The growing clamour demanding more freedom for players show that it is time for BCCI to show some flexibility.
The demand for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to allow their players to play in overseas T20 leagues is back. BCCI's rigid stand on this matter has been discussed and dissected over the past years, but what has shot it back into everyone's attention is the open demand coming from players who are still active as professional cricketers.
On 9 May, out-of-favour Suresh Raina raised the issue during an Instagram live chat with Irfan Pathan. "I wish BCCI plans something with ICC or the franchises that Indian players get to play foreign leagues. At least allow us to play in two different foreign leagues," Raina said.
Few days later, Robin Uthappa made a similar demand with folded hands. “I am standing in front of the BCCI like this (hands folded and pleading) saying ‘please let us go! Please let us go, honest to God’," said Uthappa while talking to BBC.
In an ideal scenario, BCCI should have allowed their stars to ply their trade in foreign T20 leagues long back, but ideal scenario and BCCI don't always coexist. To not allow an athlete — whose professional career could only last a decade or two or even just few years in case of injuries, psychological issues — maximise his potential or means of earning only hints towards an autocratic regime. And even if it's not about doing the 'right' thing, any such move would only benefit Indian cricket in the long term.
Players competing in T20 leagues of Australia, England, West Indies or other would have an opportunity to spend more time with some of the top players in the world, compete under pressure situations, participate in quality matches and learn from best coaches. They will grow as cricketers and serve India with higher capacity.
BCCI have their reasons for crippling restrictions and those have their own merit but none big enough to continue with it. In reply to Raina and Uthappa, a BCCI official touted "exclusivity" as the reason behind the board's stand. The fear of contracted or uncapped players shunning India or domestic matches for lucrative leagues must have been a concern for board officials, something that can lead to talent drain.
We know how difficult it is for players at the moment to even think about playing outside India. A player of Yuvraj Singh's stature had to retire to play in overseas T20 Leagues, while someone like Harbhajan Singh had to withdraw his name from The Hundred's draft late last year. It seems impossible that the BCCI would change their stand in near future. The board which does a lot of work to promote the sport, keep it healthy in India and also to assist retired cricketers, however, must look to be a little more player-friendly, a step in this direction would expand the net of security for a large bunch. It can be done while protecting BCCI's interests. How? We have a few suggestions.
Contracted players to focus on India cricket
BCCI currently have 27 players on the central contract roll. These players make handsome money while playing for India and for their respective state teams. They are not cash-strapped neither they have enough time in their calendar to test their mettle in foreign leagues. A clause in the contract to restrict them from playing overseas would serve India's short-term future well.
Domestic circuit contract list
BCCI president Sourav Ganguly spoke about a contract system for domestic players after taking over the reins. While that is still to happen, the board could replicate the central contract list at domestic level for a certain number of top domestic players, primarily those who feature in the priority list of selectors for national assignments. This bunch of, let's say 30-40 players with age not being a limiting factor, will be the next best lot in the country after the centrally contracted players. And this list must come out every season just like the central contract to keep up with the demand of the national team and players' performance. Such a contract would only mean dipping just a little more further into the coffers of the board.
These players also won't be allowed to go out and taste the foreign leagues but to compensate for that, they would have regular India A assignments to hone their skills, extra money with the contracts and the privilege of being in a priority list of for promotion to the national team. It would bring in security with added motivation. This would also help secure India's short to medium term future while protecting exclusivity for IPL and best domestic players.
Give a free hand to remaining players
Once the cream of the domestic circuit is picked, the remaining players could be given a free hand to try out opportunities in foreign T20 leagues. The fact that these players would bring Indian attention to the leagues would always generate demand, even if they may not be the best of the lot. Such a scenario would allow these players to secure themselves financially while playing overseas would lead to skills development, which could see them joining the domestic circuit contract list or jumping the queue for a national call up.
The domestic circuit contract list would also serve as an extra motivation for those who are not part of it. It should propel a race among these players to improve their performance in order to get into the priority list to get close to the dream of playing for India while also making some extra money. A separate window for allowing overseas assignments, playing a minimum number of domestic matches could be looked at by BCCI to maintain the workload and ensure availability of players for domestic matches.
Freehand to players above 35
If a player is out of the national selectors' radar and has crossed the age of 35, he should be free to decide his fate. Not many players over the age of 35 would remain in national reckoning, and very few will be suited to T20 cricket anyway. These players would still be eligible to play domestic cricket if they are not invited overseas, but if they do get an invitation, it would help them make some big bucks in the last leg of their professional careers.
More importantly, it will allow us to see more of our favourite players who may not have retired completely but are not in race for a national spot, like MS Dhoni. This would also open up slots for emerging talents in domestic teams.
These ideas are not flawless but the current status quo is not the most ideal either. However, the growing clamour demanding more freedom for players shows that it is time for BCCI to show some flexibility. The women cricketers are in any case allowed to participate in foreign T20 leagues, so why not the male players! However, a complete overnight change in the thinking process would be a naive thing to expect. For a cricket board as powerful as BCCI, gradual reform is one we can aim for and a few small steps, as suggested above, would allow the Indian board to liberalise its policies, secure rights of players while also protecting its interests at the same time.
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