England's most spectacular batsman has spent most of last week kicking his heels in Dubai. Since it can be safely assumed that Eoin Morgan was not in town for the quarterly board meeting of the International Cricket Council, his presence merely seemed to encapsulate the low regard for the way his adopted country plays a game they invented – and the number of tricks they have missed as its power, influence, reach and financial clout have grown inexorably.
Twenty20 has done almost everything it seemed capable of when it hit English grounds, not so much running as flying into the stratosphere, in 2003. England and their players are still largely performing on the fringes, however, long ago left behind and still vainly trying to catch up.
Morgan was grounded in the desert because of the flights chaos provoked by a certain Icelandic volcano, but he had arrived there in the first place because he was unwanted by his Indian Premier League team, Bangalore Royal Challengers, in the closing stages of the event. The Challengers gave him permission to leave because they did not need him – and this a batsman who recently had played two breathtaking international T20 innings.
England left yesterday for the World Twenty20 in the West Indies on the very day that the IPL final took place in Mumbai and yet again, for a major one-day event, it is more in hope than expectation. Some of that hope is pinned on the newcomers to the squad– the opener Michael Lumb, who has actually been playing in the IPL, for the Rajasthan Royals, and the wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter.
"They're new to the team and they could bring a fearless element to the top of the order," said England's leading bowler James Anderson yesterday. "Michael's been out in the IPL so he's got a lot of Twenty20 experience and they could bring some excitement. We go into every tournament thinking we can win it and wanting to win it.
"We had a good tour of Dubai and a good series in Bangladesh so if we can gel together as a team I see no reason why we can't win it."
Anderson's coach Andy Flower, though, gave a more honest assessment of where England are at. "We're undercooked," he admitted. "We were in Bangladesh recently and we finished that tour playing Test cricket, so those guys who did not go to the IPL have played only first-class cricket recently. And I do find it strange that we have one or two T20s dotted around the year and then suddenly we go into what is a huge world tournament."
Anderson feels differently: "I don't see it that way," he said. "We've had guys out in the IPL, we had a recent tour of Dubai and we've got a couple of warm-up games out there to settle in as a team," added the Lancashire bowler, who feels he is recovered from recent injuries. "It was good to get back into some cricket," he said of his recent county action. "The knee feels good and I'm excited to be going to the Caribbean. [Twenty20] is a non-stop game – you've got to be running around for three hours solid. I'm confident the knee is going to be fine. I got through the Championship games without any pain."
There's been pain aplenty in the IPL, though, which has had a flabbergasting week with its final stages besmirched by violence and scandal, which have merely served to reinforce what a monster it has become.
The scheduling of the two events in such quick succession itself points up the irresistible advance of T20 at a time when the International Cricket Council continues to flounder in saving Test cricket. The ICC has now hired some market researchers to advise on what can be done to give international cricket generally and Test cricket specifically some context, as it likes to call it, but it may too easily find that Twenty20's money blows context out of the water unless decisive action follows quickly.
The ICC (and the England and Wales Cricket Board) will have been quietly delighted (and, in private, not so quietly) at the IPL's recent travails. Last weekend, not long before Bangalore's crucial final match, two bombs exploded outside the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. To general disbelief everywhere – everywhere that was not India – the fixture went ahead a few hours later.
No IPL official intervened and the semi-finals, due to take place in Bangalore, were rescheduled for Mumbai only 24 hours later. Then came more trouble as a series of raids by the Income Tax Department (I-T D) on the offices of Lalit Modi, the colourful IPL commissioner, teams and TV companies who hold broadcasting rights made it clear that the Indian government is determined that the competition has to be more financially rigorous.
There is a general feeling abroad that Modi needed bringing down a peg or ten. His style – individualistic, decisive, rarely inclusive – seems specifically designed to make enemies. But it has also helped the IPL to take all before it. Modi's eternally positive attitude has made it work, sometimes despite itself.
But the I-T D has been conducting investigations for months and in its leaked report it has traduced Modi and raised the spectre of match-fixing in the IPL as financial improbity on a grand scale. The Board of Control for Cricket in India, under whose auspices the IPL is run, has been forced to act. It has called a board meeting for today which Modi says he will not attend.
He will probably have to compromise because otherwise his tenure will be history. Modi will today find out who his friends are – or if he has any left. Whatever happens, the whole scandal overshadowed the final yesterday in which Sachin Tendulkar's Mumbai Indians took on Chennai Super Kings, led by Indian T20 captain MS Dhoni.
And it will be the talk of the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean as well, a tournament that will be deeply influenced in a playing sense by what has happened in the IPL. If England have learned enough, then who knows. They will look first to Lumb, Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood, who have been in IPL action.
Morgan performed fitfully for Bangalore in only six innings with a top score of 17 before patience was lost. But perhaps he will save for England those extraordinary reverse hits that Morgan performs, a by-product of his days spent hurling as a boy in Ireland, and his uncommonly sweet timing.
Much will depend on Collingwood, England's T20 captain, who has scored big runs for Delhi Daredevils. If he has taken in what he has seen then the failings of 35 years dating back to the 1975 World Cup could be rectified. But the IPL cleaning up its act by the end of the week is more likely.Reuse content