The ICL cometh

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)’s worst fears were realised this week, when the renegade Indian Cricket League (ICL) revealed that a wide range of players had signed contracts to join their league.

It wasn’t a surprise. High profile representatives of the ICL have been actively recruiting both current and recently retired cricketers for some time. Pakistan were perhaps the hardest hit with their star batsman, Mohammad Yousuf, joining the league.

The Indian and Pakistani boards have responded in a predictable fashion. Any players that join the league can never represent their country again. Players and ex-players have also been threatened with suspension of their pensions should they join. ICL representative Kapil Dev, named Indian Cricketer of the Century in 2002, has been the first to feel the wrath of the BCCI, losing his job as chairman of the national academy for his role in helping the ICL start up.

At first glance the ICL is terrible for international cricket. It seemingly threatens the very core and foundation of the game.

The ICL, run by Indian TV station Zee, is only there for the money. They lost the rights to broadcast cricket to the masses and perhaps see this as revenge on top of a way to restore lost profits.

Critics argue big corporations have no place in sport. Players are said to have a love for the sport, a passion to win and, most importantly, heart. Big companies only care about the bottom line, profit. Those same people would argue the two can’t mix and if they did it would be a recipe for disaster.

And what about the damage to international cricket? We could see a situation of brilliant players not representing their country and an international scene already lacking stars with big name retirements could be further degraded. What about future captains of India and Pakistan that may never get to tour Australia, play in an international Test match or a World Cup? How can this be good for cricket?

It’s not, but who is to blame here? Zee? No. They are a corporation that, in a free economy, have every right to pursue opportunities that are in their best interest. Players? Again, no, they have every right to secure their financial futures, especially with the limited opportunities that present themselves after retirement. No, most of the blame here must lie with the cricket boards and the cricket boards only.

Too long have these boards gone on with very little accountability. They have been filled with greed and ruled by dictatorship. They have lost touch with cricket and have become more of a renegade force by the year. They are unstable to say the least.

And that’s not to mention allegations of corruption and incompetence that continue to plague the various authorities.

The BCCI’s lack of support for grass roots and lower level cricket is atrocious. Why can’t a country with a billion people produce a cricket team that can get past the first round of the World Cup? Start there.

Why has it been so easy for the ICL to recruit so many domestic players? The same reason as it was when Kerry Packer did it all those years ago: basic player dissatisfaction with the board; poor conditions, poor communication and very little respect.

What would anyone expect when an organisation offering the players the world, comes into the picture? Surely if the BCCI and Pakistan Cricket Board had provided a good environment for their players, they wouldn’t be going off into the sunset when the first available opportunity presented itself?

The boards have done half the work already, laid the foundations for the ICL to come swooping in. They have no one to blame for the rut they now find themselves in.

Furthermore, the way the boards have handled themselves in the meantime has been nothing short of pigheaded and disgraceful. Instead of sitting down with the ICL and working things out, they have reacted in a knee-jerk fashion, proclaiming that anyone who signs with the league will be banned from international cricket for life.

These are not the actions of a rational or sensible organisation. Far from it. It further illustrates their unsuitability to be heading cricket in these countries.

Any market needs competition. Without it, faulty trade practices come into play and the system becomes distorted. The ICL will be able to provide the competition that is so desperately needed. It will force the boards to stand up and take notice, to be scared and to know that they aren’t the only show in town. It will spell out to them that the behaviour of the past is no longer acceptable and won’t ever be again. Hopefully they will take notice and change. Cricket will be all the better for it.

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