year.
If IPL franchises manage to sign players for such long term contracts, they would no longer have to worry about player availability for international duty or bargain with national cricket boards for cricketers.
The tables would completely turn as now it would be national boards who would have to request the franchises to let go of players for bilateral series and ICC events. Chances are, the franchises would let the cricketers go for ICC events, much like football clubs let go of their players during FIFA competitions, but ignore that plea for less significant assignments.
KKR’s Caribbean all-rounder is one of the many prominent Caribbean player who has refused to be under contract of his national cricket board
KKR’s Caribbean all-rounder is one of the many prominent Caribbean player who has refused to be under contract of his national cricket boardAFP
The franchises would throw bags of money at the crème of the cricketing world. Top cricketers who have entered their 30s are likely to seriously consider such an offer as it prolongs their career, reduces strain on their body and gets them a better pay cheque.
Many prominent Caribbean players chose not to be under the contract of its cricket board. Last year, Kiwi pacer Trent Boult terminated his contract with the New Zealand board. Not being under contract allows them to play for whichever franchise league they want to and to pick and choose their international assignments.
If IPL franchises start signing players on long term contracts, chances are the number of such cricketers will drastically increase.
Rajasthan Royals’ Trent Boult celebrates the wicket of Royal Challengers Bangalore’s Virat Kohli
Rajasthan Royals’ Trent Boult celebrates the wicket of Royal Challengers Bangalore’s Virat KohliAFP
Wealthy cricket boards like England and Australia could beef up their cricketers’ pay and try to keep them under their contracts. But boards in countries like South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies and Sri Lanka can’t possibly compete with IPL franchises.
The ICC and national cricket boards will also lose power and significance. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) would be the only exception as it controls IPL. But as time wears on, chances are that the franchises themselves would grow to become more powerful than the BCCI.
Top cricketers would be mostly busy in franchise cricket, taking a lot of the gloss out of the traditional bilateral series. Even if they are not taking part in a T20 league, the players could simply opt out of the series or the franchise could stop that cricketer from taking part to avoid the risk of injury.
Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODIs) will be gravely impacted. The proliferation of T20 cricket would only increase and the popularity of the other formats would continue to tank.
Mumbai Indians have franchises in leagues in the UAE, South Africa and th eUS
Mumbai Indians have franchises in leagues in the UAE, South Africa and th eUSAFP
There is also a high likelihood of more T20 leagues popping up and IPL franchises continuing to add new teams under their ownership.
This would severely change the landscape of domestic cricket, making list-A cricket and first-class cricket look increasingly less significant compared to franchise leagues.
Cricket will be changed forever.
Change is inevitable in every sport. Cricket has gone through its fair share of changes. The last biggest shakeup in cricket happened in the late 1970s with the Kerry Packer World Series. By the looks of it, the next big revolution is on the horizon.
Although the plans have been set in motion, the change will not happen overnight. Even if IPL franchises succeed in signing year-long contracts, there are many issues that they need to solve.
Every league has its own set of pay scales, player auction or draft. Players signed by KKR, can’t automatically play for TKR in the CPL, not at least according to the rules in place right now.
There is also the issue of Indian cricketers. BCCI still doesn’t allow its cricketers to play in any league other than IPL. But allowing IPL franchises to ransack whichever country’s talent pool they feel like while not letting its own players take part in foreign leagues would put BCCI in a morally questionable position.
Moreover, there is also a chance that Indian cricketers that don’t see themselves in contention to make it to the Indian team could decide to part ways with BCCI and become exclusively franchise league cricketers.