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October 10, 2013
Andrew Strauss, the former England captain, has called for England players to be allowed to play in the IPL or risk falling behind the major cricketing nations in the shorter format of the game.
Strauss contends in his newly-published autobiography, Driving Ambition, that established players are left in limbo when it comes to T20, unable to develop their skills either in IPL or in England's domestic tournament due to non-stop international commitments.
His remarks come as the ECB and players' representatives, led by the Professional Cricketers' Association, seek to conclude an agreement on England central contracts in which the opportunity to play in the IPL has been a major bone of contention.
Strauss, conservative by instinct, writes: "Going to India, surrounding yourself with the best players in the world and learning how to innovate and adapt in vastly different conditions must surely be of huge benefit to players (not to mention the obvious benefits to their bank accounts).
"Unfortunately, the IPL teams are reluctant to select England players, knowing that they will not be available for the whole tournament. In addition the ECB is less-than-keen to see its best assets wandering off to a foreign domestic tournament when they should be getting invaluable rest.
"However, if England are serious about being a force in the international game, one thing the administrators have to look at is creating a window to allow our players to participate. The IPL is not going anywhere and we run the risk of slipping behind other teams in both ODI and Twenty20 cricket if our players don't participate."
Strauss turned down ECB entreaties to apply for the role of managing director of England cricket, which is soon to be vacated by Hugh Morris, the man centrally involved in contract discussions on behalf of the ECB. Instead he will commit most of his energy to his corporate consultancy business. If that spares Strauss from coming up with his own solution to what is arguably the most intractable issue in English cricket, his impatience for change is clear.
"New players coming into the England side in recent years have generally had a reasonable level of experience in the Twenty20 game and have managed to expand their games accordingly.
"What remains a problem, though, is that players who are already part of the England set-up do not play a lot of domestic Twenty20 cricket, so ironically their skills do not continue to develop as much as might be the case. For me, that makes the opportunity for England players to compete in the IPL a really important issue."
England have switched the order of their spring internationals in 2014, preceding the early Test series against Sri Lanka with a mix of T20 and ODIs, which has encouraged the belief that England - and Sri Lanka - players with IPL contracts will be allowed to use IPL as an acceptable warm-up and return for the start of England's international season at the last minute.
Strauss had personal experience of the pressures that IPL has brought to bear on English cricket when he became embroiled in the long-running power struggle between the ECB and Kevin Pietersen in the 2012 South Africa series. Pietersen took offence at the ECB's insistence that his wish to play IPL must always be secondary to his international duties.
For Strauss, England Test cricket remains sacrosanct: "The ECB were unwilling - rightly in my opinion - to let any player either miss or not be properly prepared to play in a Test match to fulfil IPL obligations."
To maintain Test cricket's supremacy, Strauss writes that administrators should place a keener focus on developing cricketers for the five-day game, which the current county system does not best serve; Strauss regarding it as putting volume ahead of intensity - a blow for the ECB which embarks upon its latest restructuring of the county game next season.
"In England, we should have an advantage over other countries because of our long-established domestic structure," he says. "What is desperately needed, in my opinion, is for that structure to move with the times.
"Administrators need to ask themselves, 'What is the best system for producing excellent England cricketers?' As that is where all the revenues for the game come from, rather than 'What is in the best interests of county members?' Looking at it from that standpoint would result in a very different domestic structure from the one we currently employ."
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