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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - It is tempting to report that the international cricket franchise season has just opened. In reality, it has never gone away, establishing itself as a permanent feature in cricket’s evolving landscape. More pertinently, it should be reported that it is heading for peak activity. The final of Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League was played on Dec. 2, whilst the final of the Abu Dhabi T10 league on Dec. 9 saw the New York Strikers beat the Deccan Gladiators. On Dec. 7, the first match of the Men’s Big Bash was played, with the final scheduled for Jan. 24, 2024. New Zealand’s Super Smash starts on Dec. 19 and concludes on Jan. 28.
Three days earlier, England is set to start the first of five Tests against India in Hyderabad, the series ending on March 11. A number of players who would have been in contention are not in the touring party because they are involved in franchise tournaments. Both England’s current and former captains have decided to eschew franchises to focus on the Test series. The same is not true in the spin bowling department. England’s response has been to select three young, inexperienced spinners, clearly looking not only to Indian conditions but also to the future.
Identifying, developing and promoting young talent is one strategy to adopt in the ever more difficult environment of ensuring that Test and short-format cricket can coexist. This landscape is about to get more difficult. On Jan. 10, the SA20 league will open in Cape Town and conclude on Feb. 10. The DP World ILT20 will run from Jan. 19 until Feb. 10. On Jan. 19, the Bangladesh Premier League also opens and will run until March 1. Into this mix, the Pakistan Super League is set to be played between mid-February and mid-March.
The composition of franchise teams in SA20 is known, as are those for the ILT20 and the BPL. Those for the PSL will be clearer after the player auction, rumored to occur on Dec. 13. In 2023, the BPL featured 55 players from other countries, of which 25 were Pakistani. In 2024, this number is 13, presumably because of schedule overlap. This is not the only issue created by the abundance of franchises. Dissonance between Test and T20 cricket is evident in South Africa. During SA20, the South African Test team is scheduled to play a two-match series in New Zealand. It will be denuded of key players because Cricket South Africa has decreed that players must fulfil their SA20 contracts ahead of playing for the national team.
Dissonance has also been evident in the West Indies since 2010, when three high-profile players controversially turned down central contracts. This week, three senior players, two being former captains, rejected the offer of central contracts by Cricket West Indies. They were unavailable for the recently concluded ODI series against England, participating instead in the Abu Dhabi T10. Afterwards, they returned home to play in the first of five T20I matches against England on Dec. 12. In addition, they will be available for all of the West Indies’ T20Is in 2024. These include the World Cup co-hosted by the West Indies, in which the team will be under pressure to perform well.
Along with other West Indians, these players are in demand on the franchise circuit, including the Indian Premier League. The balancing of workloads with achieving financial security and representing one’s country is being worked out in real time under public gaze. National cricket boards have a remit to achieve success across all formats. In order to provide a basis on which to pursue that remit, they need their best players to be available, fit, in-form and willing to play. Hence, they all need to work together in a way that was not apparent when franchise leagues, notably the IPL, emerged. Then, conflicts between players and boards developed because of adversarial stances.
This is not to say that frictions have disappeared or that impressions of some players picking and choosing when and where they wish to play linger on. National boards have had to bow to the financial pull of franchises and accept that some top players will be lost to them. India is, of course, an exception to this, forbidding its contracted players to play in any franchise league other than the IPL. Elsewhere, national boards have been strengthening domestic T20 leagues, using the franchise format. This excludes England and Wales where a historic domestic structure has, so far, led to a stilted approach to franchising.
India’s approach is anything but stilted, being truly dominant. Major T20 franchises in Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the UAE will all be done and dusted by mid-March, stepping aside for the IPL. This opens on March 23 and runs until May 29, in turn paving way for the ICC T20I World Cup on June 4. Once this ends on June 30, the US Major League is scheduled between the mid and end of July, the Lanka Premier league is set to start on July 31, ending on Aug. 22. This will slightly overlap with the Caribbean Premier League which runs between mid-August and mid-September 2024.
Only, it seems, is there no major franchise T20 tournament between mid-September and the end of November. During those months, a number of bilateral series are scheduled which will allow countries to fit in Tests as part of the World Test Championship. Amongst the welter of established T20 franchises in cricket’s professional international calendar, the role and contribution of the other two main formats in the game’s ecosystem should be neither overlooked nor sidelined. Franchise cricket needs a supply of players. Currently, they are developed through domestic structures and not franchises. In future this may change in ways that are difficult to predict. Until then, one impact of franchise cricket on the wider game may be the approach adopted by several national boards to underpin longer formats through accelerated opportunities for young talent.
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