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‘Playing for your next gig’ – life on cricket’s franchise world tour

The county cricket season begins on Friday and across the 18 first-class counties, dozens of hard-working professionals will be hoping for a profitable few months ahead. But others will be plying their trade on a very different path.

While the traditional arc of an English county season would have gone from early April to late September, in the modern era, it is anything but as simple.

Take David Wiese. At 38, the former Sussex all-rounder and now Namibia international, is no longer someone who can be guaranteed to play week-in, week-out in the same hemisphere let alone country.

Wiese is one of the modern breed of franchise league cricketers leapfrogging his way from one short-form competition to the next around the world hoping his performances do enough to merit earning him his next gig.

A freelance cricketer if you will, a “Hitman for Hire”.

That last moniker is the title of a new podcast where Wiese’s life on the road over the past year, balancing professional cricketer with being a husband and father to two young daughters, has been documented.

“A lot of people just see the glitz and glamour of this lifestyle, travelling the world, staying in five-star hotels, business class flights. It’s fantastic to have, but they don’t hear or see what happens on the human side of it,” Wiese told Sky Sports.

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Wiese hit the last ball of Northern Superchargers’ innings vs Trent Rockets for six to bring up his second half-century in the Hundred, and it was effortlessly caught by a fan in the stand!

‘Playing for your next deal’

Had this interview been done a year ago, it would have been nigh on impossible to chat on a Zoom call to the powerful right-hander from his home in Pretoria.

But after taking a conscious decision to scale back his workload and air miles in 2024, he finds himself spending some crucial family time before getting on a plane again to resume his professional commitments.

It is a short window before Wiese resumes his globetrotting lifestyle and heads to Oman, to join Namibia’s squad playing a T20I series in preparation for this summer’s Men’s T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and USA.

Playing international cricket again for someone who also previously represented his native South Africa, comes without some of the numerous pressures franchise leagues present.

“You’re always playing for your next deal,” he said. “Being away from your family for so long, insecurities creep in. You’re only one bad tournament away from not having a career anymore.

“I just wanted to take the opportunity to help people understand what this life is like so the next time someone chooses to take a mental health break from the game, they can get more of an idea what might be behind it, where the mental fatigue comes in.”

Wiese’s decision to go down his current path can be traced back to Brexit.

In 2017, he signed a three-year Kolpak contract with Sussex, meaning he qualified as a local player rather than an overseas signing.

David Wiese previously played for Sussex before beginning his life as a franchise cricketer touring the globe
Image: Wiese previously played for Sussex between 2017 and 2019 before beginning his life as a franchise cricketer touring the globe

But following the UK’s departure from the European Union in early 2020, those rules changed for Wiese and dozens more previously on Kolpak registrations, like Essex spinner Simon Harmer and Hampshire seam bowler Kyle Abbott.

It forced Wiese to abandon dreams of potentially settling on the south coast with his family and seeing out his career in county cricket with Sussex at Hove.

Instead he had to pick up his passport and kit bag and plot his journeys between tournaments on international cricket’s increasingly congested calendar.

South Africa, Bangladesh, UAE, Pakistan, India, England, the USA and England again all feature on Wiese’s road trip during the podcast, speaking candidly to presenter Sam Keir behind the scenes from the IPL to the Vitality Blast and stops in between.

David Wiese’s team rollcall for 2023

  • Gulf Giants – ILT20
  • Lahore Qalandars – Pakistan Super League
  • Kolkata Knight Riders – Indian Premier League
  • Yorkshire Vikings – T20 Blast
  • MI New York – Major League Cricket USA
  • Northern Superchargers – The Hundred
  • Deccan Gladiators – Abu Dhabi T10

“I left home on January 4 and aside from maybe three of four days in between, I wasn’t properly back home with my family until the end of August,” Wiese reflects on his whirlwind 2023, which included winning titles in three competitions and a T20 World Cup Africa qualifier with Namibia.

“The plan was always to be busy last year, bank the experience and then scale down things in 2024. But on the other side, things don’t always work out in terms of your performances, so I haven’t been picked up at as many auctions or drafts as I was previously.”

Chance to cause upset on big stage

Wiese’s paired-down franchise commitments have now freed him up to play for Namibia on the international stage again.

England, Australia, Scotland and Oman will be their group stage opponents on Barbados and Antigua when the Men’s T20 World Cup begins in June, live on Sky Sports.

“They’ve stuck us in a tough group have the ICC, but placed us in some nice holiday destinations as compensation,” Wiese joked.

“It’s going to be a huge test for us, but you never know what might happen, we’ve seen upsets before at these tournaments. We’ve got some promising young players so we’re all looking forward to the opportunity.”

