Even at 39, Chris Gayle is one of the hottest draws in domestic T20 leagues around the world, more than holding his own in what is considered a young man's game. Franchises might no longer break the bank like they did a few years back when he was smashing sixes for fun, but the Caribbean superstar continues to be much sought after for the entertainment he provides, and for the bums he puts on the seats.
While teams from India to South Africa and England to Pakistan have had him in their lineups, the hard-hitting Jamaican has been almost lost to international cricket. Since the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, Gayle has played a mere 20 One-Day Internationals and 13 Twenty20 Internationals. In the same period, he played a staggering 163 T20s in the Indian Premier League, England's T20 Blast, the Caribbean Premier League, the Bangladesh Premier League, Australia's Big Bash League, the Pakistan Super League, the Afghanistan Premier League and the Mzansi Super League of South Africa.
It's an astonishing skew, especially when one considers that many of his franchise appearances have come when West Indies " now Windies " have been fulfilling international commitments. Club versus country has been a raging debate in the sporting world for a long time. What once used to primarily be a football debate has gradually seeped into cricket, with the flamboyant Caribbean players as the fulcrum.
The proliferation of domestic, franchise-driven T20 leagues was inevitable once the IPL, and then the Big Bash, were overwhelming successes. The multi-million-dollar ownership sums, coupled with the opportunity to make some serious money through sponsorship and broadcast deals, were too big an attraction for member boards to pass up. As these leagues proliferated and assiduously avoided an overlap, the West Indians, who were at loggerheads with their cricket administration, moved away from national duty.
The International Cricket Council, whose approval is a must for these T20 and other short-form leagues to be recognised, was seized of the need to redress this imbalance. The governing body's mandate is to spread the game globally, and these domestic leagues with an international flavour did achieve that objective to a large extent. But, once the T20 leagues started cutting into country versus country showdowns and concerns grew over the sustainability of the game on the international stage, ICC had little option but to address the worries.
However, the mushrooming of domestic leagues is not the only problem. There have been documented instances, notably in the Bangladesh league, of rampant match-fixing and of non-payment of dues to players. It necessitated a reorganisation in 2015 with new team ownership.
The IPL, too, has had its share of controversies. Its founder and chairman, the mercurial Lalit Modi, was ousted in 2010 for indiscipline and misconduct. Some players, including former India paceman S Sreesanth, have been banned for alleged spot-fixing and Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals were suspended for two years for the betting activities of key officials.
Aware of the dangers of the franchise beast feasting on the game, ICC took the first concrete steps towards eventual regularisation of such competitions in June 2018 by establishing a working group to "consider the sanctioning of events and player release".
"These have created challenges to and conflicts with the international playing calendar and often rely on a disproportionate number of international players from foreign countries," ICC chief executive David Richardson said after the recent six-day board meetings in Dubai.
"Poorly resourced and structured leagues are not sustainable in the long-term and may not support or invest in the growth and development of the game. They may also present challenges around corruption, failed leagues and non-payment of players all of which can damage cricket's global reputation."
He said a set of draft regulations had been drawn up to introduce minimum standards for short-form domestic leagues to safeguard cricket's reputation and protect the long-term health of the members.
Whether this can be construed as 'interference' is debatable. ICC is nothing more than a collective of representatives of its member units. The working group, made up of chief executives from four Test-playing nations (including India), an associate nation (Scotland) and a member of FICA, the international players' association, will work over the next several months to formulate regulations that will erect a framework around which all domestic leagues grow. These regulations will require the nod of the ICC board, evidently again comprising members of individual national units, to come into existence.
Cricket finds itself in danger of being tied up in a paradox. While ICC is desperate to take the game far and wide with the T20 format as its preferred vehicle, it also must guard against being overrun by professional leagues whose objectives are unlikely to be as lofty. It calls for a delicate balancing act, one that must be done if the sanctity of the sport at the nation versus nation level has to be maintained. If anything, as the world body, it is the bounden duty of ICC to do so.