Aakash Chopra

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Former India opener Aakash Chopra is one of the best thinkers and writers on the game. Find out more at www.cricketaakash.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @cricketaakash

The Club Versus Country Conundrum

Chris Gayle, the man with a whopping 14,000 runs in International Cricket, made up of no less than thirty-three colossal centuries, and a career spanning over a decade, may soon cease to be a West Indian Batsman. That's a terrible thing to happen to any batsmen worth his salt, for representing the country is by far the biggest honour that one can take pride in. It's a feeling unparalleled, and a dream that every sports person strives to fulfil. Gayle, am certain, is no less patriotic than any one of us. So why on earth did he choose a club, far less in standing, over a far more honoured National duty? Strangely, Sri Lanka's Malinga too has opted out of the upcoming SL–England Test series citing an injury, while he continues to swank his skill at the ongoing IPL. Do we see a dangerous trend building up, one that is forcing Cricketers from countries with not-so-rich boards to settle for the moneyed IPL? More importantly, would these Cricketers be reprimanded for choosing Club over Country? While the answer could be an emphatic 'Yes', it would be worth delving deeper into the issue before blocking the mind.

Andrew Symonds was perhaps the first cricketer to quit International cricket in the peak of his form, his decision though had more to do with being at loggerheads with the administration than the lure of the more lucrative T20 leagues. Simultaneously, both ICL and IPL created a worthwhile window for Cricketers at the twilight of their careers, who could now bid a timely goodbye to their fading international careers, and still continue to play club cricket. Both Gilchrist and Hayden could have continued to play at the highest level for a few more years, but chose to not linger on, since the IPL was there to satiate their hunger for cricket. And since their country could afford to let go off them, perhaps it didn’t pinch them enough, their move out of their National teams didn’t affect the overall health of International cricket. Suddenly though, that decision of choosing Club over Country doesn't seem to be ethically and morally acceptable. Perhaps, we've been too naive to believe that young cricketers, from not-so-rich boards, at the peak of their careers, may not face a similar dilemma of choosing Club over Country. And, in case they really did, who'd want to sacrifice a coveted National Post for a rank in a club? When Ponting, Clarke and Mitchell Johnson chose not to play in the IPL, it was rather convenient to believe that others will follow suit too. Twist in the tale came when Keiron Pollard and Dwyane Bravo made their preferences clear at the outset and the WICB had no option but to throw in the towel, lest they run the danger of losing these talented cricketers forever. The WICB, in order to conceal their vulnerability, said that they preferred Pollard and Bravo to hone their T20 skills in the IPL and weren't in fact required to play for the country against Pakistan. So much so, that Bravo will now use the first couple of ODIs against Pakistan to get into full fitness and form before heading to India for his IPL commitments. The issue here though does not concern one Pollard, Bravo or even Gayle, but the fact that such moves may eventually prove to be detrimental for the game. Players from relatively richer boards may toe the line but others are more likely to give in to the temptation.

While it's convenient to give this argument a patriotic tinge, one must look at it from the Cricketer's point of view too. Does playing for another team, other than one's
national side really amount to 'betrayal'? The Cricketer didn't fix a match, or even underplayed to make the opposition win. All he did was choose a lucrative option to make bigger bucks. It may not be a politically correct thing to do, but it is certainly not illegal, or even immoral. Let's face it – the difference in the pay to turn up for a club
is at least 10 times more than what you receive to play for the country. While you don't play only for money, but to think that money doesn't matter is also impractical. When the boards are getting richer, then why make martyrs out of Cricketers? After all, the same board may not be forthcoming to rehabilitate when the players call it quits. While few players may be absorbed by their respective Boards, others would be left to their own devises. Isn't it justified for a Cricketer to make the most of his playing years then? And let's not forget that a player's career has a limited shelf life and a poor run of form or an injury might draw curtains to it anytime. Yes, the Board might take care of you for the duration of the contract but to expect their support beyond that is unrealistic.

Before you get me wrong, let me make it clear –I'm not advocating choosing club over country, definitely not on the sheer basis of how fat one's bank balance would be after a stint in the IPL. All I'm trying to say is – 1. Don't judge players who make the seemingly politically incorrect choice of walking out on their National side, and 2. More
importantly, please find ways to ensure that they don't face such hard choices. These T20 leagues need International cricketers as much as they need the leagues, while these cricketers won't be the same if they all together stop playing for their country. Also, cricketers who are taking the plunge are in fact running a huge risk by sticking to just T20 cricket for the rest of their lives where the only consistent aspect happens to be its inconsistency. Money on offer is obviously making them bet on their careers. Largely though, are we ready for such an inevitable mass exodus which would eventually bereft Nations of their assets?

It's becoming imperative for the ICC to bring all Cricket Boards on the same page, identify one or two T20 leagues as the premier tournament and then create a window in the FTP to accommodate them. They will also have to share the revenue generated amongst all the cricket boards which will mean that you have a 100% participation of the best talent available and no one spoils the party. This is the only way to ensure that players like Suraj Randiv or Keiron Pollard won't have to choose between a multi-million dollar deal for 45 days and a potential International career.

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