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February 13, 2014
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News : Surrey agree Pietersen T20 terms
England's professional circuit was quietly celebrating its good fortune after Kevin Pietersen became the only English-qualified cricketer to win a deal during the two-day IPL auction.
England's wannabe IPL stars must now dig out their woolly hats and prepare for early-season cricket in England in what has now been confirmed as the most appealing start to the County Championship for many years.
Even Pietersen, who won the third-biggest deal when he rejoined Delhi Daredevils for £880,000, will spend a substantial amount of his summer on county grounds. After being effectively sacked by England, he has confirmed his appearance for Surrey in the NatWest T20 Blast and might even play a couple of Championship matches.
The counties' delight at the short-term benefits, however, were tempered as Angus Porter, chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) warned that the benefits of IPL involvement should not be underestimated and that what has virtually become a siege economy has its pitfalls.
Several English counties are already scouring the list of players who did not win IPL deals in the hope that those rejected players, international commitments permitting, will now give more serious consideration to less lucrative contracts for the NatWest Blast. As the tournament is set to spread over three months to attract a regular Friday night audience, such deals will be far from easy.
Nothing is easy for England's professional circuit in these days of expanding T20 tournaments. If the Championship looks set for a high-profile start - with more places up for grabs in the England team than for many years as a consequence of the Ashes whitewash - T20 has work to do.
The counties now face an additional challenge from the Caribbean Premier League which runs from July 30 to August 24, a tournament where players are confident they can gain richer rewards, with fewer tax issues, for a shorter time - and lie on Caribbean beaches on their off-days. Sri Lanka's top players, who might be regarded as prime targets for English counties, are already eyeing their options in the Caribbean.
That explains Yorkshire's delight at attracting the Australian Aaron Finch, who has put career development ahead of easy money and a few rum punches, and whose signing has left the ticket office besieged by enquiries.
The feeling is growing that unless the ECB uses a modest proportion of its anticipated rise in rights money to subsidise directly counties' costs in attracting T20 players of high pedigree, the NatWest Blast could come under severe pressure in an inaugural season that is crucial to the future of T20 in England. Even counties prepared to gamble on large crowds are inhibited by a salary cap intended to promote a more level playing field and prevent a salary explosion.
The lack of interest by the Indian franchises in England's top players was partly as a result of the fallout from a disastrous Ashes showing, but the biggest influence was more prosaic: it was largely a matter of unavailability.
Four of England's most marketable stars - Eoin Morgan (a late change of heart), Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes -all chose not to put their name forward for the auction so they could concentrate on preparing for England's Test summer - or, in Buttler's case, make the sort of impression with Lancashire in early season that could win a Test debut.
Other England one-day specialists suffered because of a reversing of England's fixture list which sees their international summer begin on May 20 with a one-day series against Sri Lanka. That would have meant that England and Sri Lanka players would be available for only five of the eight weeks at most.
Porter bemoans England's IPL freeze out
The 2014 IPL has now been confirmed as taking place between April 9 and June 3 (not as much a window as an entire conservatory) and, although India remains the preferred venue, part of the tournament might decamp to South Africa if Indian elections cause security issues.
That fixture reversal undermined the attempts of England short-format specialists such as Luke Wright and Alex Hales to win a deal. Hales, ranked as the No 3 T20 batsman in the world, also suffered from the insistence of his county, Nottinghamshire, that he entered the auction at the highest reserve price of around £200,000.
England's players were routinely ignored. As Ian Bell, Samit Patel, Ravi Bopara, Craig Kieswetter , Jade Dernbach, Rikki Clarke and Simon Jones were offered for sale, the Indian franchise owners could barely raise the energy to shake their heads. Wright put it down partly to a lack of English coaches in the IPL and there is some evidence that coaches do tend to favour their own.
Fifty of the 154 players sold over the last two days hailing from outside India. Essex were braced for inevitable interest in the Netherlands' allrounder Ryan ten Doeschate and in came to pass when he was signed by Kolkata Knight Riders, earning a relatively modest £110,000 for the privilege.
Pietersen is now predominantly a T20 specialist - any other form of the game he plays will be primarily to keep his eye in - and he collected the third biggest deal in the 2014 IPL auction. He will be coached by a fellow South African, Gary Kirsten, who was deemed to be on England's shortlist before he announced that he preferred a more normal home life and to get his rewards faster at the IPL.
Despite the state of flux surrounding the England team, the agreement between the PCA and the ECB still holds; that contracted players are expected back from the IPL around 13 May - a week before the first international fixture of the season.
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