Nothing is going right for England. Defeat on the field is being accompanied by desperate – and, so far, similarly successful – brinkmanship off it. If Kevin Pietersen's side are having difficulty keeping up with Mahendra Singh Dhoni's slick Indian team, England's administrators are being led a dance merrier than John Sergeant himself could conjure. The unkind might conclude that asses are being led by donkeys.
At the core of fractious negotiations is Twenty20 cricket: the Indian Premier League and whether England's players appear in it, the so-called England Premier League and Indian involvement, and the future format of the Champions League.
Everyone wants a share of the money, but in essence it is up to India whether they get it. England must have Indian players, and many other nationalities, taking part in their Premier League due to start in 2010, otherwise it could face serious trouble under trade description regulations, let alone crowd resistance.
But in return India want more involvement by English players in the IPL. The competition could probably do without them, considering its huge success in their absence this year, but that is hardly the point. There are at least two obstacles. England insist their players can appear in the IPL next year for no more than 15 days because of the first Test series of the summer. But they still have no one to play. The original opponents were Zimbabwe who, had they not withdrawn from Test cricket, would have been spurned on moral grounds.
The replacements, Sri Lanka, suddenly became unavailable when it was clear that the entire side are contracted to the IPL. A deal is expected with West Indies any day, but there is a possibility that some of their first-choice squad will bunk off to the IPL.
The much-derided Stanford Twenty- 20 for $20m match may ride to the rescue. Since the Stanford Superstars won that game, the eight Test players in it, who each won $1m, may feel they can afford to be loyal. But the England and Wales Cricket Board know that's not certain and can only fret on it.
A West Indian Second XI in May would be distinctly bad for business. Given the packed summer – the World Twenty20 and the Ashes follow – cancellation might seem attractive, but the financial loss would be so great as to force the abandonment of all central contracts. Those contracts remain unsigned. The delay over IPL agreement is one reason, but anotheris that they have not been drawn up. And much to the ECB's irritation, players' agents are encouraging IPL participation, for the obvious reason.
The ECB seem pretty sure of their players' loyalty and make much of the fact that although there were 20 Australians in the inaugural IPL, the five Test players only stayed a fortnight before going off to play for their country in the West Indies. But in most years Australians will be available because they will not have a tour then, whereas England will always have an early home series, automatically reducing potential IPL involvement – assuming players stay loyal. The ECB are already resigned to fringe players going to the IPL come next April.
Nor will a window for the IPL work. England might then want one for the EPL and Australia for any T20 they start. India are at least four times as commercially strong as anybody else.
The ECB will resume negotiations during the Champions League in a fortnight. There lies another bone of contention, since England have only one representative, Middlesex, and were frozen out of becoming a founder member of the competition by India, Australia and South Africa. England claim they will have two counties competing next year and resist suggestions that they have been outflanked.
Last week, India appeared to back down after requesting that the Second Test between the sides start a day later to accommodate the end of the Champions League. They should never have dared ask, but in apparentlybeing so gracious they may well want something in return.