The T20 disease

The players don't get paid, but that's a symptom, not the disease

The T20 disease

T20 cricket is thought to be a saviour of the game. While it's certainly good at finding new audiences, if this is a money cow, most of the milk is off.  Outside the leagues in the biggest markets, it's a vicious landscape for anyone trying to make a living.  I feel like this is the most unsaid thing in cricket, but mostly, T20 is a scam.

You see these smaller leagues with their logos, silly team names and social media accounts from a distance and they almost look legit.

But once you're there, nothing is right. Many of them are run by people who do not understand how to stage a tournament. The social media team is some offsite company who churn out factually incorrect content. And the franchises are owned by people who often haven't had their legitimacy checked beforehand.

It's not being run by anyone. The major boards don't want the ICC to be involved in their stuff. And many of them have trouble enough with their local leagues. Once you make them semi international and partly privatised, they can't handle them.  If there was millions or billions on offer,  then companies like IMG (they run IPL, and previously the PSL) get involved and they are run better.  Though still not perfect.

So what you have is a lot of players and support staff (I'm owed from working with two teams) who do the work, and they never get paid.  So I wrote this for Cricinfo about how players are being let down.

But let me break it down real clear.

Players are told they have to be in sanctioned leagues. They can't play in the Japan Premier League unless it has been sanctioned by the ICC (which usually means via the home board). But when team owners don't pay (and sometimes the boards themselves) that sanctioning suddenly means nothing. So the players are ripped off within official leagues.

And there are three problems here.

Brown paper bags

Players in some leagues, Bangladesh Premier League was one, have been offered their legally earned income in a brown paper bag. Let's say you are a player earning 20k for a league, you will most probably not be able to bring that cash back into the country easily. It's also dodgy as all hell and makes people look like they are match-fixers when they aren't. I know of one story involving a player who was in trouble for the authorities when they caught him with too much cash. They could say no to the brown paper bag, but they know doing that might mean they never get paid. And they could take the money and declare it legally. But then they'll lose a substantial portion of it. They're in a terrible situation, so usually, they just take whatever it is, and stuff it in their kit and hope for the best.

Late payments

This doesn't sound that bad, but I'd say this is the biggest problem in the T20 leagues.  As one player said to me, "Do these guys realise we have to pay our mortgages?" It isn't if you will get paid, it's when, but that when maybe months later. I started lining up more jobs than was healthy because of the fear over when I'd get the payments.  The only time I've been paid on time working for a cricket team was with Scotland. All the other jobs, from small consultancy to big leagues have been late. I know one team who were all paid their final payment just before the next year's auction.


Some leagues and owners just don't pay. FICA say it is six leagues. But they don't include the IPL, and some players haven't been paid from Kochi Tuskers. So my guess is there are others out there.  I don't think I need to spell out why this is a problem for cricket.

Everyone in cricket knows about these three problems. No one does anything about them.

But players not getting paid isn't the real issue. It's a problem for many of us who are owed money or are chucking it into their cricket spikes. But the real problem here is the way T20 cricket is run. Or not run.

The leagues are all struggling to stay afloat, making them prime candidates for grifting businessmen. Some better owners even feel let down, by who the other owners are, and often with the fact that these leagues might take years to make them money. The players, support staff and many others aren't paid. The ICC can't control any of it, and yet they have to hear all the complaints.  And home boards are hungry for all this cash and are now finding out that the compromised and real-world problems of going into the capitalist system. Every board is so desperate for their own leagues that many of them will let in owners who shouldn't be involved in cricket. There is no due diligence, just bills due and negligence.

So you have to ask who is even making money off these leagues if no one can afford to pay. Not to mention many get cancelled after a single season, and boards are continually tinkering with them.  I'd say it was a pyramid scheme, except I'm not sure there is anyone at the top. Maybe it's a Ponzi scheme, certainly, some of the smaller leagues have that feel. Even the bigger leagues are copycat IPLs without the market to launch them.

No one has got enough Indians to watch their local league to cash in on that. So you have to build up an entire sporting league from scratch, in a calendar that makes little sense. So take the Big Bash, they don't even have their own major players, nor do they have the best overseas players available. With that in mind, they have done well with it. But, it isn't a license to print money, it's a lot of investment for small gains.

So if that's all the Big Bash can do, what of leagues in Qatar, Europe, Canada, and the 20 odd in UAE. What is the financial plan for them? How are they going to make regular profits (legally) with a tournament that exists for three weeks a year in a market where crowds don't come, and there's no real reason for casual TV or streaming fans to log on while they are constantly up against other cricket?  So far they haven't come up with that answer. Sometimes I look at these leagues, and I wonder what on earth they exist for other than to fix games?

That doesn’t mean there aren’t leagues trying to do the right thing, or everyone who works in T20 is a victim or predator. Even many working at the ICC wish this could be sorted. But I can’t see how it can be fixed, because no one is in charge. The ICC is two things, and neither of those is a governing body. On one hand there are the staff in Dubai, who see all these problems, but have as much power to act as a fourth umpire.  The other version of the ICC is all the boards, a collection of old men who seem to distrust each other and have no clear want to improve the game other than for their team.

While that happens, cricket gets messier every day, and some all rounder from New Zealand who is good enough to get an overseas contract doesn't get paid for working.

T20 is the wild west, and no sheriff is coming to town.