As ever with cricket the formula has been stumbled upon by accident, but out of the exhaustion of England's winter campaign in Australia and the subcontinent, has emerged one of the most pleasurable starts to a domestic season for years. It's as if the entire cricket-watching fraternity has flopped down with an ice-cream in one of Hove's legendary deck-chairs, and heaved a sigh of relief that the madness has finally passed.

Against a backdrop of placid contentment, the County Championship has bumbled into life, providing a sleepy counterpoint to the glitz of the IPL, but one that has been no less fascinating for its modesty. Glorious spring sunshine and sprightly wickets have produced a glut of results and some thrilling contests, with Nottinghamshire's victory over Yorkshire being arguably the pick of the bunch to date.

It's been the sort of cricket that exists to reassure. It's always there when you want it, as the silent masses who click on the county scorecards will testify, but never offended if you're too busy to notice, or too tied up with the end of the football season to truly care. Other forms of the game crave constant attention - or worse, validation - but this season the county game has just got on with the business of being. Such a marked absence of angst has been refreshing.

Alas, it is not a pattern that is likely to hold sway for much longer, for this week the arrival of Sri Lanka marks the end of this brief age of innocence and the return of the sport to its more familiar treadmill of international engagements.

The Sri Lanka tour should, in purely cricketing terms, be one of the most engaging of recent times - a chance for England to atone for their ten-wicket humiliation in the World Cup, in the first instance, but moreover to win a Test series against their most under-rated opponents for the first time since 2002.

Instead, it is threatening to become another of those benighted early-season series that have been cheapening the reputation of Test cricket in England for a decade. Ever since the ECB decided, back in 2000, that it needed seven Tests a summer, their first opponents of the year have - almost without exception - found themselves unequal to the struggle in alien seaming conditions.

Pakistan in 2001 are the only opponents to win so much as a Test that started in May, while particular nadirs have been Zimbabwe's tour of 2003, Bangladesh's in 2005, and West Indies' dreadful showing in 2009, when a lack of willingness was a bigger concern even than the lack of competition. That trip, which was a last-minute arrangement and so fell outside the Future Tours Programme, caused Chris Gayle to declare he "wouldn't be so sad" if Test cricket died out, after his lucrative stint with the IPL had to be curtailed on the eve of the Lord's Test. All the concerns that were voiced then are set to be revisited now, as cricket prepares for another bout of self-flagellation.

Even before Sri Lanka's arrival, the prevailing sense is one of unease. Tillakaratne Dilshan, the new captain, has been persuaded to curtail his stint with Royal Challengers Bangalore to fly in ahead of their three-day tour match in Uxbridge, but Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, the team's senior pros and, until the end of the World Cup final, its leaders, will not be making such sacrifices.

Allied to a lack of practice will be a lack of penetration. Sri Lanka's spearhead Lasith Malinga has decided he has no interest in straining his body through 20 overs a day in Test cricket, when 24 deliveries will suffice to earn his corn in the IPL - an understandable stance to take in the prime money-earning years of his career. Muttiah Muralitharan has retired from Test cricket with 800 wickets to his name, while Chaminda Vaas, even at 37 one of the canniest swing bowlers in the game, will be plying his trade with Northamptonshire, where he has been racking up runs and wickets for fun.

If a window for IPL cricket could be created in April and May, with the first Test pushed back to mid-June, as was once the standard for the English season, then Flower and his men would automatically be granted a two-month break every year, while each visiting team would be spared the squalor of a club v country row, which in this day and age, only ever results in one winner

Meanwhile, looming over the whole shaky edifice is the former captain Hashan Tillakaratne, armed with the matchfixing allegations that he intends to substantiate when he testifies to the ICC's anti-corruption and security unit sometime in the near future. When Pakistan's tarnished tour of England finally ended in late September last year, the relief was tangible. The danger is that those dread feelings of mistrust will now be allowed to slip back into position as if they never went away.

There is only so much the ECB can do to protect the sanctity of the sport it professes to nurture - and that challenge was made even tougher earlier this month, when their Ashes partners Cricket Australia sanctioned the reduction of their blue-riband tour of South Africa to two measly Tests. However, the evidence of recent summers, particularly since the advent of the IPL, is that there is a limited appetite for international cricket at this early stage of the English season. If the top overseas players are increasingly reluctant to take part for financial reasons, it becomes an increasingly hard sell to the English domestic market.

The solution could be simple if the ECB were brave enough to trust their product. Andy Flower's new contract as England team director stipulates the need for a greater say in scheduling, to ensure that a winter such as the one his team has just endured can never again be permitted. If a window for IPL cricket could be created in April and May, with the first Test pushed back to mid-June, as was once the standard for the English season, then Flower and his men would automatically be granted a two-month break every year, while each visiting team would be spared the squalor of a club v country row, which in this day and age, only ever results in one winner.

Even Zimbabwe accepts the need to give one's own domestic competition a chance to matter, having granted the Logan Cup precedence over visiting tours in October and November this year. There's clearly no shifting the IPL, for it is what it is and it's here to stay, but the County Championship - the yin to its yang, the Eeyore to its Tigger - appears to be the only product capable of thriving in its immense shadow, precisely because it is the only product that does not seek to cramp its style in any respect.

There are other factors at play of course - the ECB has so many mouths to feed these days that they'd start their international season in Abu Dhabi in March given half a chance. Also, it might be quite a leap of faith to assume that two dry Aprils in succession mean that climate change has finally triumphed over the freezing fog of yesteryear. Nothing, however, feels soggier than a three-day Test against grumpy opposition who'd prefer to be anywhere but England. Something's got to give, because otherwise it will just be taken away.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo