Cape Town - Cricket South Africa’s T20 Global League is a
critically important development in principle ... but self-interest must also be
avoided at all costs.
So says Tony Irish, CEO of the South African Cricketers’
Association, the body representing the interests of the domestic players who
will take part, as the three-month countdown begins to the intended large, loud
It has not escaped controversy, with misgivings being
expressed in the media over the past few days about the manner of negotiation
of television rights and alleged shortcomings in transparency regarding the
sale of the eight franchises.
There have even been reports - unconfirmed at this stage -
of certain intended investors pulling out.
Irish, in an interview with Sport24, emphasised that the
Global League was a “must have” event, but was at equal pains to stress that
“the details must be right”.
He also warned that if it ended up clashing with
international cricket, the increasing free-agency phenomenon among high-calibre
players might only swell further.
Here is the full interview:
Explain the necessity
of having this competition …
It’s an absolute must that CSA launches a T20 League. There
may be debate about how it is done but the principle of doing it is correct.
That’s where cricket is going; so much of cricket is moving in the direction of
T20 leagues. It is right and fitting for South Africa to develop its own
properly world-class T20 competition. There are, however, a lot of challenges
in doing that. You have to get the balance right between your traditional
cricket and the league; make sure they integrate with one another. The league
must not be set up just for the benefit of those people who are investing in
the league. It must benefit cricket overall in the country, and
internationally. This is a very important thing for players, an opportunity to
earn significant additional money. It’s important from the point of view of
retaining our players in this country. This must be dollar-based, making it
comparable with all the other major leagues.
Are we seeing already
a harmful erosion of talent depth, what with virtually an entire
international-class team of South Africans, if you like, swayed more by county than
domestic deals these days?
The struggles of the SA ‘A’ team (recently) perhaps indicate
that our depth is not where it should be at the moment. That may be a result of
having lost a few critical players to Kolpak contracts. I would like to think
that some who may be contemplating going that route will instead now be
inclined to stay and play in South Africa, given the opportunities this league
should provide in earnings terms. But I think it’s vitally important also that
the route CSA have taken, in ensuring this league happens when there is no
international cricket, is the right one … if they clash and players have to
choose you might find some players actually preferring to play the T20 league
instead of international cricket. It is important the window is maintained. The
league has also been strongly sold to investors on the principle that you will
have best players taking part in it. Once it starts to clash with international
cricket, you could drive free agency further, and faster. There are alternative
markets for players now ... not just one to pick from, as would have been the
case in the past. T20 is naturally attractive: you get paid a lot more, for a
shorter period of time. You are perhaps under less scrutiny and pressure, too,
due to the nature of it; after all, you are expected to take risks. It is not
as hard on your body. It is obvious that many players will gravitate to this
proliferation of T20 leagues and associated potential for corruption and
malpractice, how comfortable are you about South Africa making this big step,
joining the mass of leagues? Do you have any concerns about credibility,
Look, we know it (T20) is definitely an opportunity for
corruptors in cricket. International cricket is well policed by the ICC’s
Anti-Corruption Unit. But there is no overall policing across the leagues. It
is left to every country to police and standards vary significantly. But you
have players moving all around the world nowadays, so there is no control over
whether a player participating in your league has been properly controlled and
educated on that front in another country where he’s playing. So there has to
be some kind of co-ordinated global effort, global standard and co-ordination
in the fight against corruption.
What role can you
play as the players’ body to encourage and educate them - especially younger
ones - to adhere to good practice, good principles?
The responsibility for education is always primarily on the
board, and the teams. We’ve stepped into that here in South Africa, though, as
have a lot of players’ associations around the globe - where you take a lead
in educating players. It’s a major problem when players fall foul of this
stuff. As young men and women, they need to be made aware (of pitfalls). Again
it’s an international thing: the international players’ body becomes an
important factor in lobbying for a global education programme.
Your thoughts on
burnout? With this League, another six weeks are now being squeezed into the
summer schedule at prime time …
It’s a huge issue. The more often you play, the greater the
risk of burnout and injury of players. I think that’s why the balance has to be
right: If this league is played in the height of the season I believe you’ll
have to play a bit less international cricket. You just have to. There’s only
so much time and space on the calendar and these leagues are mushrooming all
over the place. They are good for cricket; fans are turning out, players want
to take part in them. The broadcasters are investing heavily in them. They’re
good for the game. But something’s got to give, and I feel it will have to be
on the international front, where you’d potentially play less cricket but more
“high-value” cricket, with greater context to it. You need more real contests.
The international schedule needs to take the leagues into account, and provide
windows for them, so they can all co-exist together. That’s the way toward the
correct regulation of the amount of cricket players play.
Some might argue: is
the SA league coming a bit late, a bit after the fact?
We really should have done this five years ago ... even more.
There was an opportunity to do this at the time the IPL started, where a couple
of the boards got together and said ‘we’d also like start a league that can
match the scale of where the IPL is at, if we combine’. That for one reason or
another didn’t see the light of day. But that’s when Cricket Australia started
working on its Big Bash. We should have started working on ours then, too. Yes,
it should have been done a while ago, but it’s also a fact that it’s definitely
not too late. Even now it is the right decision to go for it.
On ownership: one of
the Hong Kong-based investors in our competition, the City Group, spoke of
possibly introducing some Hong Kong players into our league. Isn’t that
potentially counter-productive to the SA game, which is altogether more
We need to have pretty robust regulations in this league.
We’re involved with CSA in designing those. It’s already been decided there
will be three overseas players per team, with a fourth one if you have a Kolpak
player. The amount of interest that has been shown by overseas players in our
league is such that we will hopefully have only high-calibre overseas players,
I firmly expect. It’s unlikely but if there’s a great T20 player in Hong Kong
who can make the grade ... great. But if there isn’t ... well, there’ll be many
good players to choose from, and a draft system. Hundreds have expressed
interest. You’ll have to be pretty good to be drafted. We already have the very
best figures among the eight named as overseas marquee players, with your KPs,
Gayles, Pollards and so on.
Are you confident
this new city-based model will have mass appeal?
We will have to see but these leagues generally show that if
you invest money, like the IPL and Big Bash have, there is appeal. Especially
if you have the best players. I think that is critical. Our Proteas players
will need to be consistently available for it as well. We have a good
reputation for producing cutting-edge events in this country; my gut feel is
that as long as all the basics are done well it’ll be a good event.
A very subtle dynamic occurs when you have private
ownerships ... it’s a good thing in many ways, because new money comes into the
game but there are also many challenges in the way that it is done. Already you
are seeing some cross-league brands appearing now, like the Knight Riders;
common ownership across leagues. You will probably see global strategies, so
the Knight Riders, effectively an Indian brand, will now be in our league.
That’s a positive for our league, but you may see some of these types of teams
trying to secure the same players for their brands. If they are successful with
that, then those players may not be available for international cricket during
that time and that is a problem. So you may have a situation where the Knight
Riders say ‘I want this player in three leagues, and the contract I’m offering
is for three leagues, not just the IPL’. So those kinds of challenges we need
to be aware of; it may pull players out of national teams. There will need to
be a way of dealing with that kind of thing. The fact that teams are now linked
to cities gives you a new opportunity to build new affinities, outside just the
old SA franchise affinity. Some centres, smaller ones in some cases, will now
get T20 league teams where there hasn’t previously been a franchise base, and
the upgrade of facilities is a big boost, with this new money coming in.
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