Players need to speak out against the absurdity of the current international calendar with a view to protecting their own financial interests and health.
When England announced their squad for the recently concluded One Day International series against the West Indies, they must have done so with a combined dose of sadness and vitriol.
Kevin Pietersen’s retirement from all international limited overs cricket has left a gaping hole in a talented yet, dare I say, unspectacular batting line-up, albeit one that beat the Windies 2-0. While the selectors will have a tough job on their hands to fill the void left by Pietersen, the ECB have a much bigger problem to deal with – reality.
KP cited the intensity of the international schedule and the increasing demands on his ‘ageing’ body as the reasons for hanging up his coloured kit. To the layperson this would seem pretty fair considering the prevalence of this practice in other sports. The likes of Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes in football and David Ferrer in tennis come to mind.
However, any cricket enthusiast will tell you KP’s decision cannot be taken in isolation. It has to be considered within the backdrop of Test cricket’s widely perceived decline, the growth of the IPL and other franchise-based domestic T20 leagues, the imbalance in cricket’s power structures, and the vested corporate interests of national governing bodies.
• England in Sri Lanka: When sport and politics collide 15 Mar 2012
• Cricket: A vehicle for post-colonial pride 30 May 2011
• Celebrating the influence of player unions in US sport 14 Mar 2011
It’s a fact there is money to be made for players, team owners and national boards in domestic T20 leagues. It is also a fact the ICC is not doing anything to reduce the number of (sometimes pointless) international series played every year; on the contrary – the international cricket calendar is getting increasingly congested with players now having to be ‘rested’ and ‘managed’ in order to maintain their consistency and longevity.
In Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad’s case, they were recently rested from the third Test against the West Indies despite not even having played in the IPL, to the tourists’ advantage, as they enjoyed their Best day of the tour.
While it is easy to criticise the likes of Lasith Malinga, Chris Gayle and KP for being ‘mercenaries’, it cannot be forgotten cricket is their vocation, sport their livelihood. If it’s difficult to sympathise with KP, then consider New Zealand players who earn more in one week of IPL than they do from their annual central contracts. Better yet, remember the mass exodus of Bangladesh national players to the now defunct ICL?
Whichever side you take, it is clear players are being used as pawns by cricket’s unscrupulous governing elites.
This is why players need to act in concert and speak out against the absurdity of the current international calendar with a view to protecting their own financial interests and health. By doing this, they will also indirectly protect the integrity of the sport and guarantee a rosy future for the game’s three formats.
While fans can of course protest and boycott games to get their point across, they do not have the industrial muscle players have. Most professional cricketers are well organised and belong to their respective national player unions. These national unions, including the English and Welsh PCA, are in turn affiliated to FICA, the international federation of players’ associations.
The PCA can legitimately declare a trade dispute, ballot their members, and seek international support from FICA and its constituent members. With cricketers’ unions involved in various disputes around the world, it surely will not be difficult to mobilise cross-border solidarity action.
Alastair Cook, the England opening batsman and ODI captain, seemed to have realised this and suggested strike action over player burn-out last year. But in a remarkable change of heart, Cook said that he never meant to use the word ‘strike’ and that players ‘don’t have much power’!
Cook’s views couldn’t be further from the truth.
Professional sportspeople wield a considerable amount of power. With Andy Murray having suggested leading tennis players were ready to take industrial action to push through changes to the ATP calendar, players are becoming increasingly aware of their importance in the multi-billion pound professional sports industry.
It’s high time for the PCA and other player unions to get the ICC to revise the international cricket calendar and tackle the associated problems of player burn-out and format picking.
If not for their own interests, they owe it to the fans.