But if Flintoff pulls it off, and becomes a successful, globetrotting cricketing brand, then the game will never be the same again.
It is no wonder that Freddie Flintoff’s decision to reject an England contract and turn freelance [interestingly, most articles on the topic in recent times use the subtly pejorative ‘mercenary’, rather than ‘freelance’] is causing considerable heartburn. David Hopps gives you the reason why:
Players’ representatives were privately predicting last night that England’s control of their most sought‑after players will now gradually weaken as Flintoff sets the trend. Such a scenario would turn players into powerful mercenaries contesting a hotchpotch of club Twenty20 tournaments, as well as international cricket, for the highest bidder.
National boards thrive on their monopolistic hold over the game in their respective regions. It helps them lock in the top players into contracts that, in turn, permit them to dictate where the player can play and when — and most importantly, how much or how little they can get away with paying them.
Media reports of cricketers earning big money through central contracts invariably omit one calculation. The board makes its money on the back of the services of the players, so what proportion of its earnings does the board hand out as remuneration, and is that a fair proportion? In other words, the payment is ‘big’, as seen through our eyes — but is it commensurate with the value the players bring to a board that, absent good players, has no viable alternate revenue stream?
The answer, inevitably, is no. And in the absence of alternate streams of employment, players made the best of the situation and took what they were given.
What private leagues like the IPL have done is to change that dynamic, to provide alternate avenues of employment — avenues that are far more lucrative than the sums handed out by the national boards. For instance, if Flintoff plays a year of ODI and T20 cricket, his central contract will still not give him as much money as the IPL would if he played one full season.
If Hopps’ fears turn true, cricket administration will have to adjust to an entirely new way of functioning, and face questions they never had before. Like, so:
His decision leaves a lot of questions unanswered. If Flower wants a week’s get-together at Loughborough ahead of a one-day series, will Flintoff feel obliged to attend? If England do not monitor his form and fitness, who does?
It might be natural for golfers or tennis players to travel the world on an individualistic search for personal fulfillment. But cricket demands a compromise between individual ambitions and team demands. Any perception that Flintoff had won special privileges would not rest easily in any dressing room.
Agreeing with Hopps for the moment that cricket demands a compromise, where does ‘compromise’ exist in the current scenario? The board’s attitude is, these are the rules, these are the conditions, this is what we are prepared to pay you, take it or else. Earlier, there was no ‘or else’ — now there is, and suddenly words like ‘compromise’ creep into the discussion.
I suspect it would be wrong to see Flintoff’s action as purely ‘mercenary’ in its motives. For far too long international players, and their association, have fought for a seat at the big table. They have asked that the individual boards and the ICC take some of their urgent concerns into consideration — as for instance the international calendar, packed increasingly tight with money making opportunities for the boards and for the ICC that it leaves little room for the cricketer to rest, to recover from injury, to work on skill sets diminishing under the attrition of constant match play.
This concern — which is just one example, and not the whole laundry list — has been repeatedly voiced to the ICC by international captains on the few occasions the ICC deigns to call them in for meetings, and by the players associations. The ICC has routinely paid lip service to the need to rationalize the calendar, and a day later added another ‘world’ tournament to the mix.
It could, because what was the player going to do?
Now there is an answer to that question — the player will rationalize his own calendar. Flintoff is yet to speak of the reasons behind his decision [or when he does, produces asinine comments, like he is turning mercenary because he can learn about different cricketing cultures]; the statements have all come from his agent who, natural enough for the breed, focuses on the money to be made and in the process has Flintoff painted ‘mercenary’.
But I suspect on the basis of what I’ve heard from players over the years that if you sat the all rounder down and talked to him, you would find that the relentless grind he is subjected to, a grind that has grievously impacted on his body, has as much to do with his decision as the money to be made. In that connection, note that when players talk of choosing between the IPL and international cricket, they do not say there is more money to be made in the former — what they do point out is, they make as much in two months of the league as they do in a year of international duty. In other words, the considerations are money and time.
All of which likely comes as a nightmare for the administration — which is reacting in predictable ways. England captain Andrew Strauss, for instance, ‘leaves the door open’.
“If Freddie is committed to playing for England he’s still a great asset for us in the shortest forms of the game,” Strauss said. “I’m sure he still feels he’s got a lot of cricket left in him, but it’s a bit too early to react to this at this stage. It’s a conversation the ECB will need to have with him and his management over the coming days.
“I think we need to sit down and speak to him as to the reasons he’s done that, and then we will make an informed decision as to what that means with his availability going forward. Obviously there is a reason why he hasn’t agreed to it and we need to find out what that reason is.”
The Observer reckons that a full commitment to England for ODIs and Twenty20s could pay Fred just 30,000 pounds a year; although The Telegraph speculates that a figure of about 70,000 pounds is nearer the mark.
Either way, this is chicken-feed compared to his million-a-year deal from the Chennai Super Kings. And here’s the problem for the Two Andrews: England’s, ahem, mouth-watering one-day engagements against mighty Bangladesh in the spring cut into the IPL schedule, meaning that Chennai, not unreasonably, would not pay him the full-whack for half the work.
Yeah, well, what earthly purpose will be served by the England-Bangladesh bilateral ODIs [Consider for instance the absolute lack of spectator interest in the ODI series England is playing right now — against Australia, no less]?
Another clip from Tyres, that speaks to the heart of my argument:
Should we be crying ourselves to sleep at night worrying about the bank balance of this already very rich chap? Of course not. But in this instance, I think England fans should say to Flintoff: thanks for all that you’ve done, now go off and earn your money as you see fit.
There will no doubt be plenty of people who will thunder that it is a disgrace anyone could even consider playing for Twenty20 franchises when there is a chance of an England cap on offer. To them I would say: it’s only the England ODI side.
A lot of people would pay good money NOT to be in the England ODI side at the moment, given the utter mediocrity and the endless slog of meaningless fixtures.
If, for example, the ECB are trying to promote an ODI against West Indies with a weakened XI while Flintoff is simultaneously off earning a crust with the Durban Ringbinders or whoever, then they are indeed going to have problems. But maybe that is not the end of the world: if they can’t sell the ODIs, maybe we will stop having so bloody many of them.
Exactly. The administration will harp on the ‘m’ words — money, mercenary. But it will never admit that it has contributed to player dissatisfaction through its non-stop drive to fill every available date with yet another meaningless game [England versus Australia 7 ODIs? Three successive dead rubbers after the series is decided?].
On a related note, Andrew Miller points at another problem with contracts:
Not surprisingly, Flintoff’s rejection has significant implications for the ECB’s contracts system as well. For five years from their inception in 2000, they were the best thing that has ever happened to English cricket, because they provided job security and consequently a forging of a team ethos. But since 2005, their worth has been freefalling, with the suspicion that the recipients belong in a “cosy club” – not least some of those named on the 2009-10 list.
Maybe a few more Freddie Flintoffs could be a good thing after all, if it forces a modicum of rationality on those who administer the game and taught them to not take the game, and the players, for granted?