Friday, May 27, 2011

Club versus Country

Hello all. It has been a while since I wrote, so here I am again with this mundane but interesting topic.

This isn't the first time I've given thought to this. This question has perhaps been asked a few decades ago and will continue to be asked in centuries that may come. Football has faced this issue for many years now and it comes to me as no surprise that its cricketing equivalent is today undergoing a similar crisis. Yet I feel there is a huge difference between the two sports impact-wise when it comes to answering this ever raging debatable topic of club v/s country.

In football, on an average players spend 8 months of the year playing club football, say about 2 and half months for their country and the remainder is for vacation.
In cricket, on an average players spend about 8 months of the year playing international cricket, about 2 and half months playing for various franchises over the world and the remainder is for vacation.

So in football it is completely valid from a club perspective if they wish to protect their players from getting involved in international footy in summer after gruelling and painfully long season. For e.g. Jack Wilshere who has now established himself as first team player for Arsenal FC and also pushing up for selection for national squad's first team place backing up with lion hearted performances cannot be considered for U21 juniors team. This would demean the progress he has shown so far and would also hamper his performances for the next season. Ultimately a right decision was made by English FA and they agreed with Arsene Wenger in giving rest to Jack Wilshere. In this case club prevailed over country and rightly so.

Now there are also examples where club has had to suffer over players involvement in international matches during mid season. Again if the player gets injured in a 50-50 tacke during a crunch qualifier game, it is understandable. Club has no choice but to stand by the player and take care of his treatment. But when players get injured while playing a nonsense friendly match, it hurts the most to clubs. (recall van Persie's injury at start of the season)
Again this time Arsenal were within their rights to demand injury compensation from Netherlands Board. Because coach Bert van Maarjwik ignored Wenger's suggestions to not play Persie so soon as he was just had one training session at the club.

The performance of the players in major championships like World Cup or Euros sometimes doesnt live upto expectations of fans and the reason given most of the time is the heavy duty league season. In these cases I'd blame the players who are non performing rather than the club or the league system. The team that suffers this syndrome almost every time they walk out on the pitch for championships is England. It is not a case of putting your country first ahead of your club but putting yourself on the line when playing for national team. It is a matter of national pride when players walk out wearing their "3 Lions" jerseys and there is no way reference to club form justifies case for debate.

With expansion of Indian Premier League and more and more players drawn towards the lucrative amount of money being offered, the boards stand no chance of denying players an opportunity to play in IPL. This year some high profile names have come under scanner of choosing IPL rather than playing for country.

Chris Gayle: He was rejected in the auctions. He came to World cup and hardly fired. He was then left out of WI squad for the series against Pakistan citing not fully fit. Thats when Royal Challengers Bangalore decided to offer him a chance to play in this season's IPL. And after that it has been going great for the franchise. He is currently the holder of Orange Cap. And else where his team have lost in ODI and Test Series against Pakistan. Club got benefits where as country bad patch in cricketing arena continues.

Lasith Malinga: He is Mumbai Indians mainstay bowler. Without him MI wouldnt have made as far as they have in tournament. He is the holder of Purple cap with those toe crushin yorkers. When Sri Lankan cricket board asked their IPL players to return back in order to be ready for English Summer, Malinga decided to retire from test cricket. He did this in order to prolong his ODI and T20 career. Once again club's gain could be country's loss.

Virender Sehwag: He has been carrying a niggling shoulder injury all through the world cup. He has been carrying aggravated shoulder injury throughout IPL. Yet he played a scintillating knocks for Delhi Daredevils to take them to brink of qualification for play offs. But it was too late then. Ultimately his team got relegated to last spot in the table and with few matches left Sehwag decided he will go to Germany to get operated on his shoulder. Now the questions were raised why he did not do it after the WC which would have allowed him to play the West Indies tour. I mean why? Why ask this question? I really dont think we need him for West Indies tour, it can be taken care by other young Indian prospects. Those shoulders need to be strong enough for the England tour which will be the real test of India's #1 test ranking status.

