Can the Indian Premier League really take place in England? What a turnaround that would be, after the naked suspicion that surrounded the birth of the concept in 2008, and the tug-of-war that existed between the IPL and ECB as they attempted to negotiate a window of opportunity for the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff.
Three weeks was the net result of the negotiations. Enough time to mollify England's main men, who have since gone on to become, pro-rata, the most highly paid overseas stars in the competition, but short enough to ensure that the ECB's existing arrangements - ostensibly the Test series against West Indies but more significantly their obligations to Sky, the host broadcaster - were fulfilled.
And the issue of TV rights remains the most significant reason why the idea of transplanting the Mumbai Indians to Manchester and Chennai to Chester-le-Street for seven whole weeks must surely be dead in the water before it has begun. When contacted by Cricinfo, a Sky spokesman offered no comment on the prospect of the IPL moving to England but pointed out that the UK rights for the tournament are owned by Setanta, the rival satellite broadcaster.
Given that the IPL runs from April 10 to May 24, a period of time that sits squarely on top of both West Indies Tests, as well as all three ODIs, it is inconceivable that a company that recently shelled out £300 million for the exclusive coverage of England's internationals would welcome the prospect of the IPL cuckoo settling into its nest. The presence of the world's greatest players in a 20-over format would also compromise perhaps the most marketable aspect of Sky's summer of coverage, the ICC World Twenty20 that gets underway only days after the IPL is set to pack up and leave town.
And that's not to mention the bad blood that exists between the relevant parties. Shortly after Sky's four-year deal was finalised last summer, Setanta cried foul about the ECB's "charade" of a bidding process. In a memo leaked to the press, a senior executive complained that they were treated with "contempt" by the ECB and accused Giles Clarke, the chairman, of "making up the rules as he went along".
Against such a background, the notion of a compromise being agreed within a fortnight is nigh on inconceivable, regardless of how well Clarke now gets on with his counterparts in India following his role in England's return for the Tests in Chennai and Mohali before Christmas.
Even if the ECB were not hamstrung by their broadcasting obligations, the horse-trading required to make the IPL happen would beggar belief. Last year, the chairman of Surrey, David Stewart, teamed up with the MCC chief executive, Keith Bradshaw, to put together a discussion document for an IPL-style English Premier League, consisting of nine franchises based at the country's senior international venues.
|Eight franchises need eight homes, not 18. Cape Town, Johannesburg, Centurion, Durban and Port Elizabeth are the prime venues. Potchefstroom, Bloemfontein and East London make up the numbers. And, as Gerald Majola has already said: "We are ready."|
The proposal was leaked from the ECB boardroom before it had even been discussed properly, and soundly trashed by all and sundry, before - in a triumph of fudged agendas - the farcical proposals for a 20-team, two-division "English Premier League" were unveiled instead.
Thanks to the fall from grace of Allen Stanford, who was widely expected to contribute one of the extra two teams, the EPL has been quietly shelved this year but the misguided sentiments behind its creation are still thriving. In a nutshell, English cricket is riven by the haves and have-nots - those with the grounds that can attract big matches and therefore generate income independent of ECB hand-outs, and those that cannot.
The IPL is the richest competition in the world, and it goes without saying that the richest counties will be in the best position to attract the lucrative franchises. The likes of MCC, Surrey, Hampshire and Nottinghamshire would doubtless bend over backwards to accommodate such illustrious visitors, but the shifting of the season's existing fixtures is not a decision that can be made bilaterally. It would require the assent of the ECB Board, and therefore the blessing of the same scared counties that bucked the notion last year.
There are so many reasons why the IPL should be welcomed to England this summer. Political expediency is just the start of it, even though lasting gratitude of the world's most powerful cricket nation is not something that should be treated lightly - though doubtless it will be. What is more, England is perfectly positioned for the Indian market - two natural start times, 11am and 3pm, would roughly fit the existing IPL schedule of 4pm and 8pm IST. And though the cost of living in England is higher than in other parts of the world, the ability to drive rather than fly between venues would produce significant savings as well as prove popular with the participants.
Ultimately, it is just not going to happen in England without a development that turns the game inside out. Change has been resisted in the shires for almost two centuries, so there's surely no way the most radical decision in the game's history can be hurried through inside a fortnight. South Africa's administrators, politically in India's pockets and logistically far more flexible, as their domestic season winds to a close, are far better positioned to step in and save the IPL's reputation.
Quite apart from anything else, there is no overload of alternatives to consider. Eight franchises need eight homes, not 18. Cape Town, Johannesburg, Centurion, Durban and Port Elizabeth are the prime venues. Potchefstroom, Bloemfontein and East London make up the numbers. It is all utterly simple and, as Gerald Majola has already told Cricinfo: "We are ready." England on the other hand is not, and if the past century is anything to go by, never will be.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo