England's preparations for the Test series against South Africa have been disrupted by a dispute about central contracts and the Indian Premier League. With the first Test at Lord's only five days away, players are refusing to be pushed into signing new deals, not due to begin until September, by next week.
The England and Wales Cricket Board's urgency is explained by the presence in London of several agents acting on behalf of IPL teams. They are keen to sign at least six England players and will also offer deals to top county specialists.
Sean Morris, the chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association who has been in talks this week with Hugh Morris, the ECB's managing director, said the new contracts needed to be assessed.
"We don't want to be rushed into this and the players need to make sure they are making the right decisions," he said. "I think it's understood there won't now be any settlement before the Lord's Test."
The ECB would prefer its players not to be courted by the IPL. By bringing the contracts forward – claiming a crowded calendar makes it necessary – it hopes to exert more control.
The players may sign IPL deals before central contracts, with caveats about availability. Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff are the top targets but Owais Shah, Ravi Bopara, Paul Collingwood and Stuart Broad are also being offered deals.
Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner, said in Dubai yesterday that IPL clubs were now signing their own players. In the first season they were enlisted from a central pool.
"There are rules about not signing players who turn down central contracts and who do not have no-objection certificates from their own boards," he said, "but this will become a grey area and we live in the real world."