Venal attitude harms sport

By ANENDRA SINGH sports editor


T20 cricket

THE open-cheque attitude to allowing HRV Cup teams to pick up professional players willy-nilly towards the business end of the season is detrimental not only to the competition, but to the sport.

"It's not benefiting cricket," says Mathew Sinclair, whose criticism comes amid the signing of Brett Lee (Otago Volts) and Aaron Finch (Auckland Aces) just before the Twenty/20 play-offs, which started last night with the semifinal in Wellington.

The Devon Hotel Central Districts Stags batsman is mindful that what he's saying will be perceived as sour grapes after his team finished dead last in the competition with just two wins.

He also understands, rightly or wrongly, why the major associations are embracing such tactics in a bid to claim a berth to the lucrative Club Champions League later in the year.

The Wellington Firebirds beat third-qualifiers Aces by 23 runs last night at the Basin Reserve, on the back of Jesse Ryder's 17-ball 46 to earn the right to play the Volts at the University Oval, Dunedin, in tomorrow's final, from 2pm.

Interests aligned to the Alan Hunt-coached CD Stags tried to lure West Indian international batsman Chris Gayle a few rounds earlier from his Sydney Thunder franchise competing in the Big Bash competition in Australia - but were unsuccessful.

A New Plymouth businessman offered money. But it is understood even if Gayle had agreed, the West Indies parent cricketing body wouldn't have approved it.

"I hear he was a private investor who was more about putting Taranaki on the map through Pukekura Park," says Sinclair of the businessman, whose identity is closely guarded.

The mercenary nature of professional players means Lee and Finch have a chance to go to the club champions league if their Big Bash franchises fail to make the cut.

Sinclair, 37, likened it to former New Zealand captain and CD batsman Ross Taylor last summer playing for his Bangladesh T20 team.

"They pay our association a certain amount of money.

"Twenty/20 has to contend with people coming and going left, right and centre," the Station Napier Old Boys' Marist player says.

Conversely, should the Volts or the Firebirds become champions tomorrow they will have to pay Sydney Sixers bowler Lee's or Melbourne Renegade captain Finch's home franchises a fee to take them to the club champs, provided their IPL franchises in India aren't successful.

"What I can't get over is major associations losing money doing that."

Sinclair questions the viability of acquiring professionals at perceived exorbitant prices at the expense of investing that money in the country to nurture the development of future Black Caps.

With New Zealand Cricket funds channelled to the six major associations, he asks where the money is going considering the use of private investors effectively circumvents the need for major associations.

Sinclair accepts ultimately it's a decision for each association's board on how the money should be invested.

"Some people will say it's healthy to buy these professionals because they will bring people to the grounds," he says, emphasising the need for CEOs, boards and coaches to show a modicum of transparency on the criteria of selection and payment to help grow the "cash cow".

CD have bought predominantly English professionals, with Graham Napier and Peter Trego the latest in the past two summers.

Napier and Trego left prematurely early in the T20 season amid season-ending injuries, posing the question of how players are scouted, especially from the Northern Hemisphere where it is three months out of their cricket season.

Sinclair argues it's perhaps wiser to recruit from Australia where players are more conditioned to New Zealand's needs and fitness levels because of compatible summers. "At least you'll know what you're getting from across the Ditch."

While Trego might have been unfortunate, he believes it remains CD's decision to select players of the mould of Dutch international Ryan Ten Doeschate in Otago's colours.

"I would rather locals get the opportunity but I realise our pool of talent in the country is pretty small."

Sinclair, a former Black Cap, says the schools of thought are divided here, but in Australia, where cricket is the No 1 sport, moves are under way to turn the Big Bash into a bigger tourney than India's IPL, based on the foundation of trust.

"India's big, and India can be corrupt with its dodgy bowling and match fixing, so they are trying to sell a cleaner, trusted and bigger Big Bash in Australia," he says, revealing his brother, Mark Sinclair, 35, of Melbourne, is the Big Bash cricket operations manager for Cricket Australia.

His brother was instrumental in coming up with the neon bails to "add value".

"That's what the public want, so at the end of the day we're just cricketers," Mathew Sinclair says. He points out the derby between Sydney Sixers and Sydney Thunder on January 8 enticed 46,000 spectators through the turnstiles.

Conversely, the CD Stags have had only two games scheduled at McLean Park, Napier this summer - a T20 match against the Firebirds before Christmas and the four-day Plunket Shield match against the Canterbury Wizards starting on Thursday.

"In fairness to Pukekura Park, the fans love their cricket there and turn up in droves to watch."

While the domestic players are the tool for taking cricket forward into a new era, he believes it's also the job of the protagonists in the CD administration to ensure the game isn't marginalised.

"Every time I walk over that white line on the field I'm accountable, so they have to be held accountable, too," Sinclair says.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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