Willey IPL bound as Super Kings come calling
David Willey is poised to become the 12th England player to receive a call up to the IPL. Yorkshire have received the paperwork from the ECB, who act as the initial broker between the IPL and the counties, and are bracing themselves for the inevitable.
The England all-rounder left a pre-season friendly in Leicester on Monday to finalise terms with Chennai Super Kings.
The English counties are now largely resigned to losing their best one-day players in the IPL auction, but aggravation is growing that further players are being called up as like-for-like reinforcements the moment that injuries begin to bite.
Yorkshire are feeling more frustrated than most, seemingly losing not just Liam Plunkett - a replacement for Kagiso Rabada at Delhi Daredevils - but now Willey within a week of the new season starting.
Chennai also confirmed their interest, after losing India allrounder Kedar Jadhav to injury. They have room on their overseas roster having not yet replaced New Zealand's Mitchell Santner.
Back in England, with the Championship season due to begin on Friday, the feeling is growing that a cut-off date should be imposed by the ECB for England players to take part in IPL. Only the English season clashes with the tournament and county players, having been in pre-season training for weeks, are increasingly regarded as oven-ready replacements.
The record number of English players in the tournament will deepen the sense of crisis as county cricket's leading coaches meet at Edgbaston on Tuesday to consider how to respond to the lure of sundry worldwide Twenty20 leagues to the top limited-overs players in the country.
Martyn Moxon, Yorkshire's director of cricket, who will chair the meeting, said: "We find ourselves in an impossible situation with these late replacement requests.
"At the moment, we are potentially looking at a situation where if we deny a player an opportunity, we will be left with someone who is not completely focused on playing for Yorkshire. This would be counter-productive.
"There are now 12 English players in this year's IPL, so the issue goes further than just here at Emerald Headingley.
"I will be chairing a meeting with other directors of cricket at Edgbaston to discuss the future of the game. With the number of domestic T20 contracts available worldwide, it is important that we future-proof the County Championship. I will be calling for the introduction of a cut-off date, after which players will not be allowed to go to the IPL. Hopefully this can gain national approval and be supported by the ECB."
Willey has been involved in negotiations for a contract for 2019 in all three forms of the game and last week rubbished suggestions he might favour a white-ball future, pronouncing: "I want to win a Championship with Yorkshire." If he goes to the IPL, he now stands to miss roughly half the season and once again will fail to make the four-day impact envisaged by Yorkshire when they signed him from Northants more than two years ago and he hailed the chance to improve his red-ball game.
That IPL will drain county cricket is now inevitable. The only question is how England's first-class game will respond to ensure its survival and validity.
County contracts are already complicated by England central contracts, primarily aimed at Test players, and top-up deals for a limited number of limited-overs players, payments which are meant to supplement a county salary.
Only the IPL, among the Twenty20 leagues worldwide, pays compensation. England-contracted players are expected to compensate the ECB with a full day's pay for each day they are away at the IPL while other county players reimburse their counties at 1% of their annual county salary per day up to 21 days and 0.7% for subsequent days.
The days of the GBP £100,000-plus county contract seem numbered as top players increasingly cannot match the security of a county contract with reliable availability. The situation is complicated further by plans for a new eight-team city-based tournament in England in 2020. Quite what compensation the counties will be paid for the loan of their players remains a mystery.
While such uncertainty clouds the game, counties are understandably reluctant to offer new contracts beyond 2019, leaving agents struggling to achieve what they regard as satisfactory deals. Drawing up a playing staff budget, especially for top clubs, is little better than guesswork.
Despite this, it is open season on transfers from Tuesday as the 28-day notice of approach for players begins on April 10 - meaning prospective transfers for next season can get underway before this season has even begun so causing further uncertainty.
Wherever the English game looks, uncertainty and instability rules.
With inputs from Vishal Dikshit
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps