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Freelance T20 Cricket the future? Trent Boult’s break from international cricket sparks debate

Trent Boult opts out of the central contract with New Zealand Cricket siting family reasons. Trent Boult has taken 317 Tests, 169 ODIs and 63 T20I wickets for New Zealand. Trent Boult will play T20 World Cup 2022 happening in Australia.

Trent Boult opts out of the central contract with New Zealand Cricket | Walking Wicket (©Alex Davidson/Getty Images)
Trent Boult opts out of the central contract with NZC (©Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

Ever since ICC World T20 2007 and the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL) season in 2008, the players, broadcasters, team management units and every cricket fanatic around the globe knew right from the outset that this is the future! T20 cricket is here to stay. Three-and-a-half hours of action-packed cricket. Everyone was lured by the unimaginable wealth-making machine that we call "Franchise T20 cricket".

Since the beginning of this format, we have seen not one, not two, not three, but eight different sporting nations endorsing their own franchise T20 cricket league. Such short and fast-paced leagues were nothing short of a Diwali bonanza for the spectators, who, after a long day at work, were glued to the TV screens with a cuppa in the comfort of their homes.

While the plague of T20 cricket was spreading like wildfire, the number of matches played by an average cricketer doubled. The players began to feel the wear and tear generated from jumping from one franchise team to another and then coming back to national duty. Slowly and gradually, cricketers started prioritizing franchise cricket over national duties in order to keep themselves fit and firing for the T20 leagues with the reduced workload.

The trend began with West Indies cricketers and the famous saga between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and franchise league superstars - Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Sunil Narine and Andre Russell - who were neglected by the board for selection as the players prioritized franchise T20 leagues over the proud West Indies maroon. But this was just the beginning of a tale. A long and enthralling tale of the diminishing value and pride which players had while representing their own country, that could possibly bring about the slow death of international cricket.

Trent Boult taken 317 Tests, 169 ODIs and 63 T20I wickets for New Zealand _ Walking Wicket (Source_ ©Getty Images)
Boult taken 317 Tests, 169 ODIs and 63 T20I wickets for NZ (Source: ©Getty Images)

By the numbers: Trent Boult's illustrious Black Caps career

The latest entrant to this list of prioritizing money, oops!! family over cricket has been New Zealand left-arm pacer Trent Boult. The 33-year-old who has represented New Zealand apart from featuring for Rajasthan Royals, Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders, Delhi Capitals and Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League, has snared an excellent 317 wickets in 78 Tests, to go with a haul of 169 in ODIs and 63 in T20 internationals, placing him fourth on New Zealand's all-time wicket-taking list.

Trent Boult's best Test figures of 6-30 came against Sri Lanka in December 2018, when a searing spell of swing bowling saw him take six wickets in 15 balls. In ODIs, Boult's best is the 7-34 he snared against West Indies in a 204-run toweling in December 2017, while in T20 internationals, 4-34 against India remains his high watermark. On 10 occasions, Boult has walked away with a five-wicket bag in Test cricket, the most recent of which came against England at Trent Bridge in June 2022, when he removed Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Matthew Potts on his way to 5-106.

Trent Boult is also no slouch with the bat; he is one of only 20 players to have scored a half-century while batting at no. 11. However, arguably Boult's biggest batting accomplishment was becoming the highest run-scorer at no. 11 in the history of Test cricket. He claimed that record, previously held by Muttiah Muralitharan. At ICC World Cup 2019 in England, Boult became the first and only Kiwi to take a hat-trick in an ODI World Cup match when he removed Australia’s trio of Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Starc and Jason Behrendorff in the final over at Lord's.

Trent Boult among the MI Emirates' 14 direct acquisitions at UAE's ILT20 | Walking Wicket (©BCCI)
Trent Boult one of the MI Emirates' 14 direct acquisitions at UAE's ILT20 (©BCCI)

Freelance cricket: The future?

While the broadcasters and the boards are making tonnes of money with such franchise leagues, it is also helping players, who are getting truckloads of money by playing far fewer number of matches. It is the equivalent of a corporate employee working half-days for a full calendar year and earning double the annual take home pay, plus five-star hotel stays, travel allowances and other perks.

IPL broadcast rights for seasons 2023-27 worth INR 48,390.50 crores have taken the world by storm. Cricket's future can only mean one thing: money, money and more money. With so much money in store for broadcasters and players, the vital question becomes, how will a player optimise and earn the maximum amount of money in the shortest amount of time?

And it seems like the answer to this question has been identified by many players, who are also using it to a great extent by either quitting a format or two, with the likes of Ben Stokes and Quinton de Kock leading by example, whereas on the other hand, players like Trent Boult have asked for release from central cricketing contracts, which allows them to play freely in domestic leagues all around the globe and have reduced workloads with the national team. Boards like New Zealand Cricket (NZC) and other boards, except the big three – England Cricket Board (ECB), Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and Cricket Australia (CA) - offer not even one fourth of the average salary (2 million dollars annually) offered by the big three for playing all three formats round the clock.

On the other hand, domestic T20 leagues help players earn almost four times the money in roughly 100 odd days by featuring in two to three T20 leagues across the globe. With bio-bubbles and the seemingly endless bilateral ODI and T20I series, the thirst for playing and watching cricket seems to be filled by the sparking water of T20 leagues. While every other corporate employee in the world seeks work-life balance and switches between jobs like a bungee jumper in their quest of earning more money and seamlessly criticises such moves in the cricketing world while sipping a cup of coffee in their air-conditioned office cubicals like a hypocrite, the players bid adieu to their families for another international tour for the next three to four weeks.

It would be debatable whether to call Trent Boult’s move greedy or an employee (player) seeking work-life balance. But it definitely sparks the ignition torch for players and how probably even professional cricketers can turn into freelance cricketers, having the power to decide when and where to work from and how long to work for. Will we see international cricket’s final lap of run for the gold? Or will cricket follow the football way of just league matches and national matches only during the World Cup? Well, let’s leave that to faith and wait.

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