Saturday, September 19, 2009

Freddie the freelancer!

September 19, 2009
So now Andrew Flintoff is going to be a freelance cricketer, eh?

Oh my god! How can that be? How can a cricketer play for multiple teams? It’s unheard of in international sport!

Oh well, that it is. In team sport, especially. Imagine a Cristiano Ronaldo playing a couple of weeks for Real Madrid, then with Manchester United, and then, another couple of weeks depending on which part of the world his girlfriend wants to holiday in. Nope, not done!

Except that this is cricket we are talking about. And that makes this completely unprecedented plan on Freddie’s part quite acceptable. Really!

No other major team sport involves such massive country representation to start with.

Football – no. Hockey – no. Baseball – no. Rugby – no. Basketball – no. Volleyball – no. What other team sports are there? All these are primarily club sports; with players getting together to play for their countries once every six months or so. If you are a big footballer for a major team, chances are you will not be forced to play all these matches either – only the really important ones.

And that’s why cricket, and cricketers, should be looked at slightly differently.

Once a regular with his national team, an average cricketer spends almost 90 percent of the time representing his country. This would be closer to 100 percent in the pre-IPL era. That’s quite ridiculous.

Now, the fact that the future of world cricket is Franchisee Cricket or Club Cricket is no secret. That’s the direction the sport is headed in. If that means no more cricketers with 100-plus Test matches and 10,000-plus runs, so be it. Truth is, if cricket needs to exist as a global sport (which it has been attempting to for a long time now), it must go the club way.

It must allow the Didier Drogbas and the George Weahs and the Landon Donovans and, even, the Bhaichung Bhutias to play with the best in the world even if Ivory Coast and Liberia and USA and India are not good enough as teams. It must.

It must have Test championships and ODI championships and T20 championships. Between countries. But it must identify one format – most likely the T20 format – that will be played among clubs around the year. There must be an Indian Premier League. As there should be an Australian Premier League and an English Premier League and a West Indian Premier League. And there should be the Champions League.

Which brings us to the Flintoff question. The Freelance Cricketer. Is it acceptable? Your take on this is as good as mine, but I do want to say this: as long as cricket doesn’t operate the football way and forces cricketers to make themselves available round the year to satisfy calendar commitments, more and more big players like Flintoff will take the freelance route. If Flintoff is allowed to operate as a freelancer, every single West Indian cricketer – Chris Gayle downwards – will take the same route. And no one will have a legal or legitimate ground to stop them.

And no one should stop them anyway.