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    July 28, 2009

    Could retainerships in Twenty20 leagues prevent premature retirements?

    A couple of weeks ago, Andrew Flintoff announced his retirement from test cricket. He was followed by Chaminda Vaas. These retirements come as no surprise considering the physical strain associated with being quick/fast-medium bowlers. If Flintoff plays the remaining 3 Ashes tests, he would end up with 80 tests. The sad part is that he missed a whopping 63 tests. At 143 tests, he'd have been in the top 5 most-capped test cricketers of all time (behind Steve Waugh, Tendulkar, Border & Warne).

    Last year, Scott Styris retired from tests. Earlier this year, Jacob Oram threatened to follow his teammate.

    The irony is that the same cricketers who extoll the virtues of test cricket, call it the ultimate form of the game, rate their test cricket achievements as being the pinnacle compared to those in other forms of the game, etc. invariably end up retiring from test cricket. Can you point out anyone who has quit ODIs to continue playing tests? So do we all get this lip-service?

    Cricket boards really run the risk of many more quality players quitting test cricket. Is it possible for everyone to have the cake and eat it to? Can T20 leagues & international cricket co-exist without antagonizing everyone involved? Is it necessarily a zero-sum game?

    Let's make a few assumptions here - some could be wrong of course!Given all these assumptions, how do we best balance the self-interests of the players and the administrators? The combination of the last two factors hugely influences a player's decision to quit playing test cricket and free up that time to play more and more Twenty20, including at events like the IPL, Champions League, etc. Adam Gilchrist was largely spot-on in the talk he gave as part of the 2009 Cowdrey Spirit of Cricket Lecture (transcript & video) when he said:
    An acceptance that professional players will increasingly make pragmatic decisions about their careers, which may involve playing less Test cricket or even perhaps, none at all. That the arrival of rich, franchised based competitions like the IPL will hasten this trend and reduce the primacy of playing for your country or provincial team. That a young first class cricketer in Bangladesh or the West Indies may have an entirely different set of playing priorities and goals to those youngsters playing in England or Australia. goals to those youngsters playing in England or Australia. That Cricket Administrators must adapt to these realities with clever programming of international fixtures to dove-tail off these competitions and if necessary radically change, even jettison the Future Tours Program in order to achieve this.
    Let's leave aside for a moment the reality that Gilchrist contradicted himself in that statement. If the FTP was jettisoned, this would directly result in the likes of Bangladesh, West Indies & Zimbabwe playing less cricket against the 'stronger' (cricketing & economic factors) teams like Australia, South Africa, India & England. That would imply a reduction in the quality of cricket they're exposed to as well as revenue for boards. Do you seriously expect a cricketer from West Indies to say "No thanks, I'd rather play a test against Bangladesh because I'm so much in love with my administration"? Of course not! He's going to take the first opportunity available to throw away the WICB contract and play in one of the T20 leagues. So actually, by jettisoning the FTP, you could be increasing the risk that "a young first class cricketer in Bangladesh or the West Indies may have an entirely different set of playing priorities and goals to those youngsters playing in England or Australia". Having digressed, we now go back to the question - how to best balance the self-interests of the players and the administrators? Would a retainership-based payment structure work? What if the IPL (or other T20 leagues) split up the player's payment on a 60-40 basis, whereby 60% of the money they get is based on the number of games they play? But the remaining 40% is actually given to their cricket board. The cricket board could reduce the payment made to the player if he skips commitments (training, other contractual obligations, international games, etc.) because he gave a higher preference to playing in the T20 tournament. That 60-40 split is just a number. It could have been 50-50 or even 70-30, but the split-up needs to provide sufficient incentives & disincentives. Players who are not contracted to their boards would receive a pro-rata amount based on the number of games they played along with other contractual obligations fulfilled. This gives cricket boards enough incentive to release players for the tournament, knowing fully well that they will get something out of it if the players don't honour their side of the bargain. Players have an incentive to balance playing T20 leagues and international cricket. They don't fall under the 'daily wage worker' category, because really speaking when you're paid on a pro-rata basis, that is what you are! The tournament organizers & sponsors benefit since they know that cricket boards and players are both committed to the event because they both stand to gain. What are the potential problems associated with such a model? Manipulative boards (and there're plenty in that category) could reduce the payments on the basis of flimsy arguments. Players could opt out of board contracts, thereby removing the boards from the equation altogether and destabilizing international cricket. Tournament organizers & sponsors could offer incentives for players to give up their existing board contracts.

    It may still be an option worth considering. If the model can prevent even one star player from quitting test cricket, I'd reckon it has done its job.

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    Thus spake Jagadish @ 11:35 PM |
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    Work hard all year for a good wage, or enjoy six weeks part time cricket for a great one. For the experienced player that has enjoyed the international big time already the IPL seems like the obvious choice.

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