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Cash or country?
by Suresh Menon
Mar 17, 2008
The choice between cash and country is a no-brainer as the Americans say. The IPL has sneezed, and the Test world has caught a cold. Already three stars from the West Indies have decided to put the IPL above their country; five New Zealanders might decide that way too. One Australian player had declared he would not go to Pakistan, and there was relief when the tour was called off owing to the political situation there.

The clash between the traditional and the modern is here, ladies and gentlemen, and it ain’t a pretty sight.

England star Kevin Pietersen has been telling anyone willing to listen that he will never succumb to lucre, that there is no honour greater than playing for the country etc. Makes one suspicious. Emerson gave us the context years ago - The louder he talked about his honour, the faster we counted the spoons. Perhaps, we do Pietersen an injustice, even if he (or his PR agency) is making a virtue of necessity. England players without central contracts are probably grateful for being ignored - they can sell their loyalty to the IPL.

Even before a ball has been bowled, therefore, the IPL has already turned the world upside down. It is not the money itself, but the pursuit of money that leads to trouble. International teams will be divided as the IPL stars cause heartburn. We saw that happen after the Packer players returned to their national sides.

Last year, New Zealand were thrashed in South Africa in a Test series where they never once made even 200 runs in an innings, as well as in the one-dayers where they won the middle game of three. Nestling among the reasons for the dismal show - poor fielding, weak middle order, lack of replacement for opener Mark Richardson - was one that has become almost a cliché in modern cricket, the favourite complaint of the players. “Not enough practice matches.”

New Zealand next tour England, where they begin with a match on April 27 and play three first class games before the first Test at Lord’s on May 15. This time, however, skipper Daniel Vettori thinks the preparation is too elaborate. If he (and four of his teammates) had their way, the tour would begin on May 5 or even later. Anyway, says Vettori, “We go on most tours and have no warm up games.”

So what has changed in four months? The answer: IPL, commencing on April 18. Vettori himself stands to lose around half his $625,000 fee while Kyle Mills, Brendon McCullum, Jacob Oram and Ross Taylor will also lose. Oram has already postponed his wedding to take in the IPL. Perhaps he argued he could now afford to give his fiancée a more expensive ring.

When Australia tour the West Indies around the same time, they will face an opposition further weakened by the absence of Chris Gayle, Shivnaraine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan who have opted for the IPL instead.

While the New Zealand Board is trying to work out a deal with its players, the West Indies Board chief Donald Peters has said, “We won’t try to stop them because they will go anyway.” The ‘No Objection’ certificate from the board is as good as signed.

There is something very sad about all this - in cricketing terms, India is the sole super power; Australia and perhaps England may be first world countries. The rest are third world, and dependent on handouts for survival. The IPL takes some of the pressure of paying the players from the struggling boards. The price might be paid by Test cricket.

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