Gautam Gambhir: Another Delhi boy who carried an aggravated shoulder into IPL and the news came out only after his team KKR got knocked out of play offs. It cannot be a co-incidence. The media is questioning the owners of the club, the player and the BCCI as to why they allowed such a thing to happen. This story has just reached a new high as some sections in media reporting he consumed injections of a banned substance.

My take -

1) Players are paid handsomely well in IPL and there is no way you can take them away from the lure of competition. Many players have found themselves in reckoning for selection in national team because of performances in IPL. Those who want to come and enjoy this carnival of cricket they choose IPL whereas others dont and BCCI/Club owners and fans are fine with it.

2) It's a question of monopoly. Think about it. Are all cricketers from across the world followed with as much excitement as Indian cricketers? Already this season's IPL has seen dip in numbers and there have been only very few exciting matches. On top of that if BCCI had asked top Indian players, sorry I mean the World Cup winning 11, to take rest in order to get available for selection for WI tour-do you think it would have worked? No way. And why are we even questioning the integrity of our Indian players - for God sake they have given us a World Cup to savour for next 4 years. I think media should stop criticizing players and franchises for unnecessarily creating the club v country debate.

Solution -

A seperate IPL window: There are 2 sides to a coin. Similarly if IPL gets a seperate window it would mean other boards will also start their own leagues and would start demanding space to be allocated in ICC's FTP program. This would bring down the demand and huge popularity of IPL and thus BCCI will lose its share of international players. However it definetely seems that T20 is the future of entertainment cricket and there should be a time in year where all the players come together and show case their skills. So the action item must be taken by BCCI and IPL Governing Council to shorten the duration of IPL schedules and still maintain the competitive edge. One certain way is to remove the play offs and finals - give the trophy to the team with most points after end of league.

Before I sign off,
A huge match today between Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore, the winner goes to final to face Chennai Super Kings at their own den. Chris Gayle's form gives RCB an edge over Mumbai's dodgy form but Mumbai have self confidence after last 2 wins. They know they can come back from dead and win a game. I hope they do win the cup this year.
Dhoni, your cabinet is already full with World Cup trophy, leave this one for Sachin. Will' ya?

And for the CL Finals to be followed after IPL Finals - I'd say Go United!!! (sorry typo) Go Barca!!! (sorry typo)... Well neutral :P


  1. Ha ha.

    Good piece Suhas.

    The IPL could be a real problem for international cricket.I understand players taking the ludicrous sums of money on offer,but test cricket is,and should remain,as the pinnacle of the game.Malinga retiring from test cricket is an astonishing decision.Yet money drives the train.

    International football has long taken a back seat to the equally staggering sums of money the domestic game/champions league generates.I can see a time when international tournaments become under 23 competitions as more and more players chase the loot.

  2. Agree. Leave it to the players for deciding if they should play a particular league match. It is more important to be grateful to players than showing no signs of gratitude, especially just after winning the WC.

    Gayle was not picked up in the national side. I think it is fair he chose that time to play in the IPL.

    Sehwag & GG carried injuries during the WC and yet they played throughout the tournament (thank them for that atleast). After that, I think it is okay if they attend their club duty looking at the money that is at stake. Delhi & KKR both needed these WC winning opening batsmen to fire to win their first IPL title. None of them succeeded, however, they atleast gave it a try. As for being fit to get selected for the WI tournie, guess both these batsmen are senior in the team and might have already decided to rest for this series even before IPL started. I think both batsmen took the correct decision.

    Malinga took a decision personal to his career and has the right to do so. It is completely fair, I think, to chose not to play tests if he feels he wants to play more T20s (even though money maybe one of the factors, it is fine!)

    Media is turning out to be a lie in India as they are working hard towards increasing viewership of the channel rather than increasing honesty of the content.