Kevin Pietersen expects to be playing in India next year, and is on the verge of signing the most lucrative deal yet witnessed in the Indian Premier League, after being offered in excess of US$4million for a three-year contract by an undisclosed IPL franchise.
According to a report in Saturday's Daily Mail, the deal has been financed by one of India's wealthiest families, who want Pietersen to sign "at any price". Mahendra Singh Dhoni is currently the most valuable player in the competition, earning in excess of US$1.5million a year, but such is Pietersen's appeal - on the field and off it - his final figure could yet top that.
The news comes as a blow to the England & Wales Cricket Board, who had hoped to prevent their players from being lured to India ahead of a pivotal summer that includes the ICC World Twenty20 and, of course, the Ashes. An ECB insider told the Daily Mail that the head coach, Peter Moores, would have the final say on which contracted players would be permitted to join the IPL, but in Pietersen's case, they were already resigned to making an exception.
Pietersen is currently 28 and approaching his prime as a cricketer. He has not missed a Test for England since making his debut in the 2005 Ashes, although he will now face a busy run-up to the 2009 rematch against Australia, with England scheduled to tour the Caribbean in February and March before his proposed three-week stint in India. The ECB is naturally fearful of what could happen if the workload proves too much for him, or any other colleagues who might be lured by the IPL, but they are privately resigned to the situation. One man who would not be allowed to take part, however, would be Andrew Flintoff, given his ongoing fitness problems.
Speaking to the same paper earlier in the week, Pietersen set his stall out to play for England until he is 35, but insisted that he shouldn't be denied the opportunity to make the most of his prime years. "I do wonder how long I'm going to do this for," he said. "Time will tell. I could get injured tomorrow and would be finished. That's why I was frustrated and irritated when we weren't allowed to go to India. I definitely want to go next year."
It had been mooted in some quarters that Pietersen could chose to go freelance if the ECB didn't accede to his demands, but he denied that this had entered his thoughts. "Turning down a central contract is not something that has entered my head yet," he said, "but it would be horrendous if four or five of England's best players decided to do that and go to India instead. We should not be in a position where we have to choose. No one else had to."
In a more promising development for the ECB, its proposed tie-up with Allen Stanford is nearing completion. According to the Daily Telegraph, the deal will be worth US$200million over five years, with an annual $20million match to be staged in Antigua until 2012. "The lawyers are still working on the fine print," the ECB's chief executive, David Collier, told the paper, "but we have finalised our negotiations and everything is in place."