Speaking on Wednesday in his capacity as league commissioner of South Africa’s new T20 franchise competition, the situation around the England allrounder was raised as a query given the unique position he is in. Moeen found himself in a conundrum when he was announced in the squads for both the Johannesburg Super Kings and the ILT20’s Sharjah Warriors, despite the fact both tournaments run parallel with one another.
The uniqueness of Moeen’s situation centres on the agreements he entered into with both leagues. Having given commitments to both with an understanding he would pick the tournament he preferred, it turns out Moeen signed directly with the Warriors. Thus, the ILT20 believe they have a greater claim to him than the SA20, given he had only signed with Cricket South Africa rather than a direct team. The issue is further complicated by the fact the Johannesburg team are a sister franchise of Chennai Super Kings, whom Moeen plays for in the Indian Premier League. Capri Global, who own the Warriors, are partners with IPL side Gujarat Titans.
Privately, there is a growing understanding that Moeen, whom The Guardian reports will captain England on their white-ball tour of Pakistan next month, is going to choose the ILT20 and is expected to announce his decision next week, following the completion of the Hundred. Smith, who has also had dialogue with the allrounder and his representatives, has been working around the clock in search of clarity and believes a resolution is around the corner.
“We have aligned on a strategy in terms of allowing the player to feel comfortable in terms of what he does and where he decides to play,” Smith said when asked about Moeen. “I am dealing with the UAE league in that.
“I was in the UAE last week and met with them and that will play itself out over the next few days. We have agreed a way of handling it. There needs to be a way that both of us can co-exist.
“There is a relationship that’s opened up there in terms of finding a way forward. I am looking forward to further engagements with the UAE league on that.”
The quandary, therefore, rests squarely on the players, and it is particularly fraught with indecision for those without central contracts, including England players who are not guaranteed of touring spots this winter. Many are having to hedge their bets, which explains why there is some crossover in names for both new tournaments. And while none are in the same position as Moeen, a handful are currently in the uncomfortable position of working out which competition they would rather let down.
Getting to this point has been something of an arms race for both of these competitions. Perhaps the most interesting development came when the ILT20 abandoned its original plan for a draft. With 12 overseas slots in their 18-member squads, organisers quickly realised CSA and the Big Bash League were further along the line with securing overseas interest. Thus the decision was made to fill rosters by approaching players directly and English players clearly benefitted, making up 25 of the 84 foreign players announced at the time of writing.
CSA have reacted by engaging in something of a charm offensive. There have been promises made in private of multi-year deals, regardless of which of the six teams pick them up, while Smith has used his clout and status to impress upon his equivalents at other boards that this T20 competition is the place to be. It has not all been charm from the former South Africa captain, however, who has not been afraid of administering a dressing-down to those he suspects are backtracking on earlier promises.
The BBL still commands some real estate in the decisions players have to make. Though it pays the least of the three tournaments this winter, there remains a degree of hesitancy to ignore it completely, given it is the most established and, therefore, has the surer footing. Despite the sums of money pumped into the SA20 and ILT20, there is quiet anxiety as to how both will pan out in the future, exacerbated by the fact there are still no concrete dates for their inaugural seasons. Both are currently looking at running from the second week of January until early February.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor for ESPNcricinfo