On May 22, BBC published a podcast featuring Indian cricketer Robin Uthappa. Asked if he would want to participate in one of the many T20 tournaments apart from the Indian Premier League, he had this to say:

“I am standing in front of the BCCI like this (hands folded and pleading) saying ‘please let us go! Please let us go, honest to god.’

“It does hurt when we’re not allowed to go and play. It would be so nice if we could go and play at least a couple of others (white-ball leagues) because as a student of the game you want to learn and grow as much as you can. 

“Sometimes... I don’t know if this is the wrong thing to say... (looks away from the camera for a couple of seconds)... I feel defeated at times because I’m denied the opportunity to learn and grow and maximise my skills as an athlete, as a cricketer. I truly hope the BCCI will come around and allow at least non-contracted players an opportunity to play a couple of leagues.”

— via BBC Doosra podcast

In the article published on the BBC website about this podcast, however, there was an error: it referred to Uthappa as former India batsman. If that were the case, he probably wouldn’t be saying this in the first place.

It is now a well established fact that the Board of Control for Cricket in India does not allow male players to participate in overseas leagues unless they have retired and are not in contention to play for India or in the IPL anymore. We have recently seen Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh in the T10 League (Yuvraj played in Global T20 Canada too): and all three of them have only done so after announcing their retirements. Last year, Harbhajan Singh signed up for the draft of The Hundred but eventually pulled out in order to just continue playing in the IPL.

Uthappa, part of the 2007 World T20 champion side and a one-time IPL champion with Kolkata Knight Riders, still harbours hope of an India comeback. The 33-year-old wants to make a return to the T20I side as a finisher but, currently, only has the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament and the IPL (if it happens) to showcase his talents.

A few days earlier, Suresh Raina had echoed similar thoughts in an Instagram chat with Irfan Pathan. “I hope the BCCI can get together with the ICC or with franchises and allow players who don’t have BCCI contracts to play in overseas leagues,” he had said.

For many, Raina is Mr. IPL. He is one of the cricketers who have truly made the tournament a success story: an Indian cricketer making it big with a franchise that is not his home. And here he was, asking for a chance to play elsewhere.

The BCCI’s reported excuse of maintaining exclusivity is as flimsy as it is verging on arrogant.

Now, even if one assumes the dreams of making an India comeback are far-fetched for Uthappa and Raina, why is the BCCI holding on to their rotten rule of not allowing their male cricketers to play overseas? Even if the reason is not purely to “grow as cricketers” but to just earn a few more paydays, what’s the harm? Why is the BCCI stopping cricketers from earning money by just doing their job?

In an ideal world, even the centrally contracted cricketers should not be stopped from playing elsewhere if they chose to. But the likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah are not going to complain about the lack of exposure or game time, are they? Neither are they cash-strapped nor do they have the window in their packed schedules.

The pool of centrally contracted cricketers in India now contains 27 players. Worst case, include a clause for them but why prevent the hundreds of other cricketers in the country from earning a few bucks abroad?

The only downside one can think of from the BCCI point of view is a talent drain from domestic cricket. Maybe BCCI is worried that those on the fringes of the Indian team selection will chose the riches of the overseas leagues over domestic cricket. But is that really their call to make?

Alternatively, they can make Indian domestic cricket so lucrative and competitive that players don’t have to look elsewhere. One of the things Sourav Ganguly repeated when he took over as the BCCI president was that he will take care of domestic cricketers. A contract system was one of the things he mentioned. If such a thing were to become a reality, the BCCI could easily put in a system where players can pick and chose formats they want to play in even at the domestic level.

A cricketer like Uthappa, for instance, could be allowed to focus on just white-ball tournaments in India and play elsewhere if he wanted.

Point being, let the choice be the cricketer’s. At this point the BCCI calls all the shots. It is a big sign of the frustration simmering under the IPL riches that players of the stature of Raina and Uthappa are openly pleading with Ganguly and Co, but one wonders where this will head without a players association in place.

High time to change stand

Let us be honest: what you have read so far is not a point being expressed for the first time. But the truly sad part is that it has already been pointed out by respected voices in the game as early as 2012 (earliest example this writer could find) and yet, eight years later, the issue is still ongoing.

The change from then to now is that, back then, players (of differing stature in the game) hesitated to come out and say as much on record.

Not long back, we saw the 2011 World Cup player of the tournament announce his “retirement from cricket” so that he could play cricket around the world. Imagine that: only an Indian cricketer will be forced to retire to continue playing the game elsewhere.

However, what is even worse, perhaps, is what happened with Pravin Tambe. If you had followed the auction before IPL 2020 in detail, there was one moment that stood out apart from all the big-money bidding wars. Tambe, 48 years old now, was bought at his base price of Rs 20 lakh. There were people applauding in the room when it happened. Brendon McCullum and Co had a big smile on their face. This is the team that had spent millions on Pat Cummins earlier, but this 20-lakh-bid was arguably more popular.

On a day when many youngsters went unsold, KKR had offered this veteran a way back into the tournament he had last featured in 2016. Tambe had said he felt like a 20-year-old and promised to repay the faith of the Kolkata franchise but not long after that, he was disqualified from the IPL because he had played in a T10 league abroad in the time he did not even have an IPL contract.

Let that sink in: a 48-year-old was denied the chance to have another shot at earning some money (possibly for the final time as a cricketer) because when he was not even contracted by an IPL side, he played elsewhere and broke BCCI’s rule.

Sure, the BCCI does more for the game than maybe some other countries. But as things stand, the Board of Control for Cricket in India is taking the “control” in its name a little too seriously when it comes to allowing cricketers to maximise their playing time. It would be nice if it, instead of just controlling cricket, truly cared about cricketers and got rid of this rule.