You speak to sportspersons, and you will often be told that they are in it for love of the game. Not for fame. Definitely not for money.
This is especially true in India, where there is a strange negative value attached to doing something for money, or at least admitting to it. Senior players will usually say they play because they "enjoy the game" and will give it up when they "stop enjoying it". Cricketers with big Indian Premier League (IPL) cheques in their pockets will say the money is important only because it's an approximation of their abilities. The agenda is always to "play well", to "perform consistently" and "help the team win". And, of course, there's the patriotism factor thrown in - "the main thing is to make my country proud".
Now, I am not suggesting that sportspeople are hypocrites; not any more than the rest of us anyway. It's just the way things are, and the way we've been conditioned to behave in polite society.
In any case, it was the recent stance taken by the Zimbabwe cricketers that set me thinking about all this. They have clearly had just about enough of their administrators and don't want to play, or play along, for much longer. Of course, Zimbabwe cricket is a unique phenomenon, where a combination of an allegedly racist government, poor financial health in general, and lack of money and opportunities have, over the years, pushed the best cricket talent to look for greener pastures beyond their boundaries.
It's impossible to say from all the way across in India if Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) had the money but were refusing to pay the players, or if they just didn't have money. Most reports mention that ZC have been in debt for long. But the latest update suggests they had the money, which they have recently transferred to the players. It's all rather confusing.
One way or the other, as we at Wisden India have suggested in the past, it is imperative that the International Cricket Council, while continuing its efforts to globalise the game, look at countries like Zimbabwe and New Zealand, and even West Indies to an extent, as places to pump in money and boost infrastructure. Not that the ICC hasn't pitched in - Zimbabwe were among the beneficiaries of the ICC's Targeted Assistance Programme in 2012. But where did that money go? What did it do?
The argument is a simple one. Expand the game by all means, but first make sure that the handful of top nations are in good shape.
The phenomenon of cricketers refusing to work without proper pay is not new. Grumblings were heard even in the Amateurs vs Professionals era, during World Series Cricket - which no Indian was a part of - and, most recently, in the position taken by Chris Gayle and others of his ilk, who were happy to chuck up international cricket if they weren't allowed to make the kind of money they could elsewhere.
Chicken farmers and chartered accountants don't make up international cricket anymore, professionals do. That's why, today, international cricket is struggling to keep its head above water even as domestic Twenty20 leagues mushroom across the cricketing globe. And unlike ever before, cricketers good, bad and everywhere in between, have avenues to go ply their trade. Those from the West Indies, New Zealand and Zimbabwe have already started walking those routes. The next lot could well be from Pakistan (unless we count Azhar Mahmood and Fawad Ahmed), because there's only so long that they would be willing to live without adequate international cricket and the cold shoulder from the IPL. If Mahmood can play the IPL and make millions as a freelancer after shifting to England, why should Shahid Afridi or Umar Akmal or Mohammad Hafeez not do the same? They may not, of course, but who can blame them if they do?
Money matters. Yes, often more than nation and pride. It would be a tad alarmist to suggest that international cricket is slipping out of the ICC's control - it's not, yet - but the portents are bad. A possibility of players going on strike doesn't help the cause. Nor do reports of cricketers cocking a snook at international cricket to get their livelihoods in shape. And no, I don't know what the way out is, but then, I am not paid to find the solution.