For a few dollars more

Royal Challengers Bangalore's West Indies players Chris Gayle and Darren Sammy celebrate with skipper Virat Kohli after their team's victory over Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League. For all of Gayle's seeming disillusionment with five-day cricket, he continues to wear the number 333 on his back in the IPL. It is his highest score in Test cricket.-K. R. DEEPAK

The West Indian players’ distrust of the board, after innumerable contract disputes, makes it only natural for them to prefer the IPL over national duty. The players and the IPL will be better served if the WICB can clean its act up, writes Shreedutta Chidananda.

On April 25, West Indies was routed by nine wickets by England in a Test match in Grenada. The home side lost its last seven wickets for 69; having competed well for four days, it lost its collective head on the fifth. On April 26, Chris Gayle was clobbering a 40-ball-62 to lead Royal Challengers Bangalore to victory over Delhi Daredevils at the Ferozeshah Kotla. Gayle’s persistent back injury means he cannot last all five days of a Test match and so he declared himself unavailable for the England series, but the irony was hard to miss.

Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy, Dwayne Smith, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine and Kieron Pollard are all plying their wares in the IPL, and most of them are doing it very well. It is tempting to wonder how much stronger West Indies would have been with some of these players on the field against England. It is possible to conclude that they have preferred the IPL’s dollars over the pride of representing their region but that would not be entirely accurate. Gayle’s body cannot withstand the rigours of five-day cricket, Bravo retired from the format in January, Russell played his only Test five years ago, Smith played his last match nine years ago and Kieron Pollard is yet to make his debut. Narine, along with Gayle, refused the WICB retainer contract for the 2014-15 season and is thus free to make himself available when he desires. At any rate, he is not an automatic pick for the Test side. This leaves Sammy, who has signed a central contract but simply wasn’t called up, leaving him free to join the RCB squad.

It cannot be denied, though, that cricketers from the Caribbean have previously put their engagements in the world’s various T20 leagues ahead of turning out for West Indies. Gayle, Bravo, Pollard and Narine have at one time or another turned down central contracts, simply to be able to play T20 cricket without hindrance. Money was perhaps the principal factor in their decisions but that in itself is no bad thing. It is all very well to speak of pride and honour but athletes must not be held to some greater perceived ideal than the rest of us; seeking bigger financial reward for their skills is no sin.

The WICB (whose 16-strong Board of Directors has only four with first-class experience and only one former Test cricketer in Joel Garner, as Tony Cozier has pointed out) has to take some of the blame.

Darren Bravo and Dwayne Smith... Chennai's Caribbean Super Kings.-PTI

Last year, Narine had to choose between playing the IPL final and joining the West Indies camp ahead of a series against New Zealand. He chose the final, having steered his side there, and was told he would not be eligible for selection. Narine would have arrived five days before the first Test but the board’s intransigence and its then-new ‘West Indies First’ policy ruled him out.

“It’s a loss for West Indies; not for Sunil Narine,” Wasim Akram, the KKR bowling coach, said at the time. “This has got to do with the WICB; if he doesn’t play for them, it’s their loss, and not his loss. He’s a phenomenal bowler; he’s only 25. The more he plays, the better he’ll become. We’ve seen him in every IPL; still no one can pick him. He’s the best in the business.”

The players’ distrust of the board, after innumerable contract disputes, makes it only natural for them to prefer the IPL over national duty. The WICB could take lessons from New Zealand Cricket, which simply creates a window for the T20 tournament, knowing its importance to the players.

On BBC radio’s Test Match Special, Viv Richards was asked during the first Test between West Indies and England, of the IPL problem. “To be fair, if we have a governing body that is going to be useful in terms of its decision-making, they can help to eradicate all this stuff, where we see guys leaving the longer format because of the attraction in the Big Bash or the IPL,” he said.

“It’s about having everyone on an equal basis where once you’re fully accomplished as a Test match player, then the bigger picture comes into play. You take the format from the NBA, the college basketball draft system. To be fair, if there wasn’t the involvement of the IPL, you’d still have guys playing for their countries. We need some administration at some point from the governing body.”

Yet, the IPL has again thrown into sharp focus the club vs. country debate. The IPL has previously affected the international engagements of India’s own cricketers, with cases like Gautam Gambhir suffering injury or M. S. Dhoni seeking a break after the tournament at the expense of international fixtures. That such a debate should come up at all does not project the IPL in a very good light.

Back when Lalit Modi was ‘Commissioner’ of the IPL, he wrote to the franchises, taking a dim view of ‘early retirements’ or players violating the Futures Tour Programme. “This is absolutely against the fundamental structure of the League and the basis of the vision we have set up for ourselves,” he said. “The IPL was set up to enhance cricket and provide more opportunities but not to take away from international cricket.” Players, he thus decreed, would need NOCs from their home boards to participate in the IPL, even if they did not hold central contracts.

The IPL cannot be ignored. A player’s wish to take part in it cannot be scoffed at either. What is required is a good administration that can balance the commitments of the national team and the players’ desires. It is also true that some cricketers have practically gone freelance.

“If we have a governing body that brings in line the big-money, high-stakes individuals in the IPL, and we have a level-playing field for all the rules and regulations, there can be an avenue where we can have the purists,” Richards noted. “It’s seriously wrong when you have someone who totally ignores playing for his country and decides that he’s going to leapfrog to the bigger picture.”

West Indian players and the IPL will be better served if the WICB can clean its act up. For all of Gayle’s seeming disillusionment with five-day cricket, he continues to wear the number 333 on his back in the IPL. It is his highest score in Test cricket.