Sorry NSW, but this is cheating

There is no sport and no sporting competition in the world where a team can suddenly and unaccountably include a world record holder in their lineup for a Grand Final, when that player has not been part of the squad for any part of the tournament leading up to that final.

No sport, that is, apart from the under-regulated, money-hungry sub-sport of Twenty20(TM) Cricket. New South Wales (or, should I say, the RTA Speedblitz Blues) sent jaws everywhere dropping, including mine, yesterday when they named explosive New Zealand wicketkeeper-batsman Brendon McCullum in their squad for Saturday night’s KFC Big Bash final against Victoria at Stadium Australia.

McCullum has a T20 career strike-rate of 156.56 runs per 100 balls faced, and his greatest claim to T20 fame comes from the opening game of the 2008 Indian Premier League, when he blasted a world record 158 not out from 73 balls for the Kolkata Knight Riders.

McCullum remains contracted to the Shah Rukh Khan Big Band for the 2009 season, but if Kolkata fails to make the IPL final then, by virtue of his inclusion in the NSW lineup for the KFCBB final, he will be playing in the T20 Champions League anyway.

The reactions since yesterday’s announcement have spanned the spectrum. Angry Andrew Symonds has described McCullum’s selection as un-Australian, three weeks after describing members of the media who were bagging Matthew Hayden as “un-Australian”. Populist Peter Roebuck describes the McCullum deal as “the new reality”, offering Dwight Yorke’s stint with Sydney FC as justification.

Roy’s rantings of a meaningless and over-worked emoticon can pass through to the keeper (and I don’t mean BB McCullum), but Roebuck’s comparison to Yorke is seriously flawed.

A legend with Aston Villa and Manchester United, Yorke signed on for Sydney FC prior to the start of the inaugural A-League season in 2005-06 and played nineteen games for them, culminating in leading the side to victory in the 2006 grand final.

McCullum was not signed for NSW prior to the start of the season. He has not played any games in the KFC Big Bash for NSW this season. It wasn’t even common knowledge that he would be selected for NSW in the final until yesterday, little more than 48 hours before the final, and after it became known that Victoria were to be their opponents.

Look at any tournament in any sport in the world. A team qualifies for the final because that team has played well throughout the body of that tournament. A team can’t play in a final without having played in that tournament, let alone being one of the two best teams on show.

If McCullum had played some of the league games for NSW – even if he had been named in the squad at the start of the tournament without playing a league game – then there may have been some justification in his selection for tomorrow night’s final. Neither of those conditions exist.

The regulations – or lack of them – have allowed New South Wales to whisk a world-record holder into their team for one important game. An act that belongs in the same category as Greg Chappell’s captaincy decision in 1981 to direct his brother to bowl under-arm to secure an ODI victory. Morally – and cricket’s traditions are built upon its morals by another name, spirit – this is cheating.

There are reports this morning that Victoria, in retaliation, are going to draft the Deccan Chargers’ Adam Gilchrist into their eleven for tomorrow night’s final. Hopefully Cricket Australia will step in, even if commencing for next season, to regulate this chicanery.

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