Who can denounce cricketer exodus?
Earlier this week, there was a story on television where local cricketers are complaining about the lack of earning opportunities in Senior Cup cricket in Jamaica. The concern is real, and is something that I can speak to with some authority.
A lot of our top local cricketers are facing a dilemma. Our Senior Cup season usually lasts approximately two months. Those two months quite often coincide with cricket elsewhere in the world.
As was pointed out by the players in that television piece, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for our best players to stay here and play for two months for nothing, while there are opportunities for them to earn elsewhere. As one player revealed, he could earn as much as US$300 per game playing in the States. If he plays one game every week (and quite often, they do more), that's US$1,200 per month. That is upwards of J$145,000 monthly.
The Jamaica Cricket Association currently has a policy that you must make yourself available to your club or parish for a majority of the Senior Cup season if you are to be considered for national selection. This is where it gets tricky. I know a lot of cricketers who are good enough to make the Jamaica team who chose to play away rather than in the Senior Cup. Indeed, some of them are recent national selections.
Who can blame them for going away? In these harsh economic times, how many people would be prepared to give up upwards of $145,000 for the dream of representing Jamaica? Because a lot of these cricketers chose to go away and play, it has two effects. One, it drops the standard of the competition here; when dozens of your best players go away to play, it does water down the quality of what we do have.
Second, the exodus of our players to these overseas leagues means that there is less pressure on the ones currently involved in the national set-up to perform. If fewer people are competing for your game, it raises the chances of you becoming complacent.
Clearly, our cricket is struggling, and while there is a myriad of reasons, the exodus of some of our top players during our domestic season isn't helping. One's national team is as good as one's club structure, and club cricket in Jamaica is suffering from a talent drain.
I have spoken to several players who feel that staying home and playing in the senior cup, as opposed to going away to play, is a risk that they are not prepared to take. Unlike track and field, which has a more subjective process of selection, a cricketer's fate often lies in the hands of selectors. In other words, there is no guarantee that if you outperform someone, you will be selected for the national team.
Track and field says the first three past the post will represent Jamaica, for example. Athletes can set their sights on knowing exactly what they need to do. Cricket is different. Making runs and taking wickets don't offer any guarantees. The selection process is quite often not straightforward.
Something has to give. If we are serious about our cricket, this situation has to be addressed. Either the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA) must find the funds to ensure our best players have something to look forward to for the season and, therefore, stay home and play, or the rules regarding national selection are relaxed. Maybe the JCA has to find some funding for the clubs to ensure that they can give a stipend to their top players. Otherwise, we should be more understanding if they have to go. In other words, if you know the quality of the player, why punish him for trying to make a living?
Maybe these players who have overseas arrangements should be brought back during the trials and be given an opportunity to showcase their skills to the selectors. It's simple logic that the ones who are playing abroad are among the best you have, otherwise, they wouldn't be having these overseas deals in the first place.
So why not ask a group of them to come back to trials, even if they can't stay for our domestic season. How about monitoring their performances during these overseas stints to see how good they are doing and asking the top performers to come back to trials? In other words, don't guarantee them a game, but ask them to come back during trials to vie for a place with those who stayed.
Why punish our best players who are gone to try earning a living when we have nothing to offer them here? Something has to give!
- Orville Higgins is a talk-show host and sportscaster. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.