Players from a number of leading countries have been involved in conversations with IPL franchises about the possibility of contracts which will see them play in multiple leagues for the franchise. Though discussions have been informal, they do raise the prospect wherein the main employers for leading players could eventually be an IPL franchise, rather than a full-member board. The Times reported on Tuesday that six English players, including some internationals, were approached by IPL franchise owners and asked whether they would be open to a deal in which the franchise owner, rather than the board or county, would be their main employer.
These conversations have taken place not just in England but in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies, according to Heath Mills, executive chairman of FICA, the global players' body. "There have been informