IMAGINE the scenario.
I ring my sports editor one afternoon – waking him up after his latest languid lunch – and casually inform him that I am putting my name forward to take part in a lucrative auction to join an Indian newspaper group for the next two months.
“But what about your job at The Yorkshire Post?” he says, angrily throwing his cup of Americano at the nearest typewriter.
“Who’s going to cover the cricket when you’re not here?”
“Look, I’m really sorry, but there’s life-changing sums of money at stake. I’m sure you’ll understand once you’ve woken up after a coffee or three. Anyway, I’ll let you know what transpires…” (Hangs up on boss).
Then, just a few days later, steam still pouring out of my sports editor’s ears like an untended kettle, I ring him again to casually announce that, as it’s turned out, the Indian opportunity has fallen through and I’m available to work for The Yorkshire Post after all.
If his reply was not then of the two-word variety, with the first word rhyming with “duck” and the second with “cough”, I would be very surprised – just as I would be very surprised were that not the case in any walk of life if you suddenly put an employer in such a position.
Yet this sort of thing is apparently perfectly fine in the world of cricket, where county players can happily put their names forward for the lucrative Indian Premier League auction (with the blessing of the England and Wales Cricket Board, too), even though that tournament clashes with the early weeks of the county season and therefore rules them out of games.
Although some IPL wannabees are centrally contracted, with counties not always a sole vehicle of employment as The Yorkshire Post is for yours truly, the principle is the same in that anyone not snapped up in the IPL auction can simply walk back into county cricket as though nothing has happened.
Take Yorkshire as an example. The club faced being without the services of five men (Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett and David Willey) for the duration of this year’s IPL, which runs from April 7 to May 27, coinciding with five of the club’s 14 County Championship games and five of their eight Royal London Cup group fixtures.
Although Root and Bairstow would never have been released by the ECB for all of those matches, keeping them fresh for the Test summer, one-day specialists such as Rashid, Plunkett and Willey would potentially have been available much more often and, consequently, keenly missed.
As it happened, all five were overlooked in the latest auction, with Root having even been rested from England T20 games rather than for the IPL, highlighting perfectly the increasing power of franchise cricket.
Elsewhere, the likes of Surrey’s Tom Curran, Notts’s Alex Hales and Middlesex’s Tom Helm were also unsold, players who will now presumably be welcomed back into county cricket with open arms.
Before I go any further, I must stress that I sympathise with the players and single nobody out for criticism. After all, if an Indian newspaper group was foolish enough to offer life-changing sums to the likes of me, I would be off to the airport like a shot, barely stopping to raise a salute to my sports editor as I dodged the inevitable barrage of coffee cups.
Given the choice between pulling on five sweaters in county cricket in freezing April and earning that sort of money in a couple of months, it would take an unusually principled – or else an already extremely rich – cricketer to say: “You know what, I’ll pass up on that opportunity, thanks.”Chris Waters
Chris Woakes, the England pace bowler, is about to pick up the staggering sum of £822,000, while national team-mates Jos Buttler and Mark Wood are pocketing £444,000 and £166,000, respectively.
Given the choice between pulling on five sweaters in county cricket in freezing April and earning that sort of money in a couple of months, it would take an unusually principled – or else an already extremely rich – cricketer to say: “You know what, I’ll pass up on that opportunity, thanks.”
That does not make the situation right, however, or mean that cricket should simply tolerate things with folded arms. As proved by the IPL auction, the counties are now little more than doormats, slaves to an increasingly player-driven system.
When I asked Martyn Moxon, the Yorkshire director of cricket, what is stopping Yorkshire, for example, telling one of their own IPL candidates: “Sorry, but you were prepared to put the IPL first, so we’re going to pick somebody else for next week’s match”, he candidly admitted that if counties started doing that, they would soon shatter their relationships with the very players on whom they rely.
Indeed, if Moxon or Andrew Gale, the Yorkshire first-team coach, were to take a hardline stance (and they are not obliged to pick any England player), they would potentially be risking their own jobs by disregarding the very men with the skills to make sure that they remained in gainful employment.
To that effect, one can sympathise with the clubs and coaches as much as the players, and it is not the individuals who are in the wrong, but the system.
It is what happens, funnily enough, when the golden goose of T20 is left to run around the farmyard unchecked, as many of us warned would happen when the format first appeared in this country in 2003, with so many franchise competitions now it is practically impossible to keep track of them all.
In fact, there is so much T20 and international cricket full-stop that county cricket is barely visible at the bottom of the pecking order, grateful for any scraps as it battles for survival.
The mistreated County Championship, indeed, increasingly puts me in mind of one of those old galley slaves mercilessly flogged as they worked the high seas, rowing relentlessly towards probable death.
The IPL auction itself is a distasteful parade, with franchises bidding for players as if they were cattle. To me, the auction is the equivalent of white noise; I have no interest whatsoever in its machinations.
Good luck to anyone fortunate enough to make loads of money out of it, but it has little to do with the essence of sport – “the glory”, as Danny Blanchflower once said.
So, what is the solution? Accepting that the horse has long since bolted and that the hands of time cannot be pushed back, Moxon makes a good point when he says that the gap between the money available to players in red and white ball cricket needs to be closed. In other words, he feels that salaries should rise in Test cricket, ensuring that players are more likely to prioritise the breeding ground of the Championship over T20.
No doubt, the debate will rumble on, but for those of us eyeing big journalistic pay days in India, it will, hopefully, be someone else who keeps you abreast of any developments.