There was a time when having an illustrious cricketing career was all that mattered for a cricketer. Back in the 1990’s and the early 2000s, if cricketers didn’t have a successful international career, it used to be the end of the road for them. It was a time when playing cricket for the country was on top of a cricketer’s priority list. It was a time when test match cricket dominated the international cricketing scene and it was a time when pride was way more important than money.
But today, if you aren’t a top-notch cricketer sitting on a huge pile of runs, it doesn’t matter as you can still ply your trade in numerous Twenty20 leagues around the world in order to make a living. We’re witnessing an era where test match cricket, the ultimate form of the game, is declining at the rate of knots. It is an era where technique and temperament have been overshadowed by the glitters and jitters and money and national loyalties are vanishing.
The emergence of Twenty20 cricket and franchise-based leagues has given rise to the concept of ‘freelancing’ in cricket. In today’s fast-paced world, Twenty20 cricket has given excitement and thrill to those who are terribly short on time. It is also given clubs and franchises to pull crowds by roping in popular international cricketers.
It’s a time when a player is likely to get a hefty sum of money by playing the Big Bash League in Australia, The Natwest Twenty20 in the UK, The Indian Premier League (IPL) in India, and the list is never-ending. Some players even take premature retirement from their national sides and become Kolpak players for English county sides. Kyle Abbott and Rilee Russouw are just two of the many examples of international players taking the Kolpak route.
Let us take an example: Kevin Pietersen, the lanky batter from England, can be seen swinging the willow for franchises around the world. After the 38-year-old’s contract was terminated by the ECB, he began freelancing and was seen hitting some massive sixes for the Melbourne Stars in the BBL (Big Bash League). Thus far, he has plied his trade all over the world. Right from the BBL in Australia to the Caribbean Premier League, Pietersen remains a hot property in the world of cricket even after being denied a national contract.
Pietersen’s case is one of the countless cases of a player choosing to play franchise cricket over national duty. The likes of Mitchell McClenaghan and Dwayne Bravo have turned down national contracts (for New Zealand and the West Indies respectively) in order to ply their trade in Twenty20 leagues. Players such as Mitchell McClenaghan have turned down national contracts in order to ply their trade in the Global T20 League. However, the postponement of the League came as a blow to McClenaghan.
The benefits of playing franchise cricket are immense. Firstly, players can earn around three times more while playing for franchises than they earn while playing for their national sides. Secondly, the extent of pressure in a club game is less when compared with the national side’s fixture. Of late, many cricketers have spoken about the pressure of playing international cricket. In an age of cut-throat competition, if players cannot perform, they’re axe from the side. Under such circumstances, playing county cricket in England is a much secure option to ensure a regular income for a player.
But, every coin has got a flipside. International cricket’s standard is bound to decline if quality players are lost to franchise-based leagues. Test match crowds are dwindling rapidly. Not many players want to play test match cricket at the international level given the formidable power of these leagues.
For the likes of Brendon Mccullum and Shane Watson don’t require to search for franchises as they’re tried and tested cricketers with a mountain of runs behind their backs, but spare a thought for the likes of Tymal Mills and Samuel Badree, these cricketers might find it hard to search for franchises. Freelance cricketers don’t have regular access to coaches and training equipment as most centrally contracted players have.
Maintaining optimum levels of fitness during offseason might just become an issue for freelancers. Above all, if a freelance cricketer comes across a prolonged injury layoff or has a couple of bad tournaments, the franchises might just write him off.
But, the cult of freelance cricketers is here and hopefully, it’ll keep on growing, thanks to these franchise-based leagues. The likes of stalwarts such as Gayle and Mccullum would be the big guns for hire, but freelancing might not be as easy as it might appear for other cricketers who are yet to prove their worth.