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An unsanctioned T20 league that went unnoticed. Now, 58 players from India face bans

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These players took part in a disapproved T20 tournament in Mauritius last year, in which other participants were former internationals from England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. 

Bengaluru: The proliferation of domestic Twenty20 leagues, in the wake of the success of the Indian Premier League created a giant scheduling headache for cricket, but there is something far more insidious hiding in plain sight.

While legitimate tournaments such as the IPL, the Big Bash League, the Caribbean Premier League and others have the blessings of the International Cricket Council (ICC), as these are domestic events that are approved and organised by the host members, there is a mushrooming category of Twenty20 tournaments that are threatening the very fabric of the game.

A case in point — but by no means the only one of its kind — is the Mauritius T20 Cricket League, which was first played between 24 and 30 June, 2017, and is on the verge of a second edition.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has taken note of the participation of as many as 58 of its players in the first edition and issued a strident warning against a repeat in 2018, following a missive from the ICC classifying the tournament as Disapproved Cricket.

The tournament also had players from Sri Lanka, Pakistan and England.

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These players face the very real prospect of being banned from any form of official or approved cricket conducted under the umbrella of their relevant national boards and the ICC.

When the BCCI was apprised of the developments of 2017 by ThePrint, Anirudh Chaudhry, the treasurer, said: “This is an alarming trend and the situation has to be addressed and there can be no two ways about it. It is the purity of the game of cricket that is at stake here. The organisers of such tournaments are clearly attempting to play the game outside the sphere of the rules and there is a strong element of irregularity surrounding this.”

Chaudhry also said that this was not the first time the BCCI had faced such a threat.

“The initial attempt to have such leagues in India had been controlled with the help of the BCCI’s Anti-Corruption Unit and that is the probable reason that such a tournament then took place/is taking place in a country that is not an ICC member,” he said. “It is interesting to note that the broadcaster for all these tournaments has been consistent.”

Chaudhry added that there should be no room for confusion in the minds of players.

“The rules are absolutely clear, no player may participate in an unapproved tournament and secondly, a player needs permission to participate in a tournament outside India,” he said.

“It is a duty of the BCCI to take cognisance of this and proceed to enquire into the issue of the players registered with the BCCI in accordance with its rules and procedures. Regarding the communication from the ICC about this, I am not aware of the same as the same has not been communicated to us and I do not think it has been communicated to the State Associations as well.”

The participants

The tournament, which featured six teams — Flac Royals, Triolet Titans, Rosebelle Warriors, Port Louis Thunder, Tamarina Roaring Panthers and Quatre Borne Frontiers — has been declared as Disapproved Cricket by the ICC. In fact, and as per the process, the ICC has communicated this to its members, while also advising them not to issue NOCs to anyone.

The reason the ICC does this is to ensure that every member association, such as the BCCI, ensures that their players are not granted permission to play in unsanctioned leagues.

And yet, the league featured former international cricketers from around the world, first class cricketers from India, and some youngsters who have made a name for themselves in BCCI-approved tournaments such as the Karnataka Premier League.

A high number of players registered with the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) were part of the inaugural edition of the tournament.

KSCA assistant secretary Santosh Menon said he couldn’t recall any request for an NOC.

“The normal procedure for any player wanting to play outside the state or the country is to write to KSCA seeking permission. We in turn contact BCCI with the request and it’s prerogative of the Board to either grant permission or deny.”

For legal reasons, it is beyond the scope of this piece to name the players, but the full list of participants is available on the Mauritius Twenty20 Cricket League’s official website.

Seasoned cricket watchers will recognise the name of a former Sri Lankan all-rounder and a quick bowler infamous for bowling no-balls; from Pakistan at least nine former internationals: A fast bowler from Peshawar, an off-break bowler who was a doosra expert, a batsman who made his name as a prodigy, a left-arm quick who bowled off the wrong foot, a wicketkeeper batsman from a family of wicketkeepers, the leg-spinning son of a leg-spin legend, a middle-order batsman, a fast bowler and a top-order batsman. There are two former England cricketers in the mix as well.

