Business of T20 leagues: Cricket all set to change again forever but not without a good deal of upheaval | Cricket News

MUMBAI: After Kerry Packer and the Australian television industry first changed the face of the game in 1976, followed by India’s 1983 World Cup win that resulted in the birth of the sport’s greatest-ever economy, and eventually the launch of the Indian Premier League (IPL) that revolutionized things forever, this week marks the beginning of yet another global whirl that could alter the course of cricket once again for the fourth time in 45 years.
Cricket South Africa (CSA) and the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) are currently locked in a fierce battle to stay a step ahead of each other as both get ready to launch their respective T20 leagues. The advent of these leagues – alongside IPL locking months of March, April and May for itself; ICC getting ready to host a world event every year; and other T20 leagues around the world grabbing whatever space gets left inside a calendar year – is set to further shrink bilateral cricket forever, going forward.
The last 72 hours saw members of the International Cricket Council (ICC) participate in a ‘dull draw’ at the annual conference in Birmingham. Behind the scenes though, they were busy refereeing a contest between CSA and the ECB over a clash for a window, signing of cricketers and the necessary pre/post approvals from the ICC board for these leagues to go ahead.
The most pertinent aspect of all discussions revolved around making players available for these leagues; the validity and logic behind certain policies / frameworks; and the potential risk of a ‘player burnout’ that could stem from such a move – if not regulated.
Three cricket boards raised the subject first when members of ICC’s Chief Executive Committee (CEC) convened on Monday. Later, the matter was presented to the board for further deliberations and TOI understands that a proposal has been made to form a ‘working group’ to study and understand intricacies involved.
While the South African T20 league proposes to be a ‘domestic’ one on the lines of IPL – four overseas players and seven from SA; the Emirates T20 league has listed itself as an ‘international’ league – one that’ll have nine overseas cricketers in the playing eleven and only two local names from the UAE.
“Let’s look at the UAE proposal. You can debate it both ways. On one hand, maybe a league is the best possible way to help grow domestic cricket in the country, and the IPL is a good example of how cricketers from the remotest parts of India have seen opportunities.
“The flipside, however, is what sense does it make to have a league that has nine overseas cricketers in the eleven and just two local players? Is it really helping the country’s cricketing growth? If such a trend is set, tomorrow any nation anywhere in the world will just get investors to bankroll a new league and offer top dollar for cricketers to come and play. Doesn’t that threaten to destroy the existing fabric and framework of the ecosystem? What exactly does an ‘international T20 league’ mean anyway?” say those tracking these developments from close quarters.
What’s clear, nevertheless, is this – the ICC cannot stop any member board – be it a full member or an associate – from starting a league. It’s a simple case of fair-trade practices.
“What the ICC board must bear in mind is how it can possibly regulate the space and ensure cricketers don’t face a burnout and don’t really disengage with the idea of ‘nation first’ policy. How can they ensure that? By deliberating if the idea of a league should predominantly involve ‘home-grown cricketers’ as first priority followed by overseas recruits or any other way round,” sources add.
The CSA-backed league, meanwhile, also has its own set of challenges. Forced to fit tightly in a narrow window between the proposed UAE league and the IPL – the month of February to be specific – South Africa’s priorities will revolve around ensuring their potential overseas recruits make adequate time and space available during the proposed window, which is going to be a different kind of headache altogether.
“What will this result in? Better salary purses attracting better talent or money alone dictating policy matters? Quite possible. And if there’s enough money on the table then why will players consider anything else, including bilateral commitments? You see where all of this is headed? That’s the headache to worry about,” say industry executives.
For the record, the UAE league is tentatively scheduled to be played between the second week of January and first week of February while the SA league could begin early February and conclude by the end of the month.
-The article is first of a four-part series on the changing landscape of cricket.


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