T20 franchise leagues: ICC mulls hard cap of four overseas players in XI

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An ICC working group has recommended that no more than four overseas players, including those retired from international cricket, should feature in playing XIs in T20 franchise leagues. It has also recommended that playing XIs include a minimum of four local players, and that boards be paid a 10% release fee for allowing their players to take part in overseas T20 leagues.

The recommendations are aimed at fighting the player drain that several Full Member countries face due to the exponential growth of T20 leagues.

These recommendations, which were first reported in The Telegraph (UK) on Tuesday, will be further examined at the ICC’s chief executives committee (CEC) meeting during the global body’s annual conference, which is scheduled to take place in July in Durban. First approval must come from the CEC before it is presented to the ICC Board to ratify.

Once approved, the recommendations will apply uniformly across all T20 leagues. Currently, only the International League T20 (9), Major League Cricket (6) and CPL (5) allow more than four overseas players in the playing XI.

The working group met during the World Test Championship final in London last week. During discussions, some members argued that domestic leagues should be geared towards the development of – and opportunities for – homegrown players. And in case the local player pool is shallow, as is the case with the UAE-based ILT20, where a minimum of two local players is mandatory, then some local players’ spots could be filled by players from Associate teams.

A counter view was that franchises and broadcasters invest money in leagues like the ILT20 and MLC and that they are ultimately a commercial venture, which requires putting out an optimum product – with the best players involved. In the last year, owners of IPL franchises have invested in overseas leagues including all six teams in SA20, three in ILT20 and four in MLC which will launch its inaugural season on July 13. In addition, Avram Glazer, co-owner of Manchster United, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella have bought teams in ILT20 and MLC respectively.

Multiple IPL team owners, including Kolkata Knight Riders’ Shah Rukh Khan, own teams in other leagues as well•PTI

With the money on offer rivalling retainer fees paid by most boards outside of the Big Three (Australia, England and India), some working group members pointed out that, with several leagues running parallel and without a hard cap on overseas players, several boards could be in danger of an exodus, with players releasing themselves from central contracts or retiring early. Trent Boult and Jason Roy are two high-profile examples of that.

‘Unfair competitive advantage’

There was also an opinion in the the working group that emerging leagues like ILT20, Global T20 Canada (relaunching this July) and MLC had an “unfair competitive advantage” by luring top players from Full Member boards and turning those tournaments into a “poor man’s World Cup.” These emerging leagues, unlike those run by Full Member boards, did not need to invest in infrastructure and talent pathways including age-group cricket, first-class cricket and A team cricket, instead simply hiring players for leagues and handing them back.

In 2018, Cricket West Indies’ CEO Johnny Grave prepared a paper on the growing influence of T20 Leagues wherein he warned that cricket would be in “jeopardy” unless the ICC and the Full Members found ways to keep international cricket top-priority.

In 2019, the ICC CEC discussed setting a cap of five overseas players per XI in T20 leagues, though members rejected the option. But some of those objectors have reignited the debate. At the ICC annual conference in Birmingham in 2022, the PCB, along with several other Full Members, raised strong concerns over the nine overseas player slots in ILT20 XIs.

After last year’s AGM, ICC CEO Geoff Allardice told ESPNcricinfo that there had been no “hard cap” on overseas players in XIs when the global body had cleared the ILT20.

Trent Boult opted out of an NZC central contract to be able to feature in more T20 leagues•Associated Press

Recently, Wasim Khan, the ICC’s general manager of cricket, said ways would need to be found for international cricket and T20 leagues to “co-exist”. Khan sits on the ICC’s working group, which also includes Arun Dhumal (IPL chairman and BCCI representative on ICC’s CEC), Johnny Grave (Cricket West Indies CEO), Nick Hockley (Cricket Australia CEO) and Mubashir Usmani (Emirates Cricket Board secretary). In the London round of meetings, England and Wales Cricket Board CEO Richard Gould and outgoing New Zealand Cricket CEO David White attended as invitees.

10% solidarity fee

The working group also looked at a potential stipulation that will force boards hosting T20 leagues to pay a 10% release fee to players’ home boards every season.

The IPL has been paying release fees since its inception – the BCCI pays boards a minimum 10% release fee per player. Other leagues, too, have negotiated similar amounts in bilateral agreements with fellow boards, in order to obtain no-objection player certificates.

In the 2018 paper, the CWI had recommended a 30% release fee to obtain NoCs but the working group believed 10% was a realistic figure. Such a release fee (the group calls it a solidarity fee) would need to be arranged by the host board conducting the T20 league. Associate boards, howeveer, could find this difficult considering the limited funding they get from the ICC.

Passing the onus to the franchise, at least one working group member said, wouldn’t be easy, since no such clause might exist in current contracts. The other solution, the group suggested, would involve deducting it from the player’s fee.

The discussion will now be picked up by the CEC at the July meeting. While the status quo is likely to continue for now, the working group is clear on one aspect: leagues that have already received ICC clearance, such as the ILT20 and MLC, could be given an allowance to fill in the remainder of overseas slots with retired or Associate players, but any leagues sanctioned in the future will need to satisfy the new regulation as and when they are greenlit.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo

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