Opinion: Narine's club-over-country choice a sign of the times
Club over country or pocket over patriotism, call it what you want, but Sunil Narine will not be the last man to turn adjust his priorities in a cut-throat professional era.
Sunil Narine made a choice to play in the IPL final rather than flying to the West Indies to join up with the Test squad ahead of their series against New Zealand.
He was due to be back in the West Indies by 1 June, the same day was the final of the Indian T20 behemoth was due to take place. This decision to choose club over country has caused some furious responses.
Former New Zealand Test player Martin Crowe tweeted that it was a disgrace that Narine had made that call, a tweet that he subsequently deleted. He was not alone in his condemnation of the spinner's decision. People want to believe that representing your country, especially in Tests, is the pinnacle of any players career.
This is only true if the players still believe it. In football that attitude is already one that has gone the way of the <a href='http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ascension_Flightless_Crake' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><u>Ascension Flightless Crake</u></a>. Footballers regularly sit out of international games because of injuries that are similar to the imaginary ones that prevented me from playing rugby in secondary school. The reason for this is money. A player's income in football is derived from his club.
In cricket this has not been the case. The money in the sport has trickled down from the international team with the structure funded to create players for the Test team. County cricket exists to produce England players, the Sheffield Shield is all about creating new possessors of Baggy Green caps.
Franchise T20 has changed this, and as ever those that run the game have been slow to catch up. Now it is not the pay cheque from the national board that is the earnings pinnacle. Instead the IPL is where a player can be made for life. Narine has done very well out of the franchise T20, not least in India.
When he got his first contract with Kolkata Knight Riders he had played three ODIs for the West Indies. His selection more to do with his impressive performances for Trinidad and Tobago in the T20 Champions League than anything he did for the his international team.
While he is a product of the West Indies system he would be justified in thinking that Kolkata have given him as much as the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) ever has. The Knight Riders are the ones that made him a global star that can command massive salaries around the world. They are the ones that pay him six times what he earns he earns from the WICB in a year.
It is the WICB that are forcing Narine to choose. He wants to come to the training squad and has asked if he can arrive a day late to play in the final. The board have told him no. This may well be a line in the sand. Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo signed a central contract with the board for the first time in three years back in January.
This represented a warming of relations between the players and the boards. Gayle and Bravo made the decision they were better placed without a deal with the WICB, but the contracts came with a steely edge. There is a "West Indies First" policy implemented by their Director of Cricket Richard Pybus. They say there will be a "prioritisation of Test cricket as the pinnacle of West Indies cricket and its protection through priority team selection and strategic scheduling."
This is the first time that a clash between T20 leagues and West Indies has happened since those contracts have been signed, and you can understand why the WICB don't want to be seen as blinking first. The issue is it is not a battle that the board can win. The world has changed. Narine and players like him don't need the administrators to make a living any more. A new settlement between the two sides is needed.
While the richer boards are less likely to face this, the time will come when they will. For now England, Australia and India pay enough to mean players are extremely unlikely to walk away from international commitments. For the smaller boards this is their reality.
As much as those that spend their time watching this game want Tests and internationals to mean the most, cricket is just a job. A short lived career that will be over in a maximum of 20 years. It is a great job full of brilliant perks, but it is still a way people make their living.
While some employees will remain loyal to their company, others will seek out different opportunities. Neither approach is wrong, and demonising someone for making a call one way or the other is incredibly short sighted.
So Narine had a decision to make. Should he return to the West Indies for a training camp for a two Test series against New Zealand. A series that has every chance of being badly attended and of low intensity.
There is also a good chance that Narine will not even get a game in these Tests. There are two other spinners in the training squad, both of whom have a better Test record than Narine. Or should he stay in India an extra day to play in the final of the biggest T20 tournament in the world in front of a sold out crowd and a worldwide TV audience.
While cricket administrators continue to try and squeeze international cricket into the calendar like a man trying to get an elephant in the back seat of his car this situation will only get worse. Narine will not be the last player faced with this choice. He will not be the last to turn his back on Tests.
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