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NEW DELHI: The prospect of Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises becoming primary employers of foreign cricketers over their national boards is moving closer with multi-tournament contracts already being offered to some players.

Eight of the IPL’s 10 franchises own at least one team in another league abroad and the owners of Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals have both acquired teams in new T20 tournaments in South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

“Some players have been offered multi-club deals,” Neil Maxwell, Australia’s most prominent player agent, told Reuters. “The cricket landscape is changing rapidly and already contracting an Australian player has taken a different format.”

The growing number of T20 leagues offering lucrative contracts to the game’s best talent means national teams are sometimes having to play second fiddle.

West Indies have struggled for years to field their best players due to scheduling clashes.

And the situation is only likely to worsen for national boards as they struggle to match the multi-league contracts offered to their star players by private franchise owners.

A clear indication of the IPL’s expanding footprint came last year when its franchises snapped up all six teams in the lucrative T20 league in South Africa.

The Indian conglomerates now want their best overseas recruits to represent them in multiple leagues and, according to the Cricinfo website, informal conversations have begun with players from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies.

None of the IPL franchises contacted by Reuters would confirm offers have been made but some cricket boards are already taking defensive measures to protect their talent.

Cricket Australia last month announced a 7.5% pay increase for its centrally contracted players, while also raising the salary cap in its Big Bash League.

The England and Wales Cricket Board is planning to increase match fees and offer multi-year contracts to key players to retain its top talent.

Maxwell, who manages Australia captain Pat Cummins and fast bowler Josh Hazlewood, said boards were offering longer-term contracts for the first time as a “result of competition”.

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“This will evolve again as players get more and more choice as to when and where they play.”

Cummins is not surprised at how fast the landscape is changing and told Fox Sports: “ … there’s going to be other opportunities that are going to be really hard for players to say no to, different franchises around the world“.

“I think realistically we’ve got to manage players a bit differently to what we have in the past.”

Tipping point

Maxwell drew a parallel with soccer and likened the financial might of the IPL to the English Premier League (EPL), whose clubs employ the cream of international talent.

“Cricket has traditionally survived off country v country competition - this is not sustainable in the long term,” he said.

“The landscape is changing, similar to the EPL system where playing for the club is the priority.” Cricket writer Nicholas Brookes, whose ‘An Island’s Eleven: The Story of Sri Lankan Cricket’ was Wisden’s Book of the Year in 2023, agreed with the football analogy.

“Clearly, the game is reaching a tipping point with franchise T20 fast becoming the dominating format, and all other forms of cricket left fighting for scraps,” he told Reuters.

“I think we’re probably heading towards a similar situation to football, where the franchise sides become like Premier League clubs, and where international cricket is marginalised to preordained windows.”

While the likes of World Cups and the Ashes series would retain their eminence, players prioritising the franchise T20 game over regular bilateral cricket was not “totally implausible”, Brookes added. The Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations (FICA) has long identified the potential conflict between T20 leagues and international cricket.

FICA’s Chief Executive Tom Moffat told Reuters it has been advocating for a fixed global schedule so the two can co-exist, an initiative he believes has become more urgent as private ownership across leagues has accelerated in the last 18 months.

“This would likely be best achieved through formal scheduling windows, which we know players are supportive of,” Moffat said.

One major board not losing any sleep over the changing landscape is the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), whose coffers are filled with the proceeds from the IPL and which bans its own players from competing in overseas leagues.

But even that long-standing policy might come under pressure given the ambition of the IPL franchise owners to expand their global footprint, said Brookes.

“It will be interesting to see how things play out between the BCCI and the Indian franchise owners in the years to come – as it seems like there could be a conflict brewing there,” he said.

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