The ICC’s Full Members are on the verge of clamping down on player participation in domestic T20 leagues, and may well also stop sanctioning such leagues in Associate Member countries. The mushrooming growth of T20 leagues in recent years has rattled cricket’s ecosystem and to control its impact on international cricket, ESPNcricinfo understands the majority of Full Members have given an in-principle nod to capping player participation to no more than three T20 leagues a year.
Both the chief executives committee (CEC) and the ICC Board have discussed the issue at the annual conference in Dublin over the weekend and a broad consensus has emerged that if players are allowed to participate in any number of leagues it will start affecting international bilateral cricket. Although both the CEC and Board were in favour of putting a cap on as soon as manageable, a final decision is only expected at the October round of ICC meetings.
The other key decision which will also come up for approval in October is on the future of T20 Leagues hosted by Associate nations. Currently, Full Members do not require any kind of ICC approval should they want to start a T20 league in their country, whereas Associate Members do. Usually, ICC approval for an Associate league has been all but a rubber stamp but that may soon change. If the ICC eventually refuses to sanction such leagues, it could prevent them from attracting top Full Member stars, on whose participation the success of a tournament often hinges.
The driving concern among Full Members is that most leagues in Associate countries are operated by a third party with little interest in the development of the game. And some board members and chief executives feel that a few Associate boards themselves did not have real stakes in the game.
The growth spurt in such leagues is exemplified by the launch of a T20 competition by Abu Dhabi Cricket which will take place in October this year with teams from Full Member countries taking part, as well as players such as Chris Gayle. That is in addition to a bigger Emirates Cricket Board T20 league later in the season (as well as T10 league).
Canada is currently holding its inaugural GT20, as is Norway (with the participation of some Pakistani cricketers) and Nepal has its own Premier League. In addition there are a number of other lesser-known, fleeting leagues sprouting up in unlikely countries which have cricket associations.
The key response to any such moves – especially a player cap – will come from FICA (Federation of International Cricketers’ Association) and various player associations. Tony Irish, FICA’s executive chairman, sits on one of the ICC’s working groups which has been discussing the issue. It is understood that FICA has made it amply clear putting a cap on player movement amounts to a restraint of trade.
But concern among some Full Members has been growing. In March Cricket West Indies (CWI) – one of the boards most affected by this situation – prepared a paper on the effect T20 leagues are having on the world game. Their “runaway” success, the paper argued, could put international cricket in “jeopardy”, especially for boards without the financial strength to prevent their players from prioritising leagues over international cricket.
Other boards might now be coming round to that view. In May, the PCB announced a new policy whereby its players would only be allowed to play in two T20 leagues this year, with or without the PSL. Last November, the Bangladesh Cricket Board announced they would offer only two No-objection certificates a year to their contracted players. All overseas leagues demand an NOC from the host board before signing a player.
The BCCI has never allowed Indian players to participate in the overseas T20 leagues. Primarily that is to protect the IPL, but it is also to make sure players do not start choosing their own development pathways. To safeguard against the threat the BCCI recently enhanced significantly its contracts for international players as well as the pay structure for domestic cricketers. The BCCI’s stance has long been to ensure its domestic game is healthy and sustainable, because that is where the talent will emerge from – they are one of the few boards with the financial power to do so.
But with a growing number of international cricketers streamlining their workloads by not just picking the format they want to focus on but also foregoing national contracts, various cricket boards have woken up to the need to protect their biggest asset – the player.