Players centrally contracted by England will not be free to take part in the Indian Premier League next year, according to Giles Clarke, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board. Test cricket, says Clarke, remains of paramount importance to the English game and defending that is the ECB's priority.
The IPL begins its first season next week – overshadowing the start of the English domestic campaign – with Dimitri Mascarenhas the only English player participating. But the IPL desires the world's best players and the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff remain on their wish list.
"I don't see it [England players competing in the 2009 IPL]," said Clarke yesterday. "The reason for central contracts is to allow the coach to determine how much cricket those players can play. I don't see Peter Moores determining that he wishes to release a player. The risks are very significant."
Last week Pietersen spoke of the appeal of the IPL and called for the schedules to be adjusted so he and his England team-mates might be able to play and reap the accompanying financial rewards.
England tour West Indies next spring before hosting Australia and Clarke believes any participation by England's players in the IPL in the brief window in between would be of no benefit to the national side. "Supporters want to know that our players are as fit, as sharp and ready for the Ashes as they can be and we have to ensure that they are. What the ECB wants is to have the best team in the best possible shape."
There remains the possibility that a player could decline a central contract to take part in the IPL. "That is a risk he would have to take," Clarke said. "He runs the risk of losing his place or getting injured. Cricket careers can come to an end. There are risks and rewards here. We are putting in place some very significant incentive programmes for winning series. People who turn up exhausted after playing IPL games, they are not necessarily in a position to help their fellow players earn those rewards.
"We have a clear understanding with the BCCI [India's governing body] that the future tours programme takes precedent." In other words – as it stands – England's international needs will not be undermined by the IPL.
The ECB is reviewing the structure of its own Twenty20 competition, with more games and more overseas players possibilities. "We are determined to enhance our own domestic Twenty20 so that it is a world-class event with world-class players," Clarke said.
"We don't see any rivalry between a domestic competition played in India and one played in England. We invented Twenty20 and it is really important to our game, but Test cricket is equally important and forms a large part of our revenues. We would be jeopardising our future greatly if we do not look after our Test cricket.
"The ICC has a major challenge to ensure the ultimate form of the game remains vibrant and we are determined it will in England. The ECB will not duck this challenge."