With the influx of T20 competitions all around the world often luring players with lucrative paychecks, Kyle Mills stands out head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to commitment to a team. He’s represented the Auckland Aces since he was 12 years old and is relishing the opportunity to play for them in the Champions League T20. By ANT SIMS.
The Champions League T20 is in full swing in South Africa, and while the tournament is arguably the most glamorous competition in cricket, it’s not all that glamorous for teams who have had to travel around 6,000 miles only be eliminated after one game.
That was, of course, the case for Hampshire, Sialkot Stallions, Trinidad & Tobago and Uva Next, the four teams from around the world who, despite outstanding performances in their own domestic competitions, still had to go through a round of qualifiers and were subsequently sent packing without even having a chance to unpack.
That the format needs tweaking, there is no arguing, and for somebody like Kyle Mills, whose team – the Auckland Aces – has been on both sides of the fence when it comes to qualifying for the competition, one solution is to have a competition with an equal number of teams from all countries.
"We've caught both ends of the stick when it comes to these qualifiers. Last year when we went to India to qualify, we lost both our games off the last ball, and despite having played really good cricket, we had to go home. Looking back on that now, it was obviously disappointing, but we’re on the other side of the fence now and we’re happy to be where we are,” Mills tells The Daily Maverick.
"To make it a true, world club competition, I think every country which participates does need to get an equal number of teams. I guess it could be seen that the favour is currently slightly skewed towards India since they have four teams and some other countries don't have any.
"Overall, though, I think it's a great concept and it's often compared to something like the football Champions League, and I think a competition like this has the potential to be as great as that,” Mills says.
Club competitions and loyalty to a team are two terms rarely used together in modern sport, but Mills ranks his involvement in the tournament pretty high up on his list of achievements, having represented Auckland since he was 12 years old.
"There's a huge emotional attachment to something like this for me. Auckland is the only province I've ever played for and it's the only province I will ever play for. A moment like winning our first game overseas is something I'll cherish for the rest of my life,” Mills explains.
Cricket has, without a doubt, evolved with the introduction of T20, and while the format often cops a lot of flak for its robust nature, with many believing it could be the death knell to Test cricket, Mills reckons it’s done the game good in attracting a younger fan base which, in turn, means more money for the game.
"There's a place for T20 cricket around the world; it's attracted a whole new fan base and it's courting younger people into the game, which is great. With so many sports across the globe competing for sponsorship money, sport has to continue to evolve and that's what T20 has done.”
With the influx of T20 comes the influx of T20 competitions, and while there are a few players who are plying their trade as “guns for hire”, Mills reckons the globe-trotting phenomenon is a threat to the traditions of the game. With large sums of money on offer at competitions around the world, those who have the skills to exploit are easily lured to play for as many teams as possible and the pace ace urges caution when it comes to playing for a large number of teams.
"I don't think it's right that a player can play for four or five sides around the world and have four or five chances to get into the Champions League. I think there's definitely room for looking at putting a cap on the number of teams a player can represent in a one-year period, and perhaps players should then take ownership of that club while they're there.
“Hopping around the globe and playing for all these different clubs means some players are just playing cricket. We're privileged to be playing a wonderful game and it's important for us who play it to keep hold of some of the traditions. It's a fine line to toe to try and make the game a global sensation,” he says.
South Africans will be familiar with Mills and his competitiveness. The fast bowler is fierce and has often been labelled as suffering from “white-line fever”. And while there’ll be plenty of grit on show when he steps out to play for Auckland, he might tamer than when he represents his country.
"Club competitions are a bit different to playing international cricket. When you're representing your country and playing for your country you want to represent that jersey and all the people who come from there.
“When you're playing against a team like South Africa or Australia, or any international team with history against your team, it's a completely different.
“It's not that intense when playing for a club,” Mills explains. DM
Photo: South Africa's JP Duminy is caught out by New Zealand's Kyle Mills in the first of their three match Twenty20 cricket series in Wellington, February 17, 2012. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps.