IPL riches threaten to split England squad

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Forget the notion that playing for England is the only thing that matters to Michael Vaughan and his side, a recent survey by the players union, the Professional Cricketers Association, has shown that 35 per cent of those picked to play Test and one-day cricket would consider retiring from the international game prematurely to sign up for the highly lucrative Indian Premier League.

The revelation will come as a major disappointment to the hundreds of thousands of cricket fans who continue to spend a small fortune supporting the national side both at home and abroad. They would like to believe that playing for England meant everything, but England's starting XI for the first Test against New Zealand on 15 May will undoubtably contain players who would rather be in Mumbai than Lord's.

The IPL, which began last week in Bangalore, has become the most talked about event in world cricket, with every player on the planet seemingly wanting to get a slice of the action. Many of those playing in India are earning a year's salary in six weeks, and England's professional cricketers want the ICC to create a window in their Future Tours Programme so they can cash in. The survey showed that nine players had been approached to play in the IPL and 27 offered deals to sign up for the Indian Cricket League, the unsanctioned competitor of the IPL.

Nearly every cricketer wants the option to play in India and the majority feel that what is taking place there has the potential to threaten other forms of the game. Seventy three per cent believe that the IPL will result in players attempting to specialise in that form of the game and 31 per cent think Test cricket will suffer.

Nobody can be 100 per cent sure of how successful the IPL will ultimately be and how it will affect the world game, and there are certain doubts as to how the tournament has been presented by the organisers, the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Recent observers in India have suggested that the $1 billion (£500m) television deal is reliant on the company doubling their commitment of $330m for the second five years of the contract. It has also been reported that television-viewing figures since the opening game have fallen below a benchmark figure and 60 per cent of those attending have been let in for free. Nothing is certain.

The findings of the PCA will not make pleasant reading for the England and Wales Cricket Board, who now look after their players extremely well, but the views of the players may change when the ECB announces a five-year plan in association with Sir Allen Stanford. It has the potential to turn them all in to millionaires.

Stanford is committed to a $150m deal with the ECB that will see the England side play five annual matches against a West Indies Stanford XI side in Antigua for a winner takes all prize of $20m. The Texan billionaire has also agreed to bankroll an annual five-year quadrangular tournament at Lord's. The event would see England, a West Indies Stanford XI and two full ICC teams invited by the ECB play three matches – two semi-finals and a final – for a winner takes all prize of $10m.

The contracts are yet to be signed but it is only a matter of time after both parties agreed that the event should not be a one off and considerable investment would be made in to West Indies and English cricket. The ECB do not want the event to be about the rich getting richer, and Sri Lanka and New Zealand will be the first two teams invited to play.

The first Twenty20 for $20m game is expected to take place at Stanford's own ground on 1 November, Antigua Independence Day, later this year. The date fits in before England's scheduled tour of India. The quadrangular tournament is unlikely to be played before 2010. Attempts to organise it this year would be hectic and in 2009 England host the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup and compete for the Ashes.

Stanford is a potential investor in a soon to be revamped England Premier League too, but he is not the only figure keen to get involved. The ECB are yet to finalise a format for the new Twenty20 league and are expected to make an announcement in a month's time. City franchises and regional cricket sides are unlikely to feature and it too will not start before 2010.