The Indian Premier League will decide by the end of this week whether to make its temporary home in England. Such a move remains astonishing but the likelihood increased markedly last night with the richest tournament in world cricket desperately in need of salvation. The IPL commissioner, Lalit Modi, will fly from India for talks with the England and Wales Cricket Board's senior officials on Wednesday.
England emerged as one of three possible venues after the Board of Control for Cricket in India decided that this year's competition, featuring most of the world's top players, had to be moved. The event, running from 10 April to 24 May, coincides with national elections in the country and, despite protracted negotiations with the government, no schedule could be agreed that would have ensured the safety of players.
England have already calculated that they have sufficient grounds available, though the eight franchised teams would have no home ground and the whole event would be a moveable feast between venues across the country.
Last night, David Collier, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, who was in Guyana to watch England in the one-day series, said: "We have opened up discussions with the BCCI and the IPL in the last 36 hours and will be continuing those discussions in the middle of this week. Then we will report back to our board. Clearly, with only three weeks to go to the start of the competition all parties recognise an early decision has to be made."
If the IPL came to England it would clash with the May Test series and the one-day internationals between England and the West Indies, as well as the start of the domestic county season.
But despite the obvious potential for overkill and the other options of moving the smash-hit Twenty20 tournament to either South Africa or the United Arab Emirates, it seems that England have emerged as favourites for the move.
It was an unwelcome decision for the BCCI to cancel arrangements for the tournament in India, but, ultimately, it had no alternative because of the security issue. The BCCI president, Shashank Manohar, said: "We made our best efforts to see that the event takes place in India. However, because of the government's attitude that they cannot provide security we were forced to take a decision to move the event."
With millions of dollars invested by the eight franchise holders in the tournament and because it was a massive television hit in its inaugural season last year, cancellation was ruled out. With time short, a swift decision is essential and money will talk.
Relations between England and India have often been strained recently, but England revived goodwill between the countries by agreeing to return to continue their tour of India late last year after the Mumbai terrorist atrocity. Despite Collier's guarded optimism that an English IPL would be possible, there are several obstacles to overcome.
The fixtures clash is the most obvious and there is no question of rescheduling any matches. The IPL final would be on the same day as England's second one-dayer against West Indies at Bristol. The World Twenty20, which starts in England on 5 June, would mean Twenty20 overload.
BSkyB, the ECB's television partners, for Test matches and one-dayers, is hardly likely to embrace a move to England since Setanta, the satellite rivals, holds the IPL rights.
Modi and Collier refused to discuss revenue-sharing arrangements but they will be crucial. "We are not bothered about the cost factor but the issue is the integrity of the tournament," Modi said.
South Africa, whose domestic season finishes on 9 April, pronounced themselves ready to stage the competition. But England seemed about to move heaven, earth and a huge amount of television rigging to make it happen.