Cricket is becoming a battleground. Not in the usual sense of the confrontation between batsman and bowler out on the field, but in the boardrooms of the counties and between international cricketing administrations.
As Twenty20 becomes yet more popular and lucrative, everybody is jumping on the bandwagon and seeking to make their own plays for local and international power.
In England some pressed for a structural overhaul of the present system, either to move to combining counties or to move to a franchise system for any new T20 competition. Others, mainly the county chairmen, fought desperately to protect the existing structure of 18 counties.
Why? Because they want to see the windfall that is associated with T20 coming directly to their counties rather than being another income stream for the ECB to be doled out as the national board sees fit.
The in-fighting has left a bitter taste. Traditionalists fear for the future of the longer game. Modernisers fear missing out on the opportunity to make changes that might generate new forms of revenue.
On the international stage this fight has taken a step further. The politicking between national boards threatens to disrupt the planned T20 Champions League (though, like football’s equivalent, the inclusion of “runners-up” does make the title somewhat ironic).
The Indian board and tournament organisers are throwing their weight around. They want nothing to do with any teams who include players who appeared in the rival ICL T20 league.
This reads as something of sour grapes that someone unofficial came up with a successful concept. It could also be seen, however, as an attempt to ensure that the Indian board recover their monopoly of all serious revenue-drawing cricket in the country.
Make it difficult for players to benefit from playing in the ICL because they are then barred from the Champions League, and suddenly the lure of the ICL becomes much less. It gives the IPL an additional edge that it didn’t necessarily need, but at the same time penalises players who took the initiative and committed to the ICL.
Is this fair? No, of course not. There’s no legitimate reason to bar these players from the Champions League tournament. It’s merely politics.
With the political power that the Indian board now wields internationally, they are taking advantage of a strong position to dictate terms to the rest of the world. Neo-colonialism turned on its head, if you will.
However much you may dislike the European Union’s rulings on player movement and restraint of trade that have brought about changes to football and cricket through the Bosman and Kolpak cases, this is the sort of case they should be more interested in.
It’s a legitimate case for restraint of trade, potentially for any county concerned (and Kent may be affected by this, having two ICL players in their squad that lost the T20 final to Middlesex this weekend), but specifically for the players.
To me, either the players are good enough (and therefore should be playing and providing the best possible tournament) or they aren't. There's nothing about their participation in the ICL that makes them less worthy.
That's the whole point of selecting the winners (and runners-up) of the national T20 tournament to participate in the Champions League. The likes of Justin Kemp and Azhar Mahmood should be exactly the sort of players that would exhilarate the fans and help make the tournament a success!
But some national boards have already backed down in the face of the threat from India—Shane Bond was removed from the New Zealand team for the simple crime of committing to the ICL. The Australian and South African boards seem not to be making a fuss about this injustice, probably because none of their (teams) players are affected.
The ECB have not yet delivered an ultimatum nor bowed to the pressure. The current situation is still in limbo, as horse-trading goes on both publicly and behind the scenes to find a resolution.
There is still hope of a compromise, though Lalit Modi, the vice-chairman of the Indian board and prime mover behind the Champions League, has given little in the way of encouragement.
So, a message to the ECB: Don’t bow to these demands, but please, please provide a structure for English cricket that works for everybody.