English counties will this week jeopardise a potential £2.5m Champions League jackpot by selecting "rebel" players in this season's domestic Twenty20 Cup. English cricket's Twenty20 jamboree begins tomorrow evening with the finalists of this summer's tournament being invited to play in the inaugural Champions League, a competition containing the best two Twenty20 teams from Australia, England, India and South Africa, with a first prize of £2.5m.
But 10 of England's 18 counties – the other eight, for differing reasons, do not expect to field rebel players – are prepared to risk being thrown out of the tournament by ignoring a threat from Lalit Modi, the chairman of the Indian Premier League, and possibly the most powerful figure in world cricket. Modi said that any side who pick cricketers who played in the unauthorised Indian Cricket League will be disqualified from playing in the Champions League, scheduled to be take place in Dubai or India in late September or early October.
Counties are aware of Modi's stance but they claim the England and Wales Cricket Board has not yet given them clear guidance. The ECB denies this, saying that it provided the counties with advice during the winter, information that said an invitation to take part in the highly lucrative Champions League could not be guaranteed if they picked individuals who participated in this year's ICL tournament.
Giles Clarke, the chairman of the ECB, nudged the question of player availability to fine leg on Sunday, stating that it was Cricket Australia's job to devise the rules of the competition.
Cricket Australia could take one of four options. It could ban every team who pick an ICL player; ban all players who have had any link with the ICL; ban players who have agreed to continue playing in the ICL; or allow everyone to play. The rules will not be announced before tomorrow and the eventual outcome will give a good indication of the influence of Modi and Indian cricket on the world game.
"We will play our strongest side," said Paul Millman, the chief executive of Kent, the reigning champions. They have two rebel players, Justin Kemp and Azhar Mahmood, on their playing staff. "We will get on with life, try to win the tournament and worry about India's views if and when it comes along. When the regulations become clear we will have to adjust."
Several England-qualified players have played in the ICL, including Worcestershire's Vikram Solanki, Nottinghamshire's Chris Read, Leicestershire's Paul Nixon and Warwickshire's Darren Maddy, but they are in the clear because they did not play after a cut-off date in 2007.
Matters should become clearer in 2009, when the ECB amends its player registration document. From next year a player's registration, and therefore his ability to play for a county, will be refused if he has played in a tournament or event that is not authorised by the board that governs cricket in the country.
In the long run, and if it is legally enforceable, the move could help the England cricket team. There is currently great concern over the number of Kolpak players – non-England qualified cricketers who are free to work here under European Law – within the game. Their employment reduces the opportunities of young England qualified players. The new ruling could put an end to that.
The risk-takers: Counties with ICL players
*COUNTIES WHO WILL FIELD ICL PLAYERS IN TWENTY20 CUP
Derbyshire: Wavell Hinds
Durham: Dale Benkenstein
Gloucestershire: Hamish Marshall
Hampshire: Nic Pothas (and possibly Ian Harvey)
Kent: Justin Kemp, Azhar Mahmood
Lancashire: Stuart Law, Lou Vincent
Northamptonshire: Lance Klusener, Nicky Boje, Andrew Hall, Johan van der Wath, Niall O'Brien
Nottinghamshire: Andre Adams
Surrey: Saqlain Mushtaq, Abdul Razzaq
Sussex: Mushtaq Ahmed, Murray Goodwin
*COUNTIES WHO WON'T
Essex, Glamorgan (Herschelle Gibbs replacing ICL's Jason Gillespie, tactical decision), Leicestershire, Middlesex Somerset, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Yorkshire (Rana Naved-ul-Hasan injured. Would have played if fit)