'England can't afford to lose their best players to the IPL'
Dougie Brown, the chairman of the Professional Cricketers' Association, has warned that the majority of England's leading Test players might be lost to the Indian Premier League if the English authorities try to force the likes of Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen to choose between the new tournament and representing their country.
Brown, who has investigated the IPL's finances and believes that the competition will be a massive success, has grown increasingly concerned over what he perceives as administrators in England sticking their heads in the sand and refusing to grapple with the true consequences of the IPL.
Citing as evidence a recent poll which revealed that nearly 50% of Australia's best cricketers are apparently prepared to contemplate quitting the Test circuit if they are refused the opportunity to participate in the new Twenty20 tournament in India, whose initial contract lasts ten years, Brown has urged the world's cricketing bodies to thrash out a revised schedule which prevents the kind of schism which would make Kerry Packer's 1970s breakaway series seem trivial by comparison.
"The balance of power in the sport is shifting away from the ICC to the BCCI and England can't afford to lose all their best players to the IPL, but the players have families to worry about, mortgages to pay, and futures to consider, and you can't blame them for looking at the chance of being able to earn twice as much in a month as they could do in a whole year and concluding: 'I want a piece of that'," said Brown. "I think we have to be careful not to dilute Twenty20's appeal by setting up tournaments all over the world, because cricket has to keep coming up with fresh ideas and the last thing we need is for the calendar to feature half-a dozen Twenty20 international events on it, because broadcasters aren't stupid. They know that the public will get behind the IPL, because it is original and it is unique, and I have no doubt that we will see that the Indians turn it into terrific success.
"But we have to fight to preserve the integrity of Test cricket, and to make sure that the game doesn't become one-dimensional. We are in danger of driving the best players away from the Test circuit if we are heavy-handed in dealing with them. This is bigger than Packer - his WSC only lasted for three or four years, whereas the IPL will be with us for the next decade and we have to accept it will transform the face of cricket.
"So that is why it is so important that the ECB understands there has to be an even-handed approach to letting their best players perform in the IPL. If they simply refuse to let them perform in the Indian structure, that will set a very dangerous precedent, because big-name players, the kind of high-profile names who light up Test matches, will choose to walk away and focus exclusively on Twenty20. So this is a critical period for us all."
Neil Drysdale is a freelance journalist and author