Malinga, Gayle put cricket to test

Wish that ICC would call a summit meeting of everyone worldwide who is concerned in cricket, including representatives of the players, retired veterans, umpires and anyone who has the long term good of the game at heart. Let them spend a week in heated debate about the basic principles which ought to guide the game for the next 100 years, let them set out who rules which bit of the game and hand down guidelines for the future, writes Ted Corbett.

Lasith Malinga has been at the centre of controversy ever since he first set foot on a Test ground.

It began with that catapult, shoulder level, high-powered action. Then came the hair, curled and dyed in parts, so blond that you wondered why an Asian man would want such a display of contrasts. If the hair did not betray the rebel within, there was always the sly, cheeky grin, the least expected part of a fast bowler's armoury.

Now he is in trouble once again. He has announced his retirement from Test cricket because long matches will, he has been told, cause further damage to his knee. There are suspicions, particularly among members of the Sri Lankan board, that he has another motive; to extend his earning power in the IPL.

The facts seem to be plain and out in the open. The big question is whether cricketers should always make playing for their country their first priority or whether earning a little money on the side is perhaps even to the benefit of the player and an added bonus for the national side.

Malinga's supporters, the former captain Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, have both defended him.

Sangakkara says that his last debate with the board before he surrendered the captaincy was about Malinga's injury but that seems to have carried little weight. Sangakkara is clearly on Malinga's side. “We were all well aware of the seriousness of his knee condition and while I was captain we tried to manage him as carefully and sensitively as possible during the past couple of years,” Sangakkara says in a newspaper column.

“We obviously wanted him to play Tests but when we asked him to go on the India tour it took him two months to recover.” In his own statement, Malinga confirms that analysis.

Sangakkara goes on: “The truth is that Lasith is our best fast bowler in limited overs. If we force him to play Tests we would be running the risk of losing him completely. That would be a tragedy for Sri Lanka, undermining both the ODI and T20 teams.”

That seems an intelligent assessment of the story from a man destined for a big career in the legal profession once he retires from cricket. In addition Sangakkara is highly respected on all sides throughout cricket and has had a distinguished career with all the Sri Lankan teams.

You would think his words would carry a lot of weight. Instead the board seem determined to prove that Malinga is thinking only of the money.

Jayawardene, another former captain, adds a family touch. “Lasith is a human being and, while he is totally committed to Sri Lanka, he also has responsibilities as a husband and one day, hopefully, as a father. If his career is ended by injury who is going to look after him and his family?

“When he suffered the injury the first time he was stripped of his central contract within about six months and left with no income. We need to support and protect him.”

Jayawardene was captain for a long time too and, judging from my own view of him in a host of press conferences, both intelligent and considerate. I wonder if those are words the board would be justified in using to describe their own actions.

So with Chris Gayle, former captain of West Indies, now also playing in the IPL and declining to turn out for West Indies. You knew he was a character as soon as he loped on to the field, from the moment he completed his first leisurely run and, most of all as he walked to the bowling crease and, with as little effort as possible, sent his off breaks slowly, oh so slowly, down the pitch, often to the complete bamboozlement of the batsman.

Gayle comes from Jamaica, the island of pirates, where politics is played out to the sound of gunfire, and where authority has to earn respect from men who, like the singer Bob Marley, want to change the world for the better. Gayle's Test career has been interrupted by a series of disputes with the West Indies Board. He is, I judge, a man who never surrenders easily.

Like almost every other top cricketer, Gayle considers there are too many Tests, but those thoughts fall on deaf ears both at ICC level and among the national board members. It is boring to repeat the accusation that they put TV and sponsors' money first and the health of their players second but it must be true.

Who is right? Is it the duty of every cricketer to play for the country of his birth on demand and regardless of his own needs? Or should he have the right to decide his own future, to choose the moment of his retirement and where he plays out his career? Whatever, it is the duty of management to care for their players.

So is there room in cricket for a freelance player, who signs with whichever team he feels will give him the best terms? One year with his home Test team, six weeks with an IPL side, three months rest and then look round for another deal? I don't see why not.

You will say that the custom has always been for a cricketer to play for the land of his birth but that has been honoured in the misuse far too often. England with their handful of West Indian and South African born players provide one example but Clarrie Grimmett, the best Australian leg break bowler until Shane Warne came along, was a New Zealander.

I have to confess my sympathies are with Malinga, much as I would like to see him this summer in England and thereafter in Tests as often as possible. Gayle may not claim to be hurt but for all his apparent indolence his dynamic hitting makes him a star.

Surely it is possible for these two great players to be given time to play in the IPL, especially if it lengthens their careers.

We are at the start of the 21st century not the middle of the 19th. I am sure that any trade union worth its salt would defend Malinga's right to choose but I trust that it will not come to strikes or any other form of industrial action.

I just wish that ICC would call a summit meeting of everyone worldwide who is concerned in cricket, including representatives of the players, retired veterans, umpires and anyone who has the long term good of the game at heart. Let them spend a week in heated debate about the basic principles which ought to guide the game for the next 100 years, let them set out who rules which bit of the game and hand down guidelines for the future.

You say such a global conference has never been held before. Perhaps that is why the lovely old game is so out of step with modern times and why such a drastic step is needed.