If you asked a child of the late nineties as to what was their ultimate childhood cricketing goal, it would have been to represent their nation in athletics. The sense of fulfillment and pride in sporting your national cap and stepping out onto the field was unparalleled. Winning a game for your fellow countrymen was deemed as being the greatest honor and accomplishment in cricket. There was no substitute for the pride received by victory. However, as the potential financial gains in franchise-based cricket increased, many cricketers were lured away from the wholesome desire to represent their home and those that represent. Thus, this article will focus on cricket and its failure to bridge the gap between the individual ‘financial needs’ of international sportsmen, and their desire, or need to represent their nation.
Representing one’s nation in sports requires sheer hard work and dedication. It’s a decade or two of blood, sweat, and tears (quite literally). A constant cycle of call-ups and exclusions from the team that either coerces you into being a better player or makes you crumble and fade away. For the pre-millennial cricket enthusiasts, this was the only route to converting their passion into a profession. It has to be said that cricket, at first, did not have significant financial rewards at stake. There were no shortcuts to success or to achieving personal gratification in the sport. This narration took an unexpected twist when the cricketing world welcomed the phenomenon of franchise-based cricket.
Yes, it all seemed merry and bright at the onset. Seeing the likes of Sachin Tendulkar partnering with Sanath Jayasuriya to open for the Mumbai Indians was a dream come true for many cricket fanatics. Having greats from all parts of the world training and playing with local youngsters was deemed a huge breakthrough and benefit for society. It seemed that an annual two-month cricketing carnival, being the IPL, brought even greater enthusiasm and inspiration for future generations who hope to play the game. Therefore, the concept that popular social events would bring about catastrophic consequences for international cricket and diminish nationalistic motives was unimaginable.
However, once the perks of the IPL were recognized by other boards around the world, this annual extravaganza was multiplied. Suddenly, most cricketing nations had leagues attracting foreign players who were lured by financial gains on the line. It was basic rational thinking under economics; why would you turn down a contract that simply requires a player to participate in a few twenty over matches within a month and a half, for double or even triple earnings in comparison to what one might receive in international cricket. It was, at this point, when the passion for nationalistic representation in cricket began to diminish.
The window of franchise-based cricket in the calendar year expanded greatly, leaving cricketers with no choice at times but to choose between representing their nation or their franchise. A cricketing purist at heart would state there should be no doubt in that representing one’s nation is the priority of all players, but unfortunately, most of our modern day cricketers are not purists. Such conversations in cricket stem from the fact that cricketers are not being paid adequately by their respective boards, enticing them to accept offers from franchises in order to meet their financial requirements. These offers seem tempting as it requires less effort and commitment – in the context of not having to play for five straight days in a test match, whilst also giving them guaranteed pay irrespective of their performance.
As a result, through the need to have greater financial gains, it was not only offered from franchises that players were accepting. Many began to overstep the line and went against the spirit of the sport in accepting offers from bookies aiming to fix matches or fix a certain session in the game. These illegal approaches have not only culminated in the destruction of the players’ careers and reputations but have brought great shame upon the sport as a whole.
It’s bewildering that the modern day cricketer prioritizes financial gains above the pride at stake for representing their nation, but in a sporting world where football transfers are valued in their millions and benchwarmers in other sports are being paid more than first XI international cricketers, you do begin to sympathize with their demands.
There needs to be a revival of the passion of playing for your nation. We, as cricketing devotees, can no longer tolerate the fact that our best players are injured due to playing for too many franchises and hence, cannot be on international duty. The ICC along with the boards of its members should trim the window for franchise-based cricket, seek to improve pay for cricketers when representing their nations, and rekindle the true spirit of our beautiful game. The clock is ticking…