It’s the most obscure thing to go to a
cricket ground on a Wednesday morning
with overcast skies cold enough to warrant wearing a coat, all while a stream of
people kept coming through the gates at Lord’s cricket ground.
Both old and
young pitched up on Wednesday morning to watch Middlesex take on Derbyshire
while, elsewhere in London, a moderately-full members’ pavilion at The Oval
watched Graeme Smith rally his Surrey troops and Alviro Petersen pile on the
runs for Somerset.
It’s nowhere near the frantic, over
indulgence of the IPL. Nobody is force-feeding advertising for its audience and
there aren’t hundreds of thousands of screaming people going berserk whenever
the ball crosses the boundary rope. In fact, it’s quite the opposite of all of
that, yet there is a certain sense of charm to the county championship which
kicked off in England last week.
That charm has been flogged like a dead
horse in the past few weeks as those with a slight sense of entitlement and a
few anti-IPL tendencies insist on comparing the two. Such comparisons are not
only ludicrous, but also grossly unfair. They are vastly different formats
played for vastly different reasons and to even insinuate parallels can be
drawn is obtuse. Of course the aim of a
of a four-day domestic competition is to feed players to its national team
while a hit-and-giggle domestic competition generally aims to generate revenue
to line all kinds of different pockets. What the two competitions do have in
common, though, is the lure of foreign currency and even forsaking national
team obligations or prospective national team opportunities.
While the IPL has been brash and crude in
its approach to luring players into the freelance market, the County Championship
has long been an attractive prospect for players not quite good enough to make
the cut internationally and still offers plenty of opportunities for those who
are good enough, but who want some sort of certainty instead of hoping their
call up will come one day.
Alfonso Thomas is one such case. The
36-year-old is, arguably, one of the best death bowlers ever produced by South
Africa, yet he has only ever played one match for the country. Thomas even opted for a Somerset contract
over IPL commitments this season in order to have something a little more
stable in his arsenal after being shunned by the Proteas, again. His case is curious and perhaps somewhat
isolated and the only tragedy of it is that the Kolpak ruling forced him to
miss out on a T20 domestic final with the Titans franchise. However, what
Thomas does have in Somerset is security - something which he never had with
Players like Petersen and Smith, on the
other hand, have a chance to not only earn some good money, but also stay in
good nick while their season takes a lengthy break, something which is
particularly handy when South Africa won’t play another Test for at least
another five months.
To compare the English County Championship
to the IPL would be foolish and naïve. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that
long before there were imported dancers and overzealous stadium announcers,
there was the opportunity for journeymen to earn foreign currency and therein
lies the rub.
While a lot of the criticism the IPL takes
is warranted, the flak it takes for allowing players the opportunity to earn
money is simply absurd. Despite popular belief, it’s unlikely that a flurry of
players will down tools and suddenly opt for a freelance career simply because
of a few mushrooming T20 leagues around the world. Job opportunities aren’t as
freely available as many believe and the while a freelance cricketer is a
quaint notion, it’s unlikely that there are enough players talented enough to
pursue it. Even those who are will most likely opt for that route only towards
the end of their career since very few, barring a fall out with their board,
would so easily discount the honour of playing cricket for their country.
The IPL deserves criticism, a lot of it,
but to dilute it and single out money-earning opportunities as the lone-ranger
of destruction is a bit silly.
Ant Sims is a freelance writer who writes mainly about soccer and
cricket for The Daily Maverick or anybody else who will have her...
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