Funny old game, cricket. Or maybe, funny new game. Once upon a time you played for your province and, if you were good enough, your country.
You didn't, as Brendon McCullum is now doing, play for Otago and New Zealand - and Kolkata and New South Wales.
There is a heavy smell of money dogging cricket these days and let me get the disclaimer out of the way quickly. There's nothing wrong with talented people earning truckloads of moolah and I'd do the same if only I could - yes, yes, yes. But there's something here that doesn't sit right.
McCullum earned his stripes with that blazing, glorious, record-setting 158 not out off only 73 balls for his IPL Twenty20 team, the Kolkata Knight Riders. He has a long and lucrative career ahead of him if the IPL continues to survive, showering its players with vast amounts of cash.
Heavy-handed billionaire Sir Allen Stanford made English cricket a laughing stock with a garish display of vulgar wealth, flying into Lord's with a transparent plastic case with US$20 million inside, surrounded by slobbering cricket officials. That ka-ching noise we all heard was the sound of a game selling its soul.
Stanford only came onto the scene because the English were terrified that the cash-rich IPL league would carry away their best players. His money meant they could reward them more heavily and keep their services.
Only it turned out that the beast in the backyard was at least as rapacious as the one in India. This was evidenced when Stanford was filmed flirting with, and jiggling on his knee, some players' wives and girlfriends - which seemed to indicate that those purchased with $20 million might have to drop more than a curtsy and assume a position other than a forward defensive.
Stanford said he hadn't known who the women were (strange... can build global wealth management company but is unsure of identity of woman on knee) and the whole thing was filed under Bad Taste.
McCullum's NSW sojourn could find itself in the same file. Brendon McCullum has about as much to do with NSW as my bottom.
I'd have no objection to the wee whirlwind heading off to the final of the KFC Twenty20 Big Bash Final in Australia (there are lots of opportunities here for bad chicken jokes but I will let them pass...) if it wasn't for the fact that he is supposed to be turning out for Otago in the State Shield. That's the team for whom he gloriously put Auckland to the sword in this competition last year.
The rationalisation from New Zealand cricket advanced the astonishing logic that NSW will give McCullum the chance to participate in the lucrative Champions League Twenty20 series in India if his IPL team, the Kolkata Knight Riders, don't qualify.
How's that again? If your team doesn't make it, you just get another team. Nooo problem.
Except that, whatever it is, it isn't sport. If the Kolkata Knight Riders did indeed have a talking car like the Knight Rider TV series, starring that wonderful actor David Hasselhoff (one of the few people to have been upstaged by a lip-synching car), it might be moved to say: "Gee, Michael/Brendon, I thought that
if your team doesn't qualify, that's your lot."
Also, no New Zealand teams were originally invited to the Champions League - which makes me feel like saying: 'Well, you can stick it up your Ganges delta then.'
And what about Otago, defending champions in the State Shield? Ah, more wonderful rationalisation. Otago cricket CEO Ross Dykes said it was a sensible decision as the Black Caps would not be available for the semifinal or final of the State Shield. So McCullum flitting off to play for someone he doesn't really play for allowed a replacement batsman "to settle into the Otago Volts batting line-up".
This conveniently excludes the fact that if our Brendon wasn't heading over the Tasman, he'd be playing, all right. Dykes said Otago cricket was aware that fans in Invercargill - where today's game was promoted around McCullum's presence - would be disappointed, "but I am completely satisfied that the decision best serves the good of the game in the South both in the short and medium term."
Let's translate that for you. India: power. Players: power. New Zealand Cricket: no power. Champions League = major dollars; State Shield = a bit of chewing gum and a bus ticket.
And what about NSW? This isn't a NSW side - it's NSW plus Brendon. Forget what Andrew Symonds said abour McCullum taking the spot of a real NSW player (he called McCullum "a lump of s***"). Symonds' eyes are open, the mouth is moving, the dreads are festering but Mr Brain has long since gone fishing. But it's like Richie McCaw taking the weekend off from the Crusaders to turn out for the NSW sevens team
because they were offering more money. It's just not right having pinch-hitters popping up all over world sport because it's convenient or because people stand to make money.
There's another point to be made here. Some judges have wondered whether McCullum's searing Twenty20 heroics haven't tainted his one-day and his test-match batting.
McCullum is an enormously talented and exciting batsman, one whom I greatly enjoy watching and whose form will likely turn sooner rather than later. But current Black Caps skipper Daniel Vettori says he wants to hand over the captaincy in two years to McCullum - so it'd be nice if the potential captain of our national side appeared to be a little more mindful of national cricket issues than sodding off to the KFC Big
Maybe I'm being unfair and a little too old-fashioned and there are undeniable changes in modern cricket, whether we like 'em or not. But the platitudes of Otago and New Zealand Cricket do either little credit and look as though they think the combined intelligence of the cricket public is about the same as a dazed wombat.
Just tell it like it is. Brendon's off to make his fortune and there's stuff-all we can do about it except give in and hope he hangs around and maybe becomes a good captain.
If it's such a great deal for McCullum to leave the defending champs behind in order to get to the Champions League, then why not send the whole Otago side to NSW?
Under that logic, that'd be a triumph.By Paul Lewis Email Paul