Cricket: Alarm over Bangla raid

By Dylan Cleaver

The Indian Twenty20 circus could pit New Zealand against a troupe of clowns when they visit Bangladesh, but the prospect of more on-field humiliation for Bangladesh is the least of the International Cricket Council's worries.

The loss of 13 Bangladesh players to a 'rebel' league might seem a small crack in the cricket world given the country's struggles to field a competitive side, but its impact is closer to that of a fault-line suddenly opening up in the middle of Lord's.

We're not talking about the Indian Premier League (ICL) stealing the odd high-profile player - most notably Shane Bond - but a country.

"I suppose, without wanting to speak for the ICL, it shows where their model is heading," said Justin Vaughan, who dealt with the threat of the ICL signing New Zealand players including Bond, Craig McMillan and Chris Harris in his first year as New Zealand Cricket chief executive.

He's not willing to concede the ICL is here to stay.

"It does feel as if they're slightly confused. They've made a lot of noises also around youth development and academy structures but this [the Bangladesh raid] obviously indicates they see themselves as broader than India."

There is nothing to stop Zee Telefilms, who bankroll the competition, trying to do the same in Sri Lanka and Pakistan - a pan-Asian tournament, with teams based in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, would be an attractive proposition.

"If you're drawing a logical conclusion, if I was the CEO of Sri Lankan cricket I'd be pretty concerned about the last week," Vaughan said.

That concern could see the Indian Premier League (IPL) throwing more silly money at second-rate Pakistan and Sri Lankan players to keep them, meaning less for more worthy players from other countries, potentially throwing them into the ICL's arms.

This makes the current climate confusing, potentially perilous and ultimately unsustainable though that hasn't stopped IPL founder and BCCI vice-president Lalat Modi acting on the Bangladesh raid with typical haste.

"We will definitely play an active role in helping them [Bangladesh] out," Modi told Cricinfo. "We are looking at adding a few [Bangladesh] players for the next IPL auction. And we are also looking at a team from Bangladesh participating in the Champions League from 2010 onwards."

What a coincidence.

The ICC's willingness to be bullied by the BCCI into imposing sanctions on players who signed with the ICL has been disastrous and ill-conceived.

Even allowing for the fact legal opinion suggests it would take just one player to challenge any ban before those sanctions came crashing down in a shower of "restriction of trade" cases, the rigid stance has failed dismally on two counts:

It has not chased Zee and the ICL out of the sport (and has, in fact, made it tenuous that any one body, no matter how august, can claim 'ownership' over a sport);

It has weakened the standard and stature of the international game.

International cricket has not been made stronger by Shane Bond's absence. New Zealand are worse for it and therefore so is any game they play without their strongest side.

Bangladesh, whose governing body imposed 10-year bans for the Bangla 13, will be the worse for it. Any country that cannot field its best team because of such measures is by definition weaker.

Going against the grain of Bangladesh, India and New Zealand, Sri Lanka yesterday moved to embrace its ICL players by lifting bans from playing domestic cricket.

"It's a very strong message to other boards that have imposed similar bans," ICL convert and former Sri Lanka captain Marvan Atapattu said. "It's a message that the game is not ruled by any single body, and nobody should try to rule the game."

The Indian Premier League, concocted by the BCCI to eliminate the ICL, has done a magnificent job of lining the pockets of the privileged few but has done even more to deepen the division between the contracted haves and the have nots.

Just one Bangladeshi, Abdur Razzak, was signed by Modi and his cronies - and his was a $50,000 contract with Bangalore, chump change by IPL standards.

The Bangla 13 have gone to the ICL for money but trying to turn this into a moral issue - i.e. putting cash before country - is fraught with contradiction and hypocrisy.

Those who have signed with the IPL have done so not for the honour of playing for a franchise owned by one of India's burgeoning caste of billionaires, but for a slice of the cash in those billionaire pockets. The English and West Indian squads are excited not by the concept of a Twenty20 series against each other, but by the riches offered by Sir Allen Stanford.

The ICLers are no greedier than those 'loyal' to their national boards. Slightly more desperate, or even unlucky, perhaps, but no greedier.

And certainly no greedier than the national boards who are pumping a cocktail of steroids into the Twenty20 goose so it may lay as many golden eggs as possible.

Meanwhile, the BCCI have achieved something even they probably couldn't have dreamed of by taking such an inflammatory stance against the 'rebels'.

They have turned Kapil Dev into a kind of patron saint of scorned cricketers.

"This is not South Africa or the apartheid regime, why are our players regarded as untouchables?" he said.

Despite the millions of words written on the subject, nobody has managed to answer that sensibly.

- Herald on Sunday

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