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T&T in cricket conundrum again
In mounting a campaign to ensure that T&T is represented by its best cricketers at the Champions League, which is due to be held in India in October, Sports Minister Anil Roberts seems well-intentioned, but may be playing down the wrong line. The issue, as far as Mr Roberts is concerned, is whether the players are free to represent their country in the Champions League.
Some of T&T’s best cricketers—Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Sunil Narine—opted to represent their IPL clubs, not T&T, in the 2012 Champions League. In 2011, Pollard and Bravo did the same thing, choosing club over country.
The Champions League contract makes it clear a cricketer is free “to nominate by way of contract or otherwise which participating team he wishes to represent,” as the T&T Guardian reports in today’s edition. This means that Mr Roberts is correct in his assertion that the three cricketers are not bound to their IPL clubs for the league.
But that is not the whole issue. Last year, Mr Roberts got Cabinet’s approval to pay the three cricketers a total of $5 million—$3.3 million matching the club fees and $1.7 million in performance-based incentives. Nevertheless, the three opted to represent their clubs. Why are the players choosing club over country if the country is matching the club’s compensation packages?
IPL clubs hold out the prospect of continuing engagements in the highly paid T20 cricket league, while what the minister is offering is a contract for one tournament. In other words, the IPL clubs are virtually telling cricketers they are free to represent their countries—but don’t expect future contracts from them.
While T&T’s top cricketers are committed to representing their country—as was demonstrated once again when all three recently helped guide T&T to the Caribbean T20 title—it is clear they are not prepared to do so if it places them at a financial disadvantage.
This has been the prevailing ethos of professional cricketers at least since 1977 when many West Indian cricketers chose to play in World Series Cricket, organised by the late Kerry Packer, in Australia. T&T’s cricketers would be naive to do otherwise, given the fact that they will only be top-flight cricketers for a relatively short period.
The IPL players can earn a fine living, but the same cannot be said of those here under the local cricket board. Many of the players depend on funding from the elite athletes’ programme, but this has been cut by the ministry. Athletes also have no pension plan and depend on making as much money as they can during their prime.
If he is committed to ensuring that T&T is represented by its best players at the Champions League, which is developing a huge world television audience, Mr Roberts needs to come up with with some firm contractual arrangements matching the packages offered by the IPL clubs.
There is merit in the approach of Mr Roberts—who says he is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure T&T has its best team at the Champions League—as it presents a significant branding opportunity for the country before a worldwide television audience.
But the approach is not without risks, as a cricketer who looks like gold today may turn out to be brass tomorrow or pick up an injury that rules him out of the tournament. Whatever he does should be with an eye on the fact that that from next year, T&T’s top T20 cricketers will be committed to regional clubs, as national teams are due to be scrapped for the 2014 T20 tournament.
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