This, by no means, is an attempt to invalidate Boult’s wish to spend more time with his young family. He has been taking breaks to be with his family and also fighting injuries for a while now. But he is able to make such a move because he has the financial security of the T20 leagues.
And more power to him for that.
This is a significant moment in the rapid process of normalising not sacrificing it all for an international career. A realisation that what once used to be the ultimate dream – a central contract, 100 Tests, 400 wickets, world titles, the satisfaction of winning an away Test series – can seem like shackles to some. And that it is okay to break those shackles. To Boult, this realisation has dawned at a point where he is already a superstar of the game; to some others, it might come sooner.
Amid all this, uneasily sits the ICC with its stated aim of spreading the game as equitably as possible, but with its hands tied by the decision-making member boards who want to make the most out of the sport
The choice is becoming easier by the year. A league is played over a month or two, you have a home base, it is easier to travel with your family, and you make more money in that period than what your central contract is worth. And it’s not just the money. It is the high regard that the players and fans hold these leagues in. The IPL is more difficult to win than a limited-overs World Cup, and is watched by more people. Bilateral international tours, on the other hand, are bloated, involve a lot of travel, can lack context, and, in the case of certain teams, come with ugly jingoism from fans when they lose.
On the surface, it is not an awful news for cricket. More cricketers, more money for those cricketers, more cricket for the fans. Unlike football, though, these leagues are merely consumers of talent; they don’t contribute to developing them.
Nor is the drain evenly spread. New Zealand, West Indies and Pakistan will lose more players to the leagues than the big three. It all contributes to serving the self-fulfilling prophecy that Test cricket will become an elitist, exclusivist sport. It is not too far-fetched to imagine a not-too-distant future in which the best athletes and the most gifted cricketers prioritise T20 cricket from a young age at the expense of first-class cricket.
Amid all this, uneasily sits the ICC with its stated aim of spreading the game as equitably as possible, but with its hands tied by the decision-making member boards who want to make the most out of the sport. For the moment, it has squeezed in a world event every year to both ensure a significant revenue and to keep smaller teams in the fray.
Neither the boards nor the ICC might want to say it, but the cricket calendar is rushing towards a breaking point.