There was a time when having an illustrious cricketing career was all that mattered for a cricketer. Back in the 1990s and the early 2000s, if cricketers didn’t have a successful international career, it used to be the end of the road for them. During those times, playing cricket for the country was at the top of a cricketer’s priorities. It was a time when Test cricket dominated the international cricketing scene. It was a time when pride was way more important than money.
But today, even if you aren’t a top-notch cricketer sitting on a huge pile of runs, it doesn’t matter as you can still ply your trade in the numerous T20 leagues around the world to make a living. We’re witnessing an era where Test cricket, supposedly the ultimate form of the game, is rapidly declining. It is an era where technique and temperament have been overshadowed by the glitters, jitters and money. The cricketer’s loyalty to the nation is also fast-vanishing.
The emergence of T20 cricket and franchise-based leagues has given rise to the concept of ‘freelancing’ even in cricket. In today’s fast-paced world, T20 cricket has given excitement and thrill to those who are terribly short on time. It has also given clubs and franchises the power to pull crowds by roping in popular international cricketers.
These days, a player is likely to get a hefty sum of money by playing in the Big Bash League (BBL) in Australia, the Natwest Twenty20 in the UK, the Indian Premier League (IPL) in India – the list is never-ending. Some players even take premature retirement from their national sides and become Kolpak players for English county teams. Kyle Abbott and Rilee Russouw are two examples of international players who have taken the Kolpak route.
Let us now take the example of Kevin Pietersen, the lanky batsman from England, who can be seen swinging the willow for franchises around the world. After the 38-year-old’s contract was terminated by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), he began freelancing and was seen hitting some massive sixes for the Melbourne Stars in the BBL. Thus far, he has plied his trade all over the world. From the BBL in Australia to the Caribbean Premier League, Pietersen remains a hot property in the world of cricket despite being denied a national contract.
Nowadays, there are many cases of players choosing to play franchise cricket over national duty. The likes of Mitchell McClenaghan and Dwayne Bravo have turned down national contracts (for New Zealand and the West Indies respectively) in order to ply their trade in T20 leagues. However, the postponement of the Global T20 League came as a big blow to McClenaghan.
The benefits of playing franchise cricket are immense. Firstly, players can earn several times more while playing for franchises than they earn while playing for their national sides. Secondly, the pressure in a game between franchises is less compared to that when playing for a national team. Of late, cricketers have spoken about the pressure of playing international cricket. In an age of cut-throat competition, if players cannot perform, they’re axed from the side. Under such circumstances, playing county cricket in England (for instance) is a more secure option to ensure a regular income for a player.
But every coin has a flip-side. The standard of international cricket is bound to decline if quality players are lost to franchise-based leagues. Test match crowds are dwindling rapidly. Not many players look forward to playing Test matches at the international level, given the formidable power of these leagues.
The likes of Brendon McCullum and Shane Watson don’t require to search for franchises as they are tried and tested cricketers with a mountain of runs behind their backs. But do spare a thought for players like Tymal Mills and Samuel Badree. These cricketers might find it hard to search for franchises. Freelance cricketers also don’t have regular access to coaches and training equipment – unlike the players who have a central contract.
Maintaining an optimum level of fitness off-season may become an issue for freelancers. Above all, if a freelance cricketer has to take a long layoff (due to injury) or has a couple of bad tournaments, the franchises might just write them off.
But, the cult of freelance cricketers is here – and hopefully, it’ll keep on growing, thanks to these franchise-based leagues. Stalwarts such as Gayle and McCullum would be the big guns for hire, but ‘freelancing’ might not be as easy as it appears for other cricketers who are yet to prove their worth.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.