While no former India internationals played in the tournament, there were 58 players from the BCCI stables — age-group cricketers, Ranji Trophy players, Karnataka Premier League players, IPL players and even one former cricketer who is a current state selector.

Disapproved Cricket and its fallout

When contacted, an ICC spokesperson confirmed that the league was an unsanctioned event as Mauritius was not an ICC Member.

“We can confirm that an unsanctioned event took place in Mauritius in 2017,” said the spokesperson. “The ICC has already communicated to all its members that because Mauritius is not an ICC member, this year’s event will be Disapproved Cricket, and, as such, they should not release their players.”

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Once a tournament is declared Disapproved Cricket, which is where the ICC’s jurisdiction ends, it falls on each member nation to ensure that their players do not take part in such an event. And, if they do, sanctions can be imposed based on the relevant organisation’s Code of Conduct or the contracts it has with its players.

The ICC introduced Regulation 32 A into its Playing Conditions specifically to deal with sanctioned and unsanctioned tournaments and this states unequivocally that no player can take part in a tournament without first obtaining a No Objection Certificate from the member board that he or she is eligible to represent.

This means that even retired players, and those who have not yet represented their country need to obtain a go-ahead, in writing, from their relevant authority before playing in a tournament, and failing to do so will attract sanction that may include bans from official cricket.

Sub clause 2.8 of Regulation 32 A squarely puts the onus on players to take responsibility for events they take part in.

“Participation in Disapproved Cricket is prohibited for all persons under the jurisdiction of the ICC or any of its National Cricket Federations. It is the responsibility of each such person to establish that a particular match or event constitutes Approved Cricket and not Disapproved Cricket before participating in it.”

Further, Clause 3.4 stipulates that a member must take action against any players breaching these regulations: “A National Cricket Federation must:

3.4.1 take whatever action is necessary (e.g., by way of implementation of these Regulations into its own rules and regulations) to ensure that these provisions are enforceable against persons under its jurisdiction;

3.4.2 take prompt and effective disciplinary action against any affiliated person who breaches these provisions;

Explanatory note: Where any affiliated person breaches these Regulations by participating in Disapproved Cricket, the ICC and its National Cricket Federations are entitled to exclude them from the benefit of participation in Approved Cricket for an appropriate period. National Cricket Federations must amend and/or supplement their rules and regulations in order to enable them to do so.

The complete regulations governing this issue can be found on the ICC’s website.

How Mauritius played it

In the case of the Mauritius Twenty20 Cricket League, there was no chance of the event being sanctioned as Mauritius is not one of the 22 members from the Africa region affiliated in any way with the ICC.

A match underway in the series
A match underway in the series | mauritiust20.com

To be clear, one of the driving forces behind the ICC sanctioning events or declining to approve them is the proliferation of tournaments that are played primarily for the purpose of betting, whether legal or illegal.

The modus operandi of such leagues, originally based largely out of Asia but now spreading their wings globally involves two things: Securing a broadcaster and listing with one or more of the betting companies.

Once that is done, the template is straightforward. A team or a franchise is sold, and then these owners may come to an agreement on the script to which certain passages of play will happen. Once they have this advance knowledge they can place their bets through whatever channels they choose, and it is not unusual to get a 300 per cent return in as little as 10 days.

In the case of the Mauritius Twenty20 Cricket League, the broadcast was on NEO Sports. Some complete matches of the league, and highlights of others, are available on YouTube.

There is an extremely basic single-camera production, and one commentator calls the entire game. The ground where this league was played had almost no spectators in the visuals available, and there is no evidence of any anti-corruption protocols being in place either.

For the players, who undertook this venture, outside the rules, either out of greed or because they were misled and misguided, there could be a heavy price to pay.

Anand Vasu is a freelance journalist. He tweets @anandvasu

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