The IPL hasn’t even started but there are already waves of discontent, particularly from a certain island in the northern hemisphere. While the tension may not explode this year, it’s a timely reminder of what could happen if nobody listens or compromises. By ANT SIMS.
Every year, the Indian Premier League divides supporters across the board: those for, those against, and those who couldn’t care less.
The debates amongst fans surrounding the validity of the IPL have become as bog-standard as the debates surrounding the health of Test cricket. And while fans and supporters might be the highest-valued currency of cricket, those who play the game are held in higher esteem. That means those who play the game, particularly English players, find themselves in a tricky position.
The start of the IPL goes hand in hand with the start of the county season for England’s players. It’s the worst kind of situation for English county players, and has led to a number of counties barring their players form taking part in the glitzy tournament.
Nottinghamshire’s Michael Lumb is one player who was given the red light for participation and has admitted that he has considered a freelance career rather than missing out on a big pay day. The 33-year-old changed his mind, though, and instead thought to focus on achieving success with his county. But he believes that the exclusion from the tournament is setting a dangerous foundation where players will start to reject full-season contracts if it means not taking part in the IPL.
“I think you will see more and more of that with the money being thrown round these leagues, especially among players who don’t see themselves playing Test cricket, if the English clubs don’t allow their players to go because it clashes with county fixtures,” Lumb said.
“I think there is a mood among the players to change things so we do get the opportunity to play. If the rules can be done in such a way that we can take part, we’d like to play. But at the minute that’s not going to happen.”
Lumb was previously part of the IPL, but couldn’t take part in this year’s auction due to the County Championship kicking off just seven days after the IPL. While Nottinghamshire does encourage its players to take part in competitive cricket in the English off-season, they hold a contractual right to insist on the availability of all players for the full county season.
As a result, a number of English players have flocked to take part in competitions in South Africa, Australia and even Bangladesh, but the county insists that they need their best men for the start of the four-day competition.
“Our players can play wherever they want to between October 1 and April 10,” Nottinghamshire director of cricket Mick Newell said. “I’ve got no issues with that. We encourage our players to play abroad – Riki (Wessels) went to Bangladesh, Hales and Lumb to the Big Bash and Samit’s now got a gig in South Africa. But there has to be a point at which you say ‘No, we need all of our best players together now’.”
England also won’t have any teams in this year’s edition of the Champions League – the competition which offers the biggest pay day of any league for any team – and Lumb feels this is yet another blow. The English county season will go on until the last week of September, and these dates clash with the Champions League, meaning English sides are excluded. Lumb was part of the competition last year, with the Sydney Sixers, and won the final with that team.
“Having no teams in the Champions League is a huge blow for English counties,” Lumb said. “I was part of it last year and I know it is a fantastic competition.
“Playing the final at the Wanderers in Johannesburg was great for me because it allowed me to play in my home town and in front of my mum and dad, who had not seen me play for a while. But for any player to play before a full house in a stadium like that is a fantastic buzz.”
Lumb admits that being ostracised from the IPL is bound to cause discontent in the future in order to curb the freelance cricketer becoming common place.
“As for the IPL, it is disappointing that we can’t be involved this year. I can see it may cause a bit of trouble in the future and it something the management and coaches need to sort out.
“I don’t know how it will work or if there is a solution. I have thought about going freelance but for me it is not the right thing at the moment. I’m enjoying my cricket right now and enjoying being at Notts, with this group, and I want this group to have success, so for me it is not really an option. But I can see other players looking at it.”
Matt Prior has previously said that England players who hold central contracts are becoming increasingly frustrated with only being allowed to participate in the first half of the IPL due to clashes with Test fixtures.
It’s tricky situation for the ECB, since allowing players to be available for the whole tournament means that a fixture shuffle will be needed. Essentially this could set the tone that boards are buckling to the demand of the IPL to allow for a window period in the cricket calendar. While many have asked for this to be considered, it’s naïve and foolish, since the IPL is basically a domestic tournament – and no other domestic tournament is allowed a window. One might then argue that the IPL is on the same scale as the English Premier League, which goes on an international break every so often to accommodate availability of international players.
Cricket, of course, is far more complex than soccer, and England finds itself in an unfortunately placed hemisphere. A far better solution is for the IPL to simply consider shortening its season. It’s a beneficial solution, since it not only ensures interest from fans is retained throughout the tournament, but it also allows the tournament to attract English stars for its full season, meaning more eyeballs on TV and possible even a whole new array of sponsors.
It’s not that simple, of course, and it’s not certain whether the IPL will ever scale down on its already congested fixtures list. What is clear, though, is that there is a growing rumble of discontent and if it boils over, it could get quite nasty. DM
Photo: Policemen stand guard outside a cricket stadium during a match in IPL tournament in Kolkata April 19, 2010. REUTERS/Parth Sanyal
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