A pay dispute involving the Indian Premier League is threatening to disrupt one of English cricket's biggest-ever years which sees two Ashes series and a Champions Trophy on home soil.
The IPL issue is likely to play a key role in negotiations for England players' central contracts which start each October and will be negotiated in the summer, probably during the Champions Trophy and the home Test series against Australia. England's captain, Alastair Cook, did his best yesterday to try to brush the issue aside, while conceding that an issue exists.
Cook was scheduled to discuss the one-day series against New Zealand which was due to start in Hamilton overnight but found himself dealing with peripheral matters. The IPL issue was placed at the top of the agenda once more by Angus Porter, the chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association, which deals with the England and Wales Cricket Board on the central contracts.
Anticipating a kerfuffle over the 2013 deal for the international elite, Porter suggested that they were substantially underpaid because of their inability to take part in the IPL and, indeed, other Twenty20 competitions.
Cook said: "That always happens whenever central contracts come up. I haven't spoken to Angus about what he said. It is important we focus on trying to win a one-day series in New Zealand.
"Playing for England is such a huge honour it should always remain that. Clearly, with policies and rotation, people are missing games. We have to look at that for longevity but we should remember how lucky we are. We're very lucky to be doing what we're doing."
The IPL remains the most lucrative of the T20 tournaments. Glenn Maxwell, the Australia all-rounder, has landed a $1 million-a-year contract for six weeks' work with Mumbai Indians, his compatriot Kane Richardson of New Zealand is being paid $700,000 by Pune Warrriors.
Centrally contracted England players, of whom there are nine in all, can expect around £250,000 a year. England's players are not prohibited from taking part but their right to appear is curtailed because they must return in time for the first home Test series of the summer. In turn, this makes the IPL clubs deeply reluctant to sign Englishmen.
This year, for instance, the wicket keeper Matt Prior was overlooked, while others did not bother to put their names forward. The 2013 IPL continues until 26 May but any England player taking part would have to be back by 5 May to prepare for the first Test against New Zealand which begins on 17 May.
Cook said: "You have a very short career and you have every right to try and earn as much money as possible because it's a professional sport. But the crux of the matter is how lucky we are and how much pride there should be in wearing the three lions."
Porter insisted that players wanted to be flexible and were prepared to compromise. But it will be lost on nobody that a major part of Kevin Pietersen's grievance with England last summer was the fact that his central contract meant he had to cut short his IPL commitment.
It is possible that the debate could be inflamed by New Zealand and force the ECB to reflect more than they have been inclined to do so far. When the Kiwis begin their England tour at the start of May, they are certain to be missing key team members who will be on IPL duty.
Marsh hunts down the Lions
The in-form Shaun Marsh limped his way to a match-winning hundred as England Lions were beaten by Australia A in a thrilling 50-over clash in Hobart.
The Western Australian, 29, collapsed on the pitch after taking a single on 98 but battled on for the run he needed before retiring hurt.
By then, Marsh had already done enough to put his side on their way to a seven-wicket win, sharing in an opening stand of 172 with Aaron Finch as Australia chased down England's total of 259 for six with five balls to spare. Finch was out for 80, leaving Joe Burns and Tim Paine to finish the job.Reuse content