The festering sore that is the English counties’ non-compliance with the ICC’s so-called mandatory release scheme burst into the open on Thursday with the announcement of the Dutch squad to face Ireland in the Netherlands’ opening series in the World Cup Super League.
Notably absent from the list of fifteen names were four who could have played a big part in these matches: Roelof van der Merwe (Somerset), Ryan ten Doeschate and Shane Snater (Essex), and Colin Ackermann (Leicestershire).
Although the KNCB has not commented publicly on these omissions, social media are buzzing with the obvious conclusion, that the English counties concerned refused to release them for these vital games, arguably the most important the Dutch have played in their 130-year international history.
Three other players with county contracts, Brandon Glover (Northamptonshire), Timm van der Gugten (Glamorgan) and Fred Klaassen (Kent), all pace bowlers, have been released, but the absence of Ackermann, Ten Doeschate and Van der Merwe in particular leaves a massive gap in the Dutch middle order.
The ICC’s mandatory release policy, which states that Associate members should always be able to field their strongest side in ICC events and when facing Full member opposition, has been in force for more than fifteen years, and the England and Wales Cricket Board made a much-heralded commitment to enforce it back in 2008.
Back then, the ECB chairman of the time, Giles Clarke, said: ‘The ECB recognizes that nation versus nation is the lifeblood of cricket and its integrity must be protected at all costs.
‘One way of protecting that integrity is by ensuring that the top Associate players currently playing county cricket are available for their countries in all their mandatory commitments with Full Members and in prestigious events such as the ICC WT20 Qualifier. The ICC further recognises that this must also embrace and enforce the priority of all FTP events and ECB welcomes that position.
‘Whilst we recognize the individual choice of players we will continue to proactively remind counties of their mandatory obligations in this regard and this will help to ensure our strong sport grows ever stronger.’
There is, unfortunately, no evidence that the ECB ever intended to enforce that policy, or that the counties ever embraced it. And the ICC has been equally toothless in ensuring that its Full members complied with it.
The crucial get-out in Clarke’s statement, of course, is the bit about ‘the individual choice of players’: by applying behind-the-scenes pressure on their players, counties can persuade them to make themselves unavailable without actually having to come out in public and refuse to release them.
All it takes is a nod and a wink about not being picked in the first team or the non-renewal of a contract, or even a hint of moral blackmail about what you owe to your fellow-professionals with whom you travel the country week in, week out. And the Associates are too weak and powerless to call the counties and the ECB out for their flagrant breaches of which is supposedly an agreed policy.
While the English counties are the worst offenders, they are not alone in their abuse of the system: it is an open secret that South Australia repeatedly refused to release Dutch international batter Tom Cooper while he was on contract with them, and other Associates have similar experiences with players contracted to other Full-member first-class teams.
The ICC may utter fine, high-sounding words on the subject, but unless it is prepared to impose sanctions on members who fail to comply, those statements mean nothing.
And in a situation in which the tournament’s broadcasters have presented the Super League as a 12-team competition, completely ignoring the participation of the Dutch as the sole Associate qualifier, you can’t feeling that deep down none of the Full Members minds too much if they are forced to play with one hand tied behind their backs.
After all, there are World Cup places at stake in the short term, and further down the line every Dutch success would increase the possibility that a Full member might have to fight to qualify for the next iteration of the Super League.
And that’s not how the system’s supposed to work at all.
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