With the advent of T20 cricket, playing for the country seems to have taken a backseat. There used to be a time when donning national colours and scoring big hundreds used to be a cricketer’s biggest priority. It was a time when failing at the international level marked an end of a cricketer’s career. But today, even if you aren’t a top cricketer with piles of runs behind your back, you can still make it big and earn a living by plying your trade in overseas T20 leagues. The thrills and spills of the Indian Premier League, the BBL (Australia), the Vitality Blast (UK), and the CPL (West Indies) offer cricketers with a host of opportunities to showcase their talent and earn big bucks.
Back in August 2017, Mitchell McClenaghan, the fast bowler from New Zealand, declined a national contract in order to participate in international Twenty20 leagues. With 82 wickets in 48 ODIs, McClenaghan stood a chance of becoming the fastest to 100 ODI scalps in New Zealand’s cricketing history, but, as luck would have it, he relieved himself of the pressures of international cricket by turning into a Twenty20 pro. Although the 32-year-old is eligible for national selection whenever available, but with a multitude of Twenty20 leagues coming into the picture every now and then, McClenaghan might never get a chance to play international cricket ever again.
Mitchell McCleneghan’s case is one of the countless examples of players declining national duties and contracts to ply their trade in overseas leagues and county cricket. In January 2017, the likes of Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbott (both from South Africa) declined national contracts to ply their trade in County cricket. Both Rossouw and Abbott joined Hampshire as Kolpak cricketers in search of new opportunities and more money.
With talented international cricketers being lost to T20 leagues and ‘Kolpakism’, the future of international cricket looks bleak. A burning question that needs an immediate is: Why are cricketers declining national duties in order to play Twenty20 leagues and county cricket?
What’s in it for the Players?
Money, Money, More Money: It goes without saying that participating in franchise-based T20 leagues helps cricketers earn large sums of money. Many prominent names around the globe are turning freelance cricketers in order to make it big in the world of franchise cricket. National loyalties are vanishing at a rate of knots simply because of the money power involved. In an era where financial security and monetary gains are a cricketer’s priority, these cash-rich leagues offer players a great opportunity to earn a good amount of fortune. For instance: Yuvraj Singh, the swashbuckling Indian all-rounder was bought by the Delhi Daredevils (2015) for a whopping sum of INR 16 crore.
In a survey conducted by FICA (2016), more than 50% of the cricketers from the West Indies, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka said that they’d prefer declining national contracts in order to play in overseas cricket leagues if they are paid more. Looking at the current scenario, it certainly won’t be an overstatement to say that money is the biggest driving force behind a cricketer’s fast-shifting loyalties.
More Recognition: Cricketers plying their trade in overseas T20 leagues often become household names. Spectators flock the stadiums to watch popular international cricketers swinging the willow in T20 leagues. Chris Gayle, the explosive Jamaican opener has enjoyed an incredible fan following throughout the globe after he began participating in the Indian Premier League. His popularity swelled by leaps and bounds while he was a part of the Karnataka franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore. His exceptional batting displays earned him a place in the hearts of many.
Of late, Kevin Pietersen, the star batter from England began playing across the globe as a freelance after his relations with the ECB began souring. He was signed as an overseas player by the Melbourne Stars in the BBL where his exploits with the bat coupled with his on-field aura made him a fan favourite. Spectators want big names to play for their city’s team. The demand cof the spectators don’t end here. They want international cricketers to return every season, and T20 leagues are making that happen.
Immense Pressure: The fact that international cricket is demanding is no hyperbole. Almost all players, no matter how good they are, face a lean patch in their career. A string of low scores and a cricketer’s place in the national side is most likely to be questioned. (Remember Yuvraj Singh’s 21-ball 11 in the final of the world T20 in 2014?). At a time when even a single bad performance ends up casting a shadow of doubt over a cricketer’s international career, the best way to play cricket is to become a ‘gun for hire’. The extent of pressure is low, the duration of involvement in the game is low, and the money involved is incredibly high. All of these factors are a driving force behind a player’s decision to participate in overseas leagues.
With the T20 market booming, it is just a matter of time before T20 cricket becomes the undisputed driving force behind the game. With a large number of cricketers facing uncertain futures, the best way to earn a living certainly lies in playing franchise-based T20 leagues.