On the front foot: Overkill could leave English League dead in water after missing boat

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The Independent Online

As Middlesex and England set off for the Antiguan cash extravaganza this week, it might seem that everything is right with English cricket's world. It is not.

It is a mess, a porridge of conflicting objectives and missed opportunities that a tawdry bucketload of a rich man's lucre cannot disguise.

England have been ejected from a gravy train they started rolling. Desperate to take advantage of the Twenty20 phenomenon, English administrators are in serious danger not only of being frozen out but of becoming a laughing stock.

Antigua and the millions being offered by Sir Allen Stanford – well, hundreds of thousands in the case of Middlesex – may be substantial compensation, but the evidence is growing that England are floundering and friendless.

They are barely part of either the Indian Premier League or the Indian-based T20 Champions League, in which Middlesex at least promise to be the most cordial if not formidable of representatives.

Now the England and Wales Cricket Board have unveiled, though not officially, two more domestic Twenty20 tournaments which are dueto start in 2010.

One of them is to be called the English Premier League and is supposed to attract the world's finest. The world's finest will be nowhere near it, however, having filled their boots in the IPL.

This double whammy, which will involve the effective sidelining of the County Championship, is T20 overkill, as every senior player has already said, and bespeaks a boat that can never have been missed so resoundingly.

Burning issue before Ashes

England have lost further face. They are grovelling around trying to ensure that Sri Lanka come to these shores next summer for a two-Test series.

Sri Lanka probably will not come, or not their first team anyway. This series – which is scheduled to take place in an English season when the World Twenty20 and the Ashes are already happening here – is unwanted.

Nor is it part of the official Future Tours Programme – that would have been the original tourists, Zimbabwe.

England recruited Sri Lanka partly because seven Test matches seems to have become part of every summer but largely to appease their paymasters at Sky Television, who are a force for good in the English game but still have loads of airtime to fill between football seasons.

It would be much to England's credit if they simply said to Sri Lanka: "Thanks but no thanks."

They can take all of Stanford's money they want, but it won't buy them respect.

Division of the T20 spoils

Talking of face, Middlesex's chief executive, Vinny Codrington, managed to keep his straight the other day when discussing the county's imminent Twenty20 engagements. It was all very well, he said, playing for £2.5 million in the Champions League, but the County Championship remained the main prize for Middlesex. In that case, better get out of Division Two first then, Vinny.