Thanks for nothing, India

Some time in the next week Cricket South Africa (CSA) should make a phone call to its Indian paymasters and thank them for the stellar start to the summer local cricket fans will be subjected to.

Sarcastically, of course.

That’s because Bangladesh are the major tourists for summer 2008, playing two Tests, three ODIs and a T20 international. And before, dear reader, you leap off your chair unable to contain your enthusiasm over another visit from the easy-beats of world cricket, consider that Bangladesh will actually bring a weakened team to South Africa.

That’s because they have decided to rob themselves of the services of 13 top players, who recently joined the ‘rebel” Indian Cricket League (ICL). Despite not being able to afford the damage it will do to their already meagre playing strength, the Bangladesh Cricket Board has banned the unlucky 13 for 10 years.

Cricket SA chief executive Gerald Majola said this week that he didn’t see the problem.

‘It’s largely retired players who they’ve lost and I’m sure their team will be more or less at the same level they always are. They usually choose 21- to 23-year-olds and they have a very good youth programme,” Majola told the Mail & Guardian.

The fact that Bangladesh banned the ICL players to keep the Board of Control for Cricket in India happy and protect the commercial interests of their rival Indian Premier League (IPL) twenty20 competition does not alarm Majola and he does not feel the ICL is a major issue for South African cricket.

‘I understand the issues that are affecting the sub-continent at the moment, but we have only six players involved and the chances of others signing up for the ICL are limited because of the other lucrative twenty20 competitions that are coming up,” Majola said.

But local fans who have a yen for seeing such popular, dashing cricketers as Justin Kemp, Andrew Hall, Johan van der Wath, Lance Klusener, Nicky Boje and Dale Benkenstein in action will continue to be denied.

They will also have to sit through the farce of South Africa hosting Bangladesh B—and all because the Indian board is putting pressure on other boards to ban anyone involved in the ICL, which is nothing more than the predecessor and competitor to its own IPL.

But CSA has been selling its soul to the Indian board and its riches for some time, as evidenced by its enthusiasm in enforcing the ICL ban. Even media accreditation has been denied certain people involved in the ‘rebel” tournament. And never mind its blind support of Zimbabwe’s cricket administrators until a few months ago.

Seven of the 13 Bangladeshi defectors were centrally contracted, so the Bengal Tigers will certainly have even more gaping holes in their line-up than usual.

Where does all this leave cricket in global terms? Does the International Cricket Council (ICC) relegate Bangladesh to the B division, alongside the likes of Zimbabwe, where they probably belong anyway? Or does it allow a semi-provincial side to continue to play at the highest level and risk the integrity of Test and ODI cricket as the record book is torn up in the process?

The other option is for the national boards that make up the ICC to grow a backbone, tell India that the demands are unjust and harmful to the game and open their domestic competitions and national teams to ICL cricketers.

The barefaced truth is that India is, at the moment, blackmailing the rest of the cricketing world to protect its own commercial interests (the IPL) from competition, which is a signature of all democratic countries.

At the moment Cricket SA is betting on millions being generated by the twenty20 Champions League, an offshoot of the IPL, but that doesn’t justify a ban on players who have merely decided to make use of the opportunities in a parallel competition.

The likes of Kemp, Hall, Van der Wath, Klusener, Boje and Benkenstein are being illegally discriminated against and I’ll be pleased to phone a lawyer and drum up some support for the first franchise that breaks ranks and chooses one of these fine cricketers.

Sri Lanka have been quick to welcome back their ICL cricketers into the fold and hopefully Cricket SA can be proactive and do the same. Otherwise it might find disgruntled players turning to the law as the only tool available to them to ply their trade.

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