ECB must find a way to play the IPL yorker
Apr 7 2008 by Jack Bannister
Spring is with us to provide the usual anticipation of the daffodil-coloured cover of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack published this week.
The bible has chronicled many changes during the last 145 years, and usual expectations are further heightened by the appointment of a new editor, Scyld Berry. A deep thinker about the game, his second edition in 2009 will reflect on a coming year in which the biggest changes ever known in the game will be analysed - specifically the Indian Twenty20 competitions, the IPL and the ICL.
Panic has soon set in around the world and nowhere more quickly than in this country. The England and Wales Cricket Board will consider on Wednesday new proposals from their Domestic Structure Review Group. Insiders believe they are a mish-mash and do not tackle the main issue which is the availability of England-qualified cricketers to be included in the phenomenal pay days on offer.
Contrary to ECB instructions to stay silent, Kevin Pietersen and Dimitri Mascarenhas have not only popped their heads above the trenches, they are not scared of any bullets fired at them by their employers. The difference is that Pietersen has a central contract whereas the new Hampshire captain has not. But both have had their blunt say.
Mascarenhas might miss only two weeks of this season but he has a three-year deal in which he is committed to playing the full six weeks in 2009 and 2010. He said: "I have just signed a new two-year contract extension for my county, subject to IPL commitments. As far as I know they are going to change the dates for next year so I won't miss any of the county season."
England are due to tour West Indies next March and April but something has to give so it is likely the tour will begin in late January and end in March to enable the IPL to bring its 2009 tournament forward to avoid clashing with the English season.
The International Cricket Council deny any discussion on the matter but, as Mascarenhas says, "everyone needs to work together to achieve that, because IPL is not going to go away."
Questioned about how his England future would be affected (he should be a certainty for the one-day squad against New Zealand in June), he says "after I signed I spoke to both Hugh Morris and Geoff Miller. Both were very positive but Miller was a little worried about my passion to play for England."
As for Pietersen, he was adamant that something has to give to allow him and other colleagues to play in India. "The Twenty20 game is the way the sport is going, and we are going to have to play because it could be the way the game is going. The clash of this year's fixtures is something that the hierarchy needs to fix. You want your best players (i.e., himself) to play both for their country and for the IPL, and you don't want them to choose between the two. It's silly to think you are losing up to a million dollars in six weeks."
Then the most significant threat yet - "I won't jeopardise my England career for the IPL just yet but the schedules have to be sorted out because the England players are the only ones missing out. Chris Gayle texted me the other day to ask why I'm mot playing and I told him 'I can't.'
"His next text message was just a row of dollar signs. I'm not being paid extra to play for Hampshire while he's copping a hundred grand a game."
These comments fly in the face of those of ECB chairman Giles Clarke, whose reaction after his sub-committee's new plans later this week will be revealing. A strong line with Pietersen & Co is unlikely because events are unfolding far too quickly.
Wisden editor Berry is highly critical of authority, both in this country and worldwide, saying: "Wisden must be an independent watchdog which barks at the sight of corruption and maladministration, and there is all too much of both. While spin is dying out on the field, it proliferates in the game's administrative offices."
The daffodil bible is in safe hands - far safer than those who run the game. They face their biggest challenge in how to balance the millions of Twenty20 dollars with the maintenance of Test cricket in a meaningful way.
An ICC partnership of chairman David Morgan and new chief executive Harron Lorgat (second choice from South Africa after Imtiaz Patel declined the job) does not inspire confidence.