England finally backed down yesterday by agreeing to allow their players to appear in the Indian Premier League. It was the definitive confirmation that the cash-rich Twenty20 tournament, worth millions of dollars to star players, is not only here to stay but has changed the face of world cricket.
After tortuous three-way negotiations lasting for months it has been agreed that England's centrally contracted players will be permitted to play in the IPL for three weeks this April and in 2010. It means that the marquee names such as Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen will fly out to India less than a week after spending 73 days in the Caribbean playing three forms of cricket, will take part in a handful of matches for huge reward in the IPL and will return to England with five days to spare before the First Test match against the West Indies at Lord's.
Although this is far from ideal – and will shatter for ever the notion that players should be protected from burnout – there was in the end no choice. The England and Wales Cricket Board realised that it could not go on denying its players the chance to take part in the IPL without serious consequences on several fronts.
"If this works as I think, it will strengthen the central contracts system," said Sean Morris, the chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association, who has been involved in the talks throughout. "It has been very hard to reach this point but I think it has rebuffed the risk of players defecting or retiring early. That was a very real threat."
Apart from Pietersen and Flintoff the other Test players likely to attract IPL franchises are Paul Collingwood, Owais Shah and Stuart Broad. It can be taken as read that other players and their agents are working feverishly to get a slice of the action. Last year mind-boggling amounts were bid: Mahendra Singh Dhoni, now India's captain, fetched $1.5m (£1.1m). This year's fees will be determined at a player auction on 6 February.
The agreement, not quite signed off but said to be 99 per cent certain, was all about compromise. There was no way the ECB wanted its most precious assets to go but it was persuaded by two factors. First, the players might simply have gone. Secondly, the ECB is desperate for Indian cricketers to take part in the English Premier League in 2010.
Morris and his ECB namesake, Hugh Morris, the managing director of England cricket, have been in negotiations for months. They had to satisfy Lalit Modi, the commissioner of the IPL. Modi, who was keen for the England players to stay for four weeks, eventually appears to have relented and reduced the participation period to three weeks.
Window of opportunity: England's IPL period
4 April: England return from West Indies tour
10 April: IPL starts
Sat-Sun 2-3 May: England players return to England from IPL
Thur 6 May: First Test v West Indies