When we look back in five or 10 years’ time at the evolution of cricket, Trent Boult’s decision to walk away from his New Zealand central contract will likely be seen as a landmark moment.
The left-arm fast bowler may be 33 but he is still at the top of the international game, helping New Zealand to two World Cup finals in three years across the ODI and T20 formats as well as playing a key role in their World Test Championship win last buzzer.
Boult is currently the No1-ranked bowler in ODIs and 11th in Tests but it is possible he may never play either format again after New Zealand Cricket chief executive David White admitted he would have “a significantly reduced role with the Blackcaps” going forward.
“I think it’s fair to say there’s more likelihood of him participating in global events than bilateral cricket,” White added.
We know Boult, whose call was announced overnight, will remain with New Zealand for their current white-ball series in the West Indies and he will also play in this autumn’s T20 World Cup in Australia.
Beyond that, though, it is unclear whether he will even get a send-off during New Zealand’s home summer, which includes a Test series against England early next year.
No doubt the pandemic and time in bio-secure bubbles played a part in Boult’s decision, with the player himself citing the need to spend more time at home with his wife and three young sons.
Boult is seven years younger than England’s James Anderson, who turned 40 last month, and would likely have remained at the top of the international game for at least another two years.
However, the economic reality of the New Zealander’s situation meant that his shock call this week was a no-brainer when viewed dispassionately.
As one of his country’s top-earning cricketers, Boult was paid approximately £260,000 a year by New Zealand Cricket when his central contract and match fees were taken into account. This is dwarfed by the £830,000 he received earlier to play for Rajasthan Royals in this year’s Indian Premier League.
With IPL teams mopping up franchises across the globe, including in new tournaments in the UAE and South Africa that will start early next year, the opportunities for freelance T20 players to earn serious money are growing.
Boult, for example, will probably now be given the chance to sign another lucrative deal with the Paarl franchise owned by the Royals in the new South African T20 league that starts in January and who are expected to offer top players up to £250,000.
No wonder leading cricketers are turning their back on the international game. In recent months Boult has freed himself from his New Zealand central contract, Ben Stokes has quit ODI cricket and South Africa’s Quinton de Kock has retired from Tests.
Stokes’ case is different, with England’s insane schedule the reason for his call. Yet can still play franchise cricket – as is his right.
England’s players are unlikely to follow the example of Boult or De Kock just yet because they are far better rewarded than those from New Zealand or South Africa, with centrally-contracted Test players earning close to £1million a year. The same goes for those from Australia and India.
However, players from outside the three richest boards are ripe for the picking.
White played down suggestions others will now follow Boult, saying: “Is this going to start more players doing this from a New Zealand point of view? We’ve had no approaches from anyone else.
“If you are going to get a big offer from a big league, you’ve got to be a successful international cricketer. So it’s very important players perform in bilateral cricket as well.”
White may be right to a degree, yet nothing is stopping those established international players from throwing in their lot with franchise cricket right now. Then there is the new generation of players like South African Dewald Brevis, the 19-year-old nicknamed “Baby AB” who has never played a senior international or even a first-class match but still landed a £65,000 deal with Mumbai Indians. That sum will rise exponentially over the years whether Brevis plays for South Africa or not.
Even the likes of Tom Banton, who has played just 20 white-ball games for England, is earning more at the age of 23 by playing franchise leagues around the world than Boult’s New Zealand central contract was worth.
Cricket is changing fast and the economics of the sport are tilting it firmly towards franchise leagues. Boult may be one of the first current top international players in his prime to turn away from the international game. But he certainly won’t be the last.