Why BCCI’s Policy Regarding Indians Playing Foreign T20 Leagues is Feudal, Selfish and Hurting Cricketers

On one hand, BCCI uses Indian players to drive forward the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL), while on the other it continues to bar them from playing in foreign T20 leagues due to its own financial interests.

t’s about respect, it’s a fight for respect”

Suresh Raina minced no words while talking to his former India teammate Irfan Pathan recently on the topic of out-of-favour players not being allowed to play in foreign T20 leagues by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). It is well known that BCCI doesn’t allow Indian players to take part in foreign T20 leagues even as some of the biggest global stars grace the country each year for the annual blockbuster known as the Indian Premier League (IPL).

“I wish BCCI plans something with ICC or the franchises that Indian players who don’t have a contract with the BCCI are allowed to play outside. At least allow us to play in two different foreign leagues. If we play quality cricket in terms of foreign leagues, then it would be good for us. All international players make a comeback by playing in all those leagues,” said Raina in an Instagram live video chat with Pathan.

“I would suggest that all those players who are 30 years old and they are not on your radar to play international matches, you should allow them to play in foreign leagues,” added Pathan.

In the past few years, there have been a number of cases of well known Indian players being declined no-objection-certificates (NOCs) by the BCCI to play in the Australian Big Bash League along with English and South African T20 competitions. These NOCs are standard practice and even foreign players are required to get them from their respective boards before playing in the IPL or any other such league. But the BCCI has used them to encroach upon their own players’ rights while continuing to benefit from those of foreigners.

Legally, according to one of the IPL clauses, Indian players are free to participate in foreign T20 leagues after obtaining “an express no-objection certificate from the IPL.” But as we have seen in the case of Harbhajan Singh, Yusuf Pathan and many others, NOC seems to be an acronym for ‘No-chance’ as far as BCCI is concerned.

BCCI’s motive

Last year, Yuvraj Singh and Manpreet Gony had to retire from international cricket in order to get a nod from the Board to play in Global T20 Canada. Before them, Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh had to withdraw their names from the players’ drafts of the Caribbean Premier League and The Hundred respectively after BCCI refused to grant them the NOCs. Before that, Irfan’s elder brother Yusuf, who was granted a NOC to play in the Hong Kong T20 league, couldn’t play in the tournament as the BCCI subsequently withdrew its consent. These are just a few of the many cricketers who have been robbed of the chance to showcase and improve their skills outside India by the richest cricket body in the world.

Also, by paying 20% of the overseas cricketers’ IPL contracts to their respective boards, the BCCI has also ensured that their feudal practice continues without much opposition.

While there is no debating the legality of BCCI’s IPL clause, this practice just seems plainly wrong and unfair towards players like Raina and Harbhajan, who only play the IPL in a year after being ruled out of contention from the international side. These players stand to benefit a lot, both financially and skill-wise by playing with different teams and players in conditions different from home. For such players, leagues like the BBL and CPL provide a great opportunity to boost their chances of making a comeback to the national team while also keeping the rest on their toes by increasing the level of competition.

For BCCI though, one of the oft-repeated reasons behind their reasoning is to avoid player fatigue. This certainly holds true for the India regulars but is far from reality when you consider the above players. Even in the case of the current Indian team, the BCCI can limit their exposure to a couple of foreign leagues so as to keep a check on physical and mental fatigue. In this context, a comment made by a BCCI official in response to those of Raina and Pathan is quite revealing of the board’s mindset and clears the air about their real intentions rather than putting up ‘fatigue’ as a front.

Farcical arguments

“One usually finds these views emanating from those who can see the wall of retirement approaching and it’s only natural. That’s their view. It’s the luxury of having the freedom of a tunnel vision with a view to further their own interests and that’s absolutely fine,” IANS quoted a BCCI official as saying recently.

“From the point of view of the board and the interests of Indian cricket, the intent is to ensure a system where the non-contracted players are able to command good value at the IPL auction. Exclusivity is the key,” added the official.

First of all, berating players’ concerns about their future as ‘tunnel vision’ while advocating ‘exclusivity’ doesn’t just reek of disrespect for the said players but also sounds farcical at best. Non-contracted players are not going to command good value at IPL auction unless they keep performing up to a certain level and in the absence of year-round cricket, it is really difficult to achieve as we have seen with the case of Yuvraj and Yusuf.

On one hand, BCCI uses the same players to maximize its own revenue but limits their rights as individuals when they demand more. The interests of Indian cricket can only be best served if players are given the best opportunity to improve their skills and keep doing what they do best. What is clear is that the world’s richest cricket board only seems to have its own financial interest in its mind rather than the players or the game itself.

Lessons from Women

Ask the women players Harmanpreet Kaur, Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues and others who, given a chance to play in English and Australian leagues have improved vastly on their hitting abilities and game-sense. For BCCI, it was an easy decision as there yet isn’t a Women’s IPL in place.

This is where the absence of a truly representative players body is most felt. While the BCCI last year launched the Indian Cricketers Association with much fanfare, the Board chose not to highlight the founding principle of the body.

The key difference between ICA and the player bodies of other major countries is that the former is only limited to former players – both men and women – as compared to the latter where current players are also represented. The ICA is also not yet affiliated to the Federation of International Cricketers’ Association (FICA). Thus cricketers like Raina and Harbhajan have no recourse available other than speaking out in the public for what seems like a great injustice done to the country’s great players.