England players in the IPL

Just a day after Matt Prior talked of England players being frustrated to miss out on the various T20 leagues around the world, the Professional Cricketer’s Association has said that England’s cricketers are ‘substantially underpaid’ and suggested they be compensated for missing out on T20 leagues. It is a stance to be expected; they are a union at the start of contract talks and if they didn’t say their clients should be paid more then they would hardly be doing their job. They may even be correct; I don’t know how much Cricket Australia, for instance, pay their players relative to the ECB.

But that only applies to the actual pay coming from the boards; the notion that the players be compensated for missing out on T20 leagues is ridiculous. There is no way to know on what sort of money, if any, England are missing out; even a cursory glance at the IPL salaries shows that there is no rhyme nor reason to how much the individual players make and it is nonsensical to try to compensate them for that. There is also the fact that England’s players are eligible to play in the IPL and indeed any T20 league that does not conflict with the international schedule. The most notable example is Kevin Pietersen, but there are several England players who have taken part in these events. They are considered less valuable because they have to play for England, but it is hardly an onerous requirement for the players to put the cricket for which they are centrally contracted ahead of foreign domestic events. Apart from anything else, the fact is that the players are compensated for not playing in the T20 leagues; their compensation is the opportunity to play for their countries. I am not so unrealistic as to think that should be their only motivation, but it certainly is enough to be compensation.

The frustrations of the players for missing out on the high-paying T20 leagues is understandable, but unavoidable. As I have pointed out before, there is simply no time for each of the various events to fit in the calendar and international cricket must come first. Just looking at the IPL, the BCCI are unwilling to compromise on the timing of the tournament (or anything else, for that matter) and there is no more room for the ECB to compromise. The England players are already allowed to play in half of the IPL, any more concessions from the ECB would not be compromise but surrender. Such a surrender would damage the ECB and very possibly cut into the players’ real salaries as certainly would negatively affect most or all other facets of the game in England and Wales. There is nothing for the ECB to gain by giving any more ground to the IPL and as disappointing and frustrating as that no doubt is to the players there is simply no getting around it.

The IPL issue is not going to go away, at least not as long as the BCCI remain intransigent and determined to run roughshod over everything which they do not control. But the conflict between the IPL and international schedule is their fault and not the fault of the ECB. If the PCA or individual players are unhappy about that conflict they ought to direct their complaints to the BCCI. As futile as it would be, it would make more sense than to lobby the ECB for an impossible change.

Domestic T20 windows are impossible

According to Cricinfo, the ICC are again considering putting windows into the international calendar for domestic T20 tournaments. This is ridiculous on the face of it; there is no way that any domestic event should take precedence over an international one and certainly not a domestic T20 event. Apparently the committee concluded that T20 can ‘add to the game as a whole’. That is blatantly untrue; the only thing domestic T20 has added to the game is money and even then only for India. I certainly don’t blame T20 for all or even most of the problems facing the Test game, there is literally nothing that it has added. If any domestic event should be given a window it is domestic first class competitions, but no one is asking for that because it would be ridiculous. The same applies to T20.

Even if there was a justification for putting a domestic event ahead of international ones, it is not feasible to carve out a window for every domestic T20 competition. This is especially true in the places that have well-defined seasons. Even if the English competition were reduced to four weeks again, it would be very difficult to fit that into the summer around all of the scheduled internationals. In Australia the current schedule of the Big Bash League would prevent the Boxing Day and New Year’s Tests from being played either in Australia or South Africa. Presumably Cricket Australia would change the timing, but there is only so much of a cricket season available and the entire Australian summer overlaps with a time where at least one Test series is usually being played somewhere in the world. Even with the other counties where they can move their competitions, there are so many that even if they each only last a month (and right now most are longer than that) there is not enough time left on the calendar if each of them get their own window.

Of course, the league at which the notion of a window is really aimed is the IPL. But an IPL window, even if it was only for the IPL and not any of the other T20 leagues, is still not feasible. The IPL currently runs for about two months, from the beginning of April to the end of May and overlaps with the first two Tests of England’s summer. A quick glance at the history of the BCCI suggests they will be distinctly unwilling to compromise on the timing (or any other matter) and there isn’t enough time in the English calendar to wait until June to start the internationals. The only way for a window to work would be for England to cut some matches out of the international summer. This would be unacceptable to many and in particular I expect it would be unacceptable to Sky Sports. England already play two extra T20s in the summer because they sold the broadcast rights for them to Sky; I cannot imagine Sky agreeing to the ECB cutting down on fixtures. Even if the BCCI were to agree to bring the IPL forward to end before the English summer began then they are impacting (more than they are already) on the West Indies and New Zealand home seasons. The West Indies don’t have a well-defined season, but they still may have trouble moving their matches around and New Zealand would certainly have problems doing so.

No matter how much the administrators pretend that domestic T20 leagues are a good thing or even that international cricket can/should not fight them, there is simply not enough time in the calendar to give them all windows, or even just the IPL unless the leagues themselves are changed considerably and in most cases that looks very unlikely.

England’s IPL policy should be stricter

I was glad to see yesterday that Hugh Morris has said that England will not be relaxing their stance on centrally contracted players in the IPL in the contracts that will be awarded the September. I did not think that they would, but it is still good to know that they are not going to cut into the Test season to provide a ‘window’ or field an under-strength team just to benefit the money-grubbing BCCI.

I actually think they could do with a stricter policy and not let players join the IPL at all. The ones who aren’t playing already are rested instead of playing in the County Championship, why should that not apply to all of the centrally contracted players? (Better still, they could improve the County Championship by having all the centrally contracted players take part, but either way the current set up makes no sense.) There is always the argument that playing careers are short and players need to go for the money right now, but not only are England players pretty well compensated already there is nothing them stopping them from playing in the IPL after they retire. Indeed, ageing former Test stars seem to be the foundation for many of the T20 leagues around the world; just look at Shane Warne. Amongst the counties, Notts are already doing this with their contracted players and I suspect more will follow. If they lose out on the players then they aren’t really losing much since the players are missing so much of the Championship with the IPL anyway. Especially if England backed them up by not having the centrally contracted players in the IPL then I doubt this would be a problem for the counties.

There is no reason an England player should be missing any of the English season to play in a foreign tournament. If they must participate in a T20 festival there are some, like the Big Bash League which run during the English winter and there’s no reason not to participate in those. But if the IPL want to have England players (which they probably don’t; I don’t see why they would really care) then they can stage their season earlier so that it does not conflict with the County Championship and the Test summer.

The T20 Champions League

It’s come up a couple of times on Twitter, so to clarify: I am not watching the T20 Champions League. This is not because it is T20 per se, though that doesn’t help. Rather there are a few reasons why I am not only utterly uninterested in the tournament, I actively dislike it.

The biggest set of problems is that the concept does not really work in cricket the way it does in football. In football, club competition is the most commonly played and there are hundreds of well established clubs all in relatively close geographic proximity to each other. They all play the same season with the same regulations and under the same central governing body. It works out well and almost follows naturally that they would play some games between each other. But none of this is the case in cricket. The various T20 leagues all play at different times of the year and for much shorter periods than football. (Though the shorter season is, at least, an improvement.) There is also a much greater emphasis on international cricket than there is on international football, with tours taking up most of the calendar instead of scattered international weekends. And unlike in Europe, all of the T20 cricket leagues are geographically distant from each other. The idea of a cricket Champions League is simply not feasible the way it is with football and it is a mistake to try to force one.

Those are all theoretical problems that cannot be overcome and why the notion of a cricket Champions League will never really work the way the football version does. But at least if the problems ended there it could still at least be a mildly interesting curiosity. But the forced implementation has thrown up a whole host of new objections.

The biggest is that the tournament is a de facto extension of the IPL and with the same overall goal: to make money for the BCCI. It has all the same hype and superficiality of the IPL and designed to appeal to the same audience of the IPL. And therefore like the IPL, the whole spectacle is revolting. The tournament is also massively biased in favour of the Indian teams. Presumably that’s to dispel any lingering doubts about who the beneficiary of the whole affair is. The Indian teams go directly into the tournament proper, are given first pick of the players and are allowed more international players than the other teams.

The most annoying aspect of the T20 Champions League is that there is a completely undeserved international window for it. It is a competition comprising only domestic clubs; there is nothing international about it. And even if there were, that should not mean that it gets a window. Should England demand a window for all future Test series? The effect is that I have to wait until the end of the month for international cricket (and until November for Test cricket) because the ICC are in India’s pocket. I am not happy about this.

Well done the counties!

