The race to sign players for competing Twenty20 cricket tournaments is heating up.
As previously reported, the UAE’s new ILT20 franchise competition is set to launch in January 2023 and be completed in mid-February.
Within the same timeframe, four other T20 tournaments are scheduled: Australia’s Big Bash League, the Bangladesh Super League, the Pakistan Super League, and the new Cricket South Africa T20 franchise league. This creates an unprecedented collision of high-reward franchise cricket.
Each of the tournaments claim that a key objective is to develop local talent, yet it is the overseas players who will attract the viewers. These top players come at a price and there are not enough of them.
Prior to a ball being bowled, ILT20 is aiming to be the second best after the Indian Premier League. If the measure is money, then it is making a handsome start. Rumors suggest that top players could be offered $450,000, via a combination of wage and loyalty bonus.
This compares with highest player incomes in the IPL of around $2 million per season, of $250,000 in the BBL, $200,000 in the PSL, and $160,000 in England’s Hundred competition.
Six teams will play in ILT20, all owned by Indian franchises, three of which are existing IPL owners. Each team will have 18 players, of whom 12 can be overseas, at least three must be UAE players, two from other associate countries, and one UAE under-23 player. A playing 11 will be allowed up to nine overseas players, plus one UAE, and one associate player. The salaries on offer fit into nine levels, from $40,000 for one player only, down to $10,000 for six players.
How the franchises will select and obtain their players is still to be finalised. It is understood that the original intention was through a combination of auction and a draft of up to five players. An overall team salary cap of around $2.5 million is thought to have been established and a minimum of $1.5 million. This may be subject to change, to provide flexibility in the competition for players with other tournaments, particularly the South African venture, where the franchises are also all Indian owned.
Here, finalization of player selection format, wage levels, and dates are awaited. Rumors of $300,000 for the leading players are circulating.
There is some difference between the two tournaments. Compared with the UAE, South Africa has a larger pool of high-quality domestic talent to draw upon. This is reflected in squad and team composition. There will be 10 South African players in each squad of 17, with seven local players, and four overseas players in each playing 11.
The sight of Indian franchisees competing for a limited pool of the world’s top male cricketers to play in countries outside of India, whilst India’s own top cricketers are forbidden by their own board from playing in them, has a bizarre feel to it.
This feeling is amplified by the impact on the participation of some of these players in other tournaments, most notably the BBL. There is concern in Australia that some players may play in the first half of the BBL and then move on to either South Africa or the UAE.
If they are contracted to their national board, they require a no-objection certificate to be released to play in such tournaments. However, they may be part of an IPL franchise and, if the owner is one of those holding a franchise in the UAE or South Africa, the players may find themselves under some pressure to join that franchise, instead of one in which the Indian franchisee has no interest.
Globe-trotting, freelance cricketers are a new phenomenon, and their numbers are likely to be swelled by the demand from the tournaments in early 2023. It will be tempting for contracted international cricketers who are coming toward the end of their careers or are on the fringes of their international team, to join this group.
In a further sign of the times, Cricket South Africa decided to disallow its team to play three one-day internationals in Australia in January 2023, so that the players will be free to participate in the domestic T20 franchise tournament. This jeopardizes South Africa’s chances of qualifying automatically for the 2023 ODI World Cup. It seems that international cricket is experiencing yet another tectonic shift.
In the 1960s, 60, 50, and 40 overs cricket shook the game out of a staid format that evoked little interest outside of traditionalists and was in poor financial shape. The shorter formats attracted spectators and sponsorships, including tobacco companies, but the players were not well remunerated.
It took a revolution in the shape of Australian TV magnate, Kerry Packer, to challenge and change cricket’s establishment administrators in 1977. His World Series Cricket attracted many of the world’s best cricketers and paid them well, leading to a trickle-down effect for cricket’s journeymen.
In 1977, an established English international cricketer could expect to earn around $9,700 (£8,000) from a combination of England appearances, an overseas winter tour, and a county contract. A decade later, the potential had risen to $43,000, plus various endorsements and win bonuses. An average county professional could receive around $9,700 more at a successful county. At current values, these equate to around $122,000 and $30,000, respectively.
Today, the minimum wage for a county cricketer aged over 24 is $29,000. Established professionals earn between $60,000 and $122,000, depending on status and age.
It is at the top levels where earnings have grown fastest. England’s contracted top players earn between $850,000 and $1.09 million per year. Those who play franchise cricket will more than double that amount. India’s top cricketers earn even more, largely via substantial product endorsements.
In this environment, it is little wonder that players are so keen on the expansion of T20 franchises and that franchises are scrambling to offer opportunities to the limited pool of top players.