Restricting players to two T20 leagues a year, as the PCB has done, could amount to “unlawful restraints of trade”, according to FICA (the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations), the global players’ body. And even as the PCB finally sought to explain the rationale behind the policy, the restriction has also raised concerns among a number of player agents, who believe this could hurt the national side’s cause.
The PCB’s policy, announced yesterday restricts their centrally-contracted players to playing only two leagues per season including the Pakistan Super League (PSL). On paper, it means in-demand cricketers such as Shadab Khan and Rumman Raees can only play in one league other than the PSL in a year.
“Blanket restrictions on players from playing in T20 leagues, which limit their ability to earn a living as professional cricketers, is not the answer to fundamental issues with the structure of the game,” Tony Irish, FICA’s executive chairman, told ESPNcricinfo. “Structural change is needed. Although one needs to respect a country’s right to manage workload of its contracted players this isn’t achieved by one blanket restriction applying to all players. As we have seen in other countries this type of arbitrary restriction is more likely to result in players electing not to sign national contracts, or to retire from international cricket.
“They are then lost to the international game. Once players are out of contract there is no legal basis to restrict them, even under ICC regulation, and such restrictions are likely to constitute unlawful restraints of trade under the laws of most countries.”
Pakistan’s players do not have a players’ association so FICA has no jurisdiction in the matter as such. And recent history between the two organisations is not especially cordial. But, as FICA recognised, apart from Pakistan players not having a united voice, they are among the lowest paid international cricketers (as a survey by The Cricket Monthly showed.)
The PCB explained that the policy was a result of an especially busy international season of cricket. “If we look at our calendar year until 2019 World Cup we are going to play 28 ODIs, 14 T20s, 8 Tests and for this we need to manage the workload,” Haroon Rasheed, director cricket operations, said in Karachi. “We all thought that in terms of workload we have to limit our players in foreign leagues because you already have limited resources available in ODI and T20 so God forbid if anyone got out injured for a longer period of time then our World Cup campaign would be affected.”
Rasheed acknowledged, however, that the policy would be reviewed on a regular basis. “We have an exception or rule as well for those who only play T20 format,” he added. “To deal with special cases not covered under the rules, i.e for exceptions, a four-member committee will decide to issue NOC for players’ participation in any additional league.”
Though the exceptions clause suggests a way out of a blanket restriction – it could effectively mean continuing with a policy of NOCs issued on a case-by-case basis – agents who represent Pakistani players have expressed concern. After their Champions Trophy win and a rise to the top of the T20I rankings, a number of Pakistani players were in demand in most leagues other than the IPL last year. But even then, the PCB suddenly revoked NOCs of 13 Pakistan players participating in the CPL and the English domestic circuit, to participate in the National T20 Cup. That was slotted to take place in August but eventually did not go ahead then, leaving all stakeholders frustrated.
“Pakistan players are prominent in T20 leagues around the world and this limit is going to hurt both players and PCB,” one player agent told ESPNcricinfo. “Other countries all have the option of the IPL. I can understand there’s a lot of cricket happening these days and players have a human limit. But a blanket approach of limiting 35 guys is harsh. If there’s no national duty and it’s possible to play three leagues, why would we limit it? Unless our first-class competes with world level, which is not the case.”