Pietersen fall-out triggers IPL buzz

Kevin Pietersen, who stepped down as England captain after his campaign to remove coach Peter Moores backfired spectacularly, is now faced with another tricky choice over negotiating a longer IPL stint with the ECB this year, following a deluge of interest from the franchises. IPL franchises estimate that Pietersen stands to earn an annual contract close to US$1.5 million if he is available for a major part of the tournament, if not the entire duration.

Pietersen arrived in London today after a year-end holiday in South Africa and, having given up the captain's badge, can now press the ECB to let him realise his full worth in the IPL, where he would be the top draw for the player auction on February 6. The ECB will have the final say on Pietersen's participation in the IPL as the tournament's rules clearly state all overseas players will require a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from their respective national boards.

The IPL's second edition runs from April 10 to May 24, and Pietersen is yet to sign a central contract with the ECB that would restrict him to a 15-day window for the Twenty20 league, from April 10-25. England host West Indies at home the next month, and the first Test is scheduled to start on May 6. The BCCI is open to some adjustment regarding the limited availability of England players but Indian officials who are also involved in managing the IPL are clear that a fortnight's availability is unacceptable.

"It's common knowledge that there's a 15-day window within England's central contracts," Sean Morris, the chairman of Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA), told Cricinfo. "Anything longer than that is not really a possibility at the moment, but obviously there's a little way to go between now and actually signing the contract. KP is currently in the same position as the whole squad. We've still got the finer details to complete, and we are keen to do that before the team departs for the West Indies."

Interestingly, Pietersen has left the matter open to speculation in his resignation statement, in which he committed himself to the tour of West Indies next month and the Ashes, but made no mention of West Indies' tour of England in between, which includes two Tests that clash with the IPL dates.

"Notwithstanding my resignation as England captain, I still fully intend to be a part of both England's Test and ODI squad to tour the West Indies next month and to do all I can to recapture the Ashes during the summer," Pietersen said. The ECB has claimed in its statement that Pietersen "wishes to continue to represent England in all their forthcoming international fixtures".

PCA's Morris said he would interpret Pietersen's statement to mean that he was pledging his future for England cricket, and nothing else. "I wouldn't read anything into that other than he's putting his hand up to say his future is going out to score runs for England," Morris said.

Pietersen tops the shopping list for Bangalore Royal Challengers, the team owned by Vijay Mallya, the industrialist. "Of course, we are interested," Brijesh Patel, the franchise's chief executive, said. "Naturally, Pietersen will be one of the top players for next IPL."

Bangalore, led by Rahul Dravid, finished seventh last year, and Mallya has spoken openly of turning his team around by signing up a player like Pietersen. In fact, Pietersen was spotted having long discussions with a top Bangalore official at the team hotel in the city during the ODI between England and India last year.

According to IPL sources, Pietersen can possibly command a guaranteed base price near US$1 million at the player auction on February 6. An official from Chennai Super Kings, which finished second last year, predicted he could take home close to US$1.5m if he is available for the entire season.

Mumbai Indians, led by Sachin Tendulkar and owned by Mukesh Ambani, one of India's richest men, are also interested in signing up Pietersen. "He is an entertainer and will definitely bring in the crowds," a Mumbai Indians spokesperson said. Bangalore and Mumbai are two franchises who are expected to spend most of the US$2m salary cap for the upcoming auction on one player.

Joy Bhattacharya, the team director of Kolkata Knight Riders, said if Pietersen is available "for the whole hog, then definitely he will be a jewel". "Also, if Australia play Pakistan at a neutral venue and West Indies go to England, you only are left with the New Zealanders for the IPL," he said. "Besides, Pietersen is a game-changer."

However, the franchise officials were quick to clarify that if Pietersen is available for only 15 days as originally expected, that would be reflected in the price he would command. "That will be a huge call," a franchise official said. "We all know he will be worth gold, but his price will definitely dip if he is available for only 15 days."