Provided he stays fit, it will be Wiese’s third appearance for Namibia in a T20 World Cup having previously been part of squads in the UAE and Australia.

David Wiese played for Yorkshire Vikings in the 2023 Vitality Blast in between his appearances in the IPL and US Major League Cricket
Image: Wiese played for Yorkshire Vikings in the 2023 Vitality Blast between his appearances in the IPL and US Major League Cricket

But once the dust settles on that tournament in early July, will Wiese be packing his bag again and waiting in airport departure lounges to head to his next short-term gig?

“As much as you want to play in all the tournaments and feature as much as you’d like, you’ve also got to find that fine balance between being at home and being a dad and a husband,” he said.

“It’s not fair to be away all the time like that. But if I was a young player again, I would say to them, ‘take as many opportunities as you can’.

“With the way these leagues are structured now, IPL sides have stakes in so many different teams around the world, the chances of being picked up elsewhere have dramatically increased.

“If you sign with Mumbai Indians now, there’s the chance you might get contracted to appear in five different leagues. If you can set yourself up like that, then you are set for life almost.”

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Wiese spoke to Sky Sports after scoring 54 from just 25 balls in Northern Superchargers’ narrow win over Trent Rockets in The Hundred last season

Is this sustainable for both individuals and the game as a whole?

“I think it depends where you are in life,” Wiese said. “These guys are going to have to make tough decisions somewhere down the line, if they’re just going to focus purely on franchise cricket or try and mix and match formats and commitments, both domestically and internationally.

“I hope international cricket doesn’t take a back seat. I still feel that’s the pinnacle of where someone’s career can get to.

“But the fortunate thing now when people ask me at aged 38, ‘how long can you go on for?’ the way franchise cricket is set up, the best players in the world at any given time will get signed up.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are, if teams see value in you and want to sign you, it means you’re still doing your job, you’re still relevant and you’re still performing at the top level.

“Franchise cricket has extended a lot of guys’ careers. Previously, someone like me might have retired well before 38, but now it’s given them an extra chance to play another four or five years away from international cricket and also give fans more of an opportunity to see them.”

‘A dark stain’

However, as franchise tournaments have taken more prominence, there has been a cost to the international game, particularly on Wiese’s doorstep.

In February, South Africa sent an under-strength side out to New Zealand to play in a two-match Test series while its centrally-contracted players were kept at home to play in the SA20 competition, something Wiese called “a dark stain on franchise cricket”.

“Cricket South Africa was in such financial disarray when it came to setting up the SA20 that it needed to have all of the international players playing,” he said. “That’s basically what the mandate was.

“Then the ICC’s Future Tours Programme came along and you suddenly have to balance those commitments against something you’ve already agreed. It’s unfortunate South Africa was the first country to find itself in this predicament.

“I feel bad for those players who were selected to play in that Test series in New Zealand. It shouldn’t be anything against them, they’re all guys who I have played with and against for many years, who’ve worked hard to realise their goals and dreams to try and get to the top level in the game.

Zubayr Hamza of South Africa bats as New Zealand wicketkeeper Tom Blundell attempts to catch the ball on day four of the first cricket test between New Zealand and South Africa at Bay Oval, Mt Maunganui, New Zealand, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Photosport via AP)
Image: South Africa lost 2-0 in their Test series against New Zealand in February where they fielded a team without their centrally-contracted players

“Their Test caps shouldn’t count for anything less, they’re not just being given away. Those players deserve them, but people don’t necessarily see it that way, which is sad.

“Something has to get done to ensure this doesn’t happen too often. That might be the leagues or the ICC who need to get together, I don’t know, but there has to be a comprise and a long-term plan.”

For now, the future looks uncertain, not just for fellow professionals, but Wiese as well.

David Wiese played for Northern Superchargers in The Hundred last season
Image: Wiese played for Northern Superchargers in The Hundred last season

After the T20 World Cup he admits his commitments, aside from playing for St Lucia Kings in the Caribbean Premier League in September and October, are very much up in the air.

Late call-ups could come from as far and wide as the USA, Sri Lanka, Canada and Zimbabwe.

“There’s so much uncertainty,” he said. “I’m sat here before joining up with Namibia, unemployed if you like as a franchise cricketer, without a job for the next four months.

“But within the next few days, my phone could ring and all of a sudden, I could have three or four more jobs lined up. You’ve just got to roll with the punches.”

For now then, it’s a case of “have bat and ball, will travel” for Wiese. Chances are if you switch on the television to see short-form men’s cricket around the world, he will be there playing in it.

“Hitman for Hire: A year in the Life of a Franchise Cricketer” is available to listen to wherever you get your podcasts.

The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup will be live and exclusive on Sky Sports from Sunday June 2 through to the final on Sunday June 29 as England look to defend their title.

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