Champions League June 19, 2008

Counties free to pick players - Pawar

Sharad Pawar: "Test cricket remains the BCCI's first priority" © AFP

Sharad Pawar, the BCCI president, has said that all teams participating in the proposed Champions League have the freedom to include players of their choice for the US$5 million multi-club Twenty20 tournament, even it means including players with ties to the unauthorized Indian Cricket League (ICL). But he placed the onus on letting such teams go through on the countries they represent and warned that the BCCI would then have the freedom to take its decision on the issue.

"This is not within the BCCI's jurisdiction," Pawar told Cricinfo. "They can do what they want . If any country takes any decision on this, they have every right to do so. They have the freedom to take a decision on the teams they choose to represent them (in the Champions League). But then, we also have the freedom to take our decision on the issue later."

Pawar's statement turns the spotlight firmly on the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), which is the only national board to have allowed players associated with the ICL to play in its domestic circuit. The ECB has permitted around 25 such cricketers to represent 15 of its 18 counties after it faced legal action from the ICL, which was backed by the country's strong trade laws that protect the rights of individuals. The Champions League, which is being powered by the BCCI, is expected to feature the top two Twenty20 domestic teams from India, England, Australia and South Africa. An ECB spokesperson had said last week that it would wait for the tournament rules to be finalised before taking a stand on the issue.

Asked to elaborate on the possibility of English county teams with ICL players qualifying for the Champions League, Pawar referred to the ICC's stand on the ICL and said that all countries "have been informed about it". The ICC has clarified that it would go by the BCCI's policy towards ICL. "The ICL is a domestic event that takes place in India so our rules prescribe that any decision as to whether an event be regarded as official or not must be made by the country that event is played in," Dave Richardson, the ICC's acting chief executive, said.

The BCCI has cut off all official links with players associated with the ICL, which was launched last year before the BCCI's high-profile Indian Premier League (IPL). Asked whether the BCCI would be more generous now, especially towards young Indian players in the ICL, Pawar said, "If anybody approaches us, we will consider their case."

Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman and prime mover behind the Champions League, had previously told Cricinfo that teams with players associated with ICL would not be invited for the tournament "under any circumstance". Cricket Australia is drawing up the competition's rules, which are expected to be finalised during the ICC annual conference in Dubai at the end of the month.

Pawar also said that despite the hugely successful IPL, Test cricket remains the BCCI's "first priority" and said that the Indian board would soon discuss the ICC's proposal to hold a Test championship. "The BCCI is definitely working for the future of Test cricket," Pawar said. "We are clear and confident that Test cricket has a future. We have digested one-day cricket, we have digested Twenty20, but the first preference is always Test cricket. My first preference is always Test cricket. We will discuss the Test championship proposal."

Ajay Shankar is deputy editor of Cricinfo in Bangalore