George Dobell reports in Cricinfo today that the counties are expected to reaffirm their commitment to Championship cricket and shun the farce of the T20 Champions League. This can only be a good thing. The Champions League is essentially an arm of the IPL and shares the same goals: to make money for the BCCI. The tournament has always been heavily weighted toward the Indian teams and very much against the English ones. The English teams would have better odds of winning the prize money at a casino. There was no reason for English teams to ever take part; for all the talk of it being allegedly an international tournament and the players benefiting from the supposedly higher level of play, the fact is still that it is a dressed up club competition. There is no reason to suggest that the actual standard is at all higher than it is in England just because there is more light and sound associated with it. It is the same fallacy that leads people to the mistaken impression that the IPL has some legitimacy.

There is also the longstanding problem that the Champions League conflicts with the end of the County Championship. This could be avoided if those in charge of the tournament bothered, but they don’t and that should be no surprise. The BCCI have made it very clear in the past that they care nothing for the County Championship and whilst I can understand that as it isn’t their competition, they have also shown their usual unwillingness to compromise on any matter. It is a stance we have seen all across the politics of cricket for years now. These past two years the ECB have scheduled the County Championship ridiculously early to allow the counties to play in the Champions League and it has really come back to hurt them. Quite rightly it is time that the ECB stopped catering to those who will not return the favour. If the BCCI ever decide that they want English teams in the tournament they can push it back by a week or two. Until then they can play their own weighted game without the counties.

Some other good things appear to be coming are an extended period of domestic T20 and a return to fifty over List A cricket. Although there are things I like about the T20 window, I’ve never been too fond of it as it really disrupts the momentum of the Championship and then there is far too long before the quarter-finals and Finals Day. A full season of T20 on weekends is a much better idea. With regard to fifty over cricket, I do understand the concerns of the counties and actually prefer listening to forty over matches. But I would rather have a fifty over competition to match that of international cricket.

I’m quite pleased about this news overall. After all the gloom of the Morgan Report last winter it seems that everyone has seen sense about the importance of a 16 match Championship and actually look to be making improvements to the structure rather than semi-random deletions. Common sense has been a rare beast in the governance of cricket recently; finally we are seeing a good example of it.

The continuing story of Kevin Pietersen

A few weeks ago, Kevin Pietersen announced that he was retiring from ODIs and, by necessity due to a clause in his contract, T20s. He was also unhappy with the ECB not allowing him to continue to play T20s. At the time I defended him and I stand by that. England’s ODI schedule is insane and KP is one of the few players to compete in all three formats. I think the ECB could have been more flexible. Unfortunately, it was reported in the Telegraph today that Pietersen has dropped his seemingly reasonable position and instead gone with a crazy egomaniacal one.

There is no conceivable justification for wanting to miss two Test matches to play in the IPL. He cannot claim that he needs a rest, he cannot claim that he needs to spend time with his family. The IPL may be a Mickey Mouse tournament where luck plays a larger role than skill, but it still cannot be classified as a ‘rest’. And unless his family move to India I think it will mean more time away from them for KP. This is all about the fact that he wants more money and more time in the ‘glamour’ of the IPL. It also shows a vastly inflated sense of his own importance if he at all thinks that Flower and co will even consider it. They were happy enough to cut him loose from the T20 side the first time; what on earth makes KP think they will agree to take him back at the cost of a ridiculous demand? His arrogance is simply breathtaking; he would do well to remember that it is only because of his career with England that he is at all valuable in the IPL.

Taking it as a certainty that Flower will only delay in refusing Pietersen’s demand for as long as it takes him to stop laughing, it will be interesting to see what Pietersen’s next move is. There would seem to be every chance that he will take a leaf out of Gayle’s book and refuse to sign a central contract with England later this year. Whilst it would be disappointing to lose out on such a talented batsman, Pietersen is rapidly starting to become more trouble than he is worth. If he decides that he can get the fame and adulation which he values so highly in the IPL alone then I would simply say ‘good riddance’. He is also more than welcome to go back to South Africa, they seldom if ever play matches that conflict with the IPL. However this saga ends, I think we will soon see exactly where Pietersen’s loyalties lie.

