Trent Boult gives up central contract, intensifies a debate Cricket

New Zealand Cricket (NZC) has agreed to release Trent Boult from the central contract after the fast bowler communicated his request to spend more time with his family and make himself available for franchise T20 leagues. While this means Boult’s international workload is likely to be reduced, the extent of it is not clear.

NZC CEO David White has gone on record to say that Boult will be available for the T20 World Cup in October-November. “I’d imagine that he will be selected for the T20 World Cup in Australia, because he’s been a big part of our plans and preparation for that,” White was quoted as saying by stuff.co.nz. “It’s fair to say there’s more likelihood of him participating in global events than bilateral cricket.”

In an NZC statement, Boult said: “This has been a really tough decision for me and I’d like to thank NZC for their support in getting to this point. Ultimately this decision is about my wife Gert and our three young boys. Family has always been the biggest motivator for me and I feel comfortable with putting it first and preparing ourselves for life after cricket.”

Already 33, Boult has accepted how this decision could affect his national selection. “I still have a big desire to represent my country and feel I have the skills to deliver at the international level. However, I respect the fact that not having a national contract will affect my chances of selection. Having said that, as a fast bowler I know I have a limited career span, and I feel the time is right to move into this next phase.”

Boult is a left-arm fast bowler, a rare athlete in this day and age. In Boult and Tim Southee, New Zealand have a fantastic new ball pair that has accounted for a record 541 wickets in 65 Tests. Boult is also the No. 1 ODI bowler. Among all the Test teams, New Zealand probably has the smallest pool of multi-format players. And Boult was almost always the first name on the team sheet, regardless of the format. Yet, NZC agreed to let Boult go, probably driven by a mature thought process of letting a professional cricketer decide his means of living while quietly hoping he would be available for the big events.

New Zealand don’t have a franchise league. Their central contracts aren’t on a par with those of India, England and Australia. They have always been realistic about their players’ availability, even willing to let a few players miss the odd game or two because of IPL. But now a top player has given up the central contract to spend more time with his family knowing well that it won’t set him back financially as long as lucrative franchise contracts keep coming his way.

Boult’s decision is not surprising. In 2010, Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo turned down the central contracts offered by the West Indies’ cricket board as it required them to be available round the year. The Kolpak deal in England came as a blessing for a host of South African and Zimbabwean cricketers unsure about their international future. Much before them, Caribbean players could supplement their meagre wages with county deals, playing cricket in England in the summer. Cricket was less hectic and barely yielded enough turnover those days so the cricket boards didn’t mind.

But now, India, England and Australia want to protect their interests at all costs. That is why Cricket Australia (CA) is reportedly unwilling to let Chris Lynn play in the new UAE-based ILT20 because it clashes with the Big Bash League, although Lynn is yet to secure a BBL contract.

BCCI too has a strange policy where women cricketers are allowed to play in leagues like the WBBL and The Hundred but no male cricketer—contracted or not—can play in foreign leagues. The lack of a strong players’ association is the biggest reason why BCCI has been able to maintain this stranglehold. Currently, BCCI is walking a tightrope, awarding huge contracts to Test specialists like Cheteshwar Pujara while trying to roll out player contracts at the state association level.

But with more players emerging from a well-oiled grassroots system, supply has already exceeded demand. Some T20 specialists may want to play elsewhere if they can’t play for India. With the game becoming more global due to the advent of private leagues, it may become harder to hold cricketers from taking a call on their careers. Boult’s decision reinforced that.

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