England news January 7, 2014

Stokes and co face IPL dilemma

England players confident that they have clear permission to play in the IPL until May 13 this year could come under moral pressure to commit to Championship cricket and display a renewed resolve to atone for their failures in the Ashes series.

England's team director, Andy Flower, is already contemplating how much to press players to re-evaluate their techniques in domestic cricket rather than enter next month's auction for IPL 2014.

Most pressure could come to bear on Ben Stokes, England's one incontestable success in the Ashes, whose potential to become an indispensable and exciting allrounder in both Test and limited-overs cricket could put him in dangerously heavy demand.

That Stokes needs protection is evident. But there is also little doubt that Stokes' limited-overs game would develop more rapidly in the full glare of the IPL for a month - leaving him with some pondering to do as England try to salvage their self-respect in the coming weeks, in five ODIs and three T20s against Australia.

Kevin Pietersen, who has repeatedly been the victim of an emotional tug-of-war between his wish to play in the IPL and maintain a successful England career, is bound to assert his right to play IPL - although he will doubtless be braced for some media character assassination in the process.

Eoin Morgan, for all his assurances ahead of the Big Bash League that he still retained hopes of a Test career, would also be expected to resist any suggestion that now is the time for him to shift his emphasis and commit to Middlesex to try to prove his potential as a Test cricketer and become one of the beneficiaries of England's anticipated shake-up.

But pressure could be bought to bear on other England players who until now had imagined that the agreement in principle hammered out between the ECB and the Professional Cricketers' Association would be regarded as inviolable.

Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Matt Prior are among those who could expect to be the recipients of some persuasive chats over the next few of weeks as Flower, whose retention as England's team director after the 5-0 whitewash has already been guaranteed, draws up his strategy to get England back on an even keel.

Jos Buttler is another interesting case. Buttler has drawn enough attention to himself in England's one-day side and in the Big Bash League to make him an attractive proposition for an IPL franchise, but he also moved to Lancashire in the close season to gain more wicketkeeping opportunities in the knowledge that England see him as a potential international keeper not only in one-day cricket but also, in the longer term, in the Test format if his game matures.

There is no clause in England's new central contracts which state categorically the rights and restrictions on involvement in IPL - that is impossible due to the tournament's unpredictability.

To pin down the IPL is like pinning down fog - the dates for 2014 have yet to be announced and part of the tournament might be staged outside India because of security concerns during anticipated national elections. Until a window is agreed - whether unofficial or not - for cricket's most dominant carnival, a sane future in English cricket is virtually impossible.

What there is, though, is an agreement in principle that covers not just those with central contracts but all potential England players, to minimise clashes between England's international programme and the IPL.

That leaves a whole lot of wriggle room for the ECB, but it is precisely that commitment which saw the start of the international programme put back a week this year until May 20.

It would be naïve to imagine, however, that Flower will not bring pressure to bear where he thinks it is most needed - and arguably he would not be doing his job if he did not do so - but for this new accord to be honoured, there is a line beyond which this persuasion should not go.

The agreed May 13 deadline would give England players involved in the IPL one week to prepare for a month of one-day cricket against Sri Lanka. Indeed, the decision to begin England's summer schedule with limited-overs cricket seemingly gives the small number of England players who win IPL deals a logical case that T20 cricket provides an ideal warm-up for the international season, and that playing Championship cricket instead would be little more than a guilt trip.

But a 5-0 whitewash in the Ashes is not necessarily a time when logic will hold sway. England's eyes will be on the need to make a statement of regeneration in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Lord's on June 12 and performances in Championship cricket will be watched with more scrutiny than for many years.

As Stokes, in particular, is about to discover, achievements come hand-in-hand with problems.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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