IPL and franchise leagues leaving international cricket a lot poorer and feeling unwanted

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Gujarat Titans were crowned the IPL 2022 champions.

IPL

IPL and franchise leagues leaving international cricket a lot poorer and feeling unwanted

With Trent Boult's termination from New Zealand Cricket's central contract, the growing concern continues to emerge about what international cricket will look like in the next four to five years. To avoid the massacre, the ICC must step up immediately to restructure the international calendar.

Ever since Ben Stokes – in his prime – decided to bid adieu from 50-over cricket last month citing ‘unsustainable’ pressure to represent all three formats, the debate regarding the future of international cricket has emerged massively. Considering the buzz around the T20Is as well as the T20s and T10s, many have claimed that the 50-over format will be dead on its feet in ten years’ time while Test cricket will live for its legacy. The extent of the transformation in attitudes towards short-format cricket in recent years has made this certain change in ardent fans’ minds.

As ICC’s former head of strategy Jon Long had correctly observed that the ‘IPL is strengthening its position as the Premier League or NBA of cricket,’ given there are already a handful of leagues that is similar to its structure.  The two newest to have joined the party are the Abu Dhabi T20 League and the CSA T20 League. There, 11 out of 12 available franchises are owned by the Indians. More precisely, all six teams in the CSA league are owned by the IPL owners while there are three IPL-based owners among six teams in the UAE.

With so much cricket already going on here and there, it is tough to find cross-format success. Thus, safe to say, Stokes, keeping everything in mind along with his newest additional responsibility of England’s Test captain, did the right thing to retire from ODIs at the age of 31. 

Recently, Trent Boult followed Stokes’ footsteps, at least partially. The Kiwi paceman, currently the No. 1 ODI bowler, had requested New Zealand Cricket (NZC) to release him from the central contract to spend more time with his family and to make himself available for T20 leagues. He got approval from the board soon after and from now on, his international career will be ‘significantly reduced.’

It is pretty much understood that all contracts are below an international contract. An IPL contract is structured in a way that the players need an NOC from their home Boards to allow them to participate. I am sure that there is a balance that can be struck. It can never be an ideal balance or a perfect balance, but there is the ability to balance it out so that the home boards and players get benefit."

Kumar Sangakkara, February 2021.

It can be easily said that the trend is set. So, after Stokes and Boult, there will be more who are currently waiting in the wings to do the same. The numbers will only go significantly up with time. Like Stokes rightly remarked, they are not cars such that the national board can fill them up with fuel whenever they want.

As they too have bills to pay, a good calibre of overseas players gets attracted to lucrative cash-rich leagues irrespective of which country they are based in. Their moves simultaneously make the competitions even more exciting and encouraging in terms of quality, and there is no end to it. In fact, the way the franchise leagues are emerging, do not be surprised if you see there is no restriction at all on overseas players in playing XIs in near future.

Thus, it is not too tough to predict where the world of cricket is heading. And then, not to forget, it was IPL that paved the way for a seminal shift in the thinking of the viewers, as well as the players.

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Adding to that, as reported by ESPNCricinfo, there will be a two-and-a-half-month window for the IPL every year, and home-season windows for the Hundred and the Big Bash League (BBL) in a near-final draft of the ICC's latest Future Tours Programme between May 2023 and April 2027. The planning affirms the growing primacy of franchise leagues worldwide, which at the same time tells the story of what the international calendar will be looking like in the next five years.

Though, keeping IPL’s continuous surge across the world in mind, there were many in the past who had envisaged a similar future. But with the expansion of franchise leagues, international cricket is under serious threat. As their favourite superstars are set to share dressing rooms together or take on each other more often than not, fans won’t get much excited until there are mega ICC events. In other words, bilateral series, unless that is between the big three (India, England, and Australia), are slowly but steadily losing their charm.

To keep international cricket alive, there should be a balance between the countries’ fixtures and franchise leagues. It is true that cricketers can not work like a machine. They too have blood in their veins and to keep their best version for the remaining playing days, they sometimes have to make bold moves like Stokes and Boult. Yet, if the ICC does not understand their concern and remains stubborn while creating the calendar, there will be no one to be blamed except the sports’ highest governing body if the icons walk away from the international circuit one by one. Thus, to retain the label of ‘global sports’ intact, cricket, at least among the full-time nations, must find a balance in the calendar. Otherwise, do not be surprised even if you see empty stadiums in the counties even where people worship cricket.

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