Stripped-down fee for all is now cricket

Sachin Tendulkar's farewell was one occasion where the West Indies diverted from schedule. (AFP)

Sachin Tendulkar's farewell was one occasion where the West Indies diverted from schedule. (AFP)

Cricket is moving from the Queensberry Rules to cage fighting. The gloves came off this week and Cricket South Africa, to salvage its international summer, is facing an altogether different fight to the one it had with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) last year.

This time, there are no rules or regulations. The International Cricket Council (ICC) once provided a semblance of authority, but the hijacking of the game’s governing body by the “big three” Test nations earlier this year means that the BCCI now in effect controls the administration of the game, with England and Australia as obedient handmaidens.

Notwithstanding the eye-watering stupidity and stubbornness of the West Indian players and their board for contriving to pull out of their tour of India between the fourth and fifth one-day internationals (ODIs) with a T20 and three Test matches still to play, the magnitude of the subsequent fallout would not have been possible while the ICC had a semblance of independence.

With a legally binding future tours programme in place, the eight major Test-playing nations were required to play each other at home and away over four years with sanctions in place for those countries that failed to honour their commitments.
In short, the West Indies would not have been able to withdraw from the tour of India and the BCCI would certainly not have been able to cancel future bilateral tours indefinitely.

By stating that West Indian players with Indian Premier League (IPL) contracts would not see that revenue stream compromised, the BCCI has in effect created a situation in which the Caribbean’s top cricketers would cancel their contracts with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and therefore no longer require a no-objection certificate to play in the world’s most lucrative league.

As “free agents” they will have no loyalty to West Indies cricket or the WICB – which will have even less money to pay them anyway without the revenue generated by Indian tours.

The West Indies has been an increasingly fragile concept for almost two decades, lacking the on-field success that bound together cricketers from very different countries and cultures. The current crisis could be the end of it.

“That would leave the BCCI free to sign up the best West Indians on 12-month IPL contracts,” a prominent independent international administrator told the Mail & Guardian this week.

“There is no limit to the level of control they want in world cricket. If they could sign up the world’s best 100 cricketers and lease them back to their countries, they would. And many people believe that is their target,” he said.

“That would leave us with just six or seven Test-playing nations and a much, much longer IPL. Or maybe two IPLs each year. When the other seven Test-playing nations caved in to the big three they said they had no choice.

“But perhaps now they will see that some of them were signing their own death warrants and the others were opening a door to a game unrecognisable from the one they had known before. The BCCI serves itself only, and it serves itself money. That’s it,” he said.

No-objection certificates were introduced by the ICC to control the proliferation of domestic T20 tournaments and to ensure that national boards would still be served by their best players despite not being able to match the salaries on offer in the IPL and Australia’s Big Bash. Any legislation that attempts to control or regulate natural market forces will always be under pressure, but the BCCI’s falling-out with the WICB means the no-objection certificate has now snapped.

The precedent has been set for players from other countries to ignore their national boards, dishonour their contracts and play wherever the money is most attractive as free agents.

England, Australia and the “small seven” may look on from a distance this time and see the current situation as West Indies’ problem, and South Africa’s in December when the WICB could be forced to send a squad of imposters to South Africa for the three Tests and five ODIs that are scheduled, but they should be seeing it as a global issue – because it is. Their turn will come.

Just six months ago, WICB president Dave Cameron was the BCCI’s golden boy after agreeing to make the West Indian team available for Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell on home soil when India were due to be in South Africa. Now he is their pariah. They know no loyalty.

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