A New Kind of Cricketer
So what are to make of the latest revelations about England’s number one talisman? Times are certainly busy for Fred Flintoff, not only has he played a big part in helping England win back the Ashes, but he has also decided to single-handedly revolutionise the way players are thought of in the global marketplace of cricket. Free agency, runs for cash, and television bungee-jumping…boy…let’s just catch our breath for a moment.
I guess it really was inevitable that the game would come to this. Having been recently offered a cricketing contract by his country, Andrew Flintoff has decided that he would be a much smarter businessman if he acted as a cricketing ‘sole-trader’. So, he has let England know that he is available for selection, but only when he decides, and if they wish to pick him, then they can literally pay cash for each appearance. The ramifications for England, and the game on a whole, are enormous.
But, before we get into that further, it is important to place this saga in a historical context. The introduction of franchise based T20 has already had a marked effect on the game, and although we have never had a situation where a player has knocked back an international contract, there have certainly been many players who have been NOT offered a contract, based on their choice to earn the big bucks on offer in the T20 format. The New Zealand team is the first that immediately comes to mind. Many of its players decided to join the ‘rebel’ ICL tournament, and were immediately thrown out of their national team. Although not quite at the level of a Fred Flintoff, Shane Bond is a player who promised much, but has been frozen from international cricket because of his wish to earn some extra bucks. Recently he, along with a few others, has been let back into the fold, but their careers have certainly been affected.
Another example of T20’s effect on the players in our beloved game is the inclusion of T20 specialists in the domestic competition in Australia. Unlike the county system, Australian domestic cricket has long held out against an influx of foreign players, preferring to build fine young talent. However, with the local T20 competition (called the KFC Big Bash) taking off, and the top teams getting inclusion in the Champions League tournament, the various State’s have chosen to draft in international talent, such as Brendan McCullum and Younus Khan. There has been a big outcry against this in the local media, as the feeling is that it hurts the game in Australia.
A further example of a form of player agency is the ‘rebel’ cricketing tours of South Africa by Australian players during the Apartheid era. Players, who were not contracted to Australia, chose to tour South Africa, who was officially banned from the ICC at the time. These players were ineligible for national selection due to their choice to play with the team, but did get paid handsomely for the effort.
So we come to Freddie. His management has given a variety of reasons for Fred’s knockback of the central contract, citing reasons such as an ability to earn far more by plying his trade solo, and also wanting to appear in a reality television show where he will bungee-jump (work that one out!), and of course spending time with the family. Who knows what will come of this for Fred, and whether he’ll really be able to play at anywhere near his best after the latest knee injury. But one thing is for certain, he has opened an already-bursting Pandora’s box, and his trail is one that is certain to be followed by players around the world sooner rather than later.
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