Cricket’s boundaries are more blurred today than ever before. Players from all over the world are shedding ambitions of playing for their country in exchange for longevity in commercially attractive formats like the Indian Players League (IPL).
Others are announcing their retirements from certain formats in order to prolong their careers in others. Kevin Pietersen’s shocking recent announcement whereby he declared that he would no longer play One Day Internationals (ODIs) is a case in point. It is a sign of the times that a leading player quits a significant part of the international stage while in his prime. Pietersen could easily have played ODIs for years to come and would no doubt have shattered many records. What is worse, the England selectors did him no favour by informing him that if he didn’t play ODIs he couldn’t play T-20s either. He would thus not be selected for the upcoming ICC World T-20 thereby depriving cricket fans from viewing one of the world’s best players in action on the big stage.
Pietersen is easily one of the best batsmen in the world today and would surely turn out in the IPL for years to come. In the shorter formats, ODIS and T-20s, he is at his most destructive, although his Test performances are no less admirable. His departure from the Delhi Daredevils team midway through IPL 5 left such a void that even the likes of Virender Sehwag, Mahela Jayawardene, David Warner and Ross Taylor could not fill the breach.
In Pietersen’s case there is more to it than meets the eye too. He has not got on well with the establishment in England over the years. Perhaps his no-holds-barred, flamboyant style on and off the field has not been to the liking of the conservative set up there. Match-winner or not, he has had to go through many trials and tribulations, especially during the time when he decided to leave the England teams’ captaincy.
Lasith Malinga’s case is more straightforward. It is quite evident that he is more keen to play for the Mumbai Indians in the IPL than for Sri Lanka. He has been one of the IPL’s leading wicket takers year after year, but has tended to burn himself out so much in the gruelling tournament that he has been left with too many niggles and too little energy to play for his national team.
But it is the West Indians who really take the cake! While their team was losing matches to the Englishmen in the ongoing series, outstanding players such as Chris Gayle, Sunil Naraine, Dwayne Bravo and Dwayne Smith were setting the IPL grounds ablaze with sparkling displays. Gayle in particular was streets ahead of every other batsman in IPL 5. His sixes- long and many, his stroke play- extraordinarily audacious! His stand-off with the West Indian Board ended recently though and he has been selected for the upcoming ODIs.
Mystery spinner Sunil Naraine should have played Test matches for the Windies much sooner than he did. Bamboozling batsman after batsman to emerge as the Player of the IPL, Naraine strongly underlined the fact that he was just too good to be left out of the West Indian team any longer. His bowling exploits in the rain affected third Test against England are yet to begin, but it could be a case of too little, too late, for the Windies.
The fact of the matter is that lucrative and glamorous tourneys like the IPL possess attractions that leave many players in a dilemma. Do they make themselves available for first-class matches in their own land so that they may be considered for their country or do they turn out for their Indian franchisee side in the IPL?
The IPL is such a magnet that even Michael Clarke, the newly-wed captain of Australia, flew all the way back from Down Under to play the last remaining match for the Pune Warriors even though his team was out of the reckoning. The fact that he and his bride chose to honeymoon in India thereafter was of course a more valid reason!
Cricket today stands at a cross-road, then, of a magnitude that has not been seen since the Kerry Packer circus days. Players who have to choose between national pride and commercial benefits are being asked to make an increasingly skewed choice. Administrators have to wake up and take action very soon, or else it may be too late to salvage international cricket!