IPL thoughts

I’ve heard a lot of talk lately about the IPL. This is pretty remarkable, really, because I’ve put in every reasonable filter on Twitter and other places that I could in an effort to avoid it. It’s probably fair to assume that there has been much more talk than I have actually heard, which means there has been a lot of talk about the IPL. I wasn’t going to talk about it. I was going to quietly ignore it and let those who liked it get on with it. Except I forgot that the raison d’ĂȘtre of the IPL is for people to spread the holy gospel and it’s accompanying advertisements to all corners of the earth. I can’t ignore it without blocking most of Twitter and Facebook and never, ever going to Cricinfo and I need those sites for other things. So instead I am going to add my rather small voice to the cacophony of those talking about the IPL and I am going to say why I hate it.

The first reason is what I alluded to above: it’s omnipresence. I’m pretty sure the goings on of the English FPT20 are not written in detail in Australian papers. I could be wrong, but I also don’t think everyone in India is watching with keen anticipation on Finals Day. And yet the IPL is assumed to have worldwide appeal. Why? It cannot be simply because there are international players, every domestic T20 league in the world has those. Lancashire have Junaid Khan again, will this ensure that Pakistan unites behind us as we go through the usual month of only T20? I am inclined to doubt it. The only thing different about the IPL is that its international players are paid obscene amounts of money. This is not the sort of thing that ought to be embraced or encouraged, but the IPL was designed for hype and it has done well enough that it is considered reasonable to broadcast it outside India. More than once have people assumed that since I watched cricket I must watch the IPL. This has never happened with the Sheffield Shield, SuperSport Series, Plunket Shield or even Ranji Trophy. (For the record, I don’t watch a lot of first-class cricket outside England, but I try to at least keep an eye on the leagues. I thus don’t have any strong affiliations to teams, but I tend to support South Australia, Cape Cobras, Otago Volts and Assam.) The fact that it is assumed that I care about an Indian T20 tournament simply because it has an effective publicity machine is grating.

The second reason is the marketing. It’s entire marketing style assumes that I have the attention span of a slightly slow gnat and will get bored if more than five minutes elapse without and explosion or a shot of a dancing girl. It assumes that I cannot know when something is exciting if Ravi Shastri is not there to shout a bit. This is either spectacularly insulting or an admission that the actual sport is lacking. I suspect both are true to an extent and neither are pleasant explanations. I could, on this blog, change font style and colour every sentence. I could put animated fireworks between every paragraph in an effort to make it more appealing. But that would be putting style in front of substance and anyone reading would be able to see through such superficialities. The IPL does not seem to agree with that approach though. They cover up their many shortcomings with glitz and insultingly assume their viewers will not notice.

A subset of this is that I hate the fact that the entire IPL is nothing but a vehicle for advertisements. I accept the modern need for sponsorship of cricket, but the IPL takes it to another level. It is one thing to add an extra word or two in front of a name like LV= or Investec, it is quite another to put one in front of everything. As with all other aspects of the IPL, it has the subtlety of a man trying to crack a safe by jackhammering through the top.

The theoretical backup to all of the hype is the international players that have been paid/bribed large sums of money to try to lend credibility to the Mickey Mouse tournament. This is the third reason I hate the IPL and where it goes from mere annoyance to actual problem. The IPL’s poaching of some of the best and most prominent players marginalises every other event that happens at the same time. (And that is quite a bit of time, the IPL seems to drag on for ages.) This tends to hit the West Indies the hardest. The IPL always overlaps with their relatively short home season and because of their financial problems we have already seen many of them choose the IPL over their country. It is impossible to know how the first Test between the West Indies and Australia would have gone if the West Indies had been able to field a full strength side. There are other, large, reasons why the West Indies lost that Test, but they only lost in the end by three wickets. Having a full strength side may have been the difference. The IPL also hurts the County Championship for similar reasons and the ECB would be well advised to refuse to allow English players to compete or to demand much greater compensation.

But does the IPL try to avoid conflict with internationals? No, in fact the BCCI suggest that internationals are scheduled around the IPL! Never mind the fact that for the West Indies and, to a lesser extent, England this is not feasible, it is a staggering arrogance. For all their pretensions, the IPL is still a domestic competition. It must schedule itself around Tests or take a backseat to them. This is a league originally run by Lalit Modi, however, so its approach is not surprising. I don’t even particularly mind the T20 format, but the IPL is loud, boorish and arrogant. Why anyone likes it is a mystery to me and hopefully the reports I hear of declining viewership are indicative of the long-term trend. It will probably never happen, but I hold out hope that one day the entire league will fold.

Some things I missed

I’m still kind of catching up on events that I missed during the final Test. (The time difference was so awkward I did not have time to do a lot.) The most amusing thing was probably Sahara pulling their funding from the BCCI and IPL. The Sahara press release was possibly the strangest one I’ve ever read; it was written in a very informal style, used the phrase ‘natural justice’ five times and described their deal with the BCCI as ‘primarily emotional’. It read like someone playing up their hardships in an effort to get a sympathetic response (which it almost certainly was) and most unlike almost every other press release I have read. I have no idea how this will affect the BCCI in the long run. I assume they have plenty of money in the coffers, though they also seem to have a knack at offending their commercial partners (the TV rights-holders spring to mind). It also further exposes the shoddy administration of the IPL. It’s almost as though the tournament was thrown together for the purpose of making a quick rupee and everything else fell by the wayside. Funny that.

The other big piece of news that I missed was the Woolf Report to the ICC. It proposes some fairly major changes to the structure of the ICC and I rather like it. It almost certainly won’t get accepted, due to the ‘turkeys don’t vote for Christmas’ principle, but there are some good recommendations. Most of it is aimed at curbing the power of the largest boards and giving the Associates more say, which would only be a good thing. The problem, of course, is that those larger boards have to ratify the proposals. We have already seen with the DRS and Test Championship that even when there is large support it is very hard to get the ICC to actually do anything. It’s particularly amusing/galling (depending on how dark one’s sense of humour is) that the inherent impenetrability is one of the reasons why the ICC badly needs reform.

IPL Auction

The IPL auction has started. I don’t like it. I don’t like the IPL in general, but the auction is particularly hateful. In a way it’s the IPL in a nutshell, with a lot of light, sound and flying money. Even if it had no effect on any other type of cricket, even if it was the only thing keeping Test cricket alive I would not enjoy it. It’s garish. It’s just a spectacle for the sake thereof; there is really no need to allot players in that manner. One of the things I love about cricket is it’s quiet grace, the IPL and the IPL auction are the very antithesis of that.

But of course it’s part of the IPL, so it does affect other cricket and it inherits the same selfishness as the rest of the IPL, and indeed the BCCI in general. This year, as in many years, the auction conflicts with a Test match. The BCCI have never bothered to time the auction in such a way as to not conflict with proper fixtures, much the same way they do not bother to plan the IPL itself around international fixtures. It really should not be allowed. Not because of the division of coverage and public attention, that sort of thing tends to be unavoidable, but because of the distraction to the cricketers who are supposed to be playing for their countries.

Basically it’s another giant, loud, garish and imposing display of decadence and selfishness by the BCCI. I hate it.

Morgan’s folly

It was revealed on Cricinfo today that the ECB are going to accept the Morgan review and reduce the County Championship to 14 matches from 2014. I’ve written before about what a dreadful idea it is and that hasn’t changed. The fixture congestion is not going to be effectively eased and the four day game is still popular in England. All this is doing is reducing the amount of proper cricket for no discernible gain. What is particularly galling though is that the reason for the added fixture congestion is that the end of the season is being brought forward to accommodate the Champions League T20 competition.

The fact that we are decimating (more than, actually) our own premier competition for the benefit of a farcical, meaningless T20 competition in which we are not even stakeholders is absolutely infuriating. The ECB have already kowtowed to the BCCI about the DRS and already allow players to play in the IPL instead of for their counties. Now they are going to let our fixture list be dictated by Indian administrators who not only do not care about it’s health, but who have shown an active antipathy toward it! In many ways the ECB are the best run of all the cricket boards, but in addition to not scheduling enough Test matches every time they have looked like properly standing up to India they have folded. It is an absolute disgrace.

I’m not going to be so melodramatic as to say this will ruin the County Championship, but I do think it will hurt it. Sixteen matches is just about enough to avoid flukey results, but even then a lot is dependent on the rain staying away early in the season. What will we do when there is a wet spring and the first nine of 14 matches are badly rain affected? England is the only country in the world where domestic first class matches have their own following. Why damage that at all? Why not try to improve attendance and following of these matches instead of abandoning them for more T20s, both domestic and foreign? I have never seen anything that actually confirms the notion that people who come to the game via T20 actually go on to watch first class cricket. If Indian ‘supporters’ are anything by which to go it seems that T20 viewers are mostly loud, uninformed and at best apathetic toward Test cricket. Their money counts the same as the money of those who care about the first class game, but if the ECB truly care about the long term future of the game they must cater to those who also care, not those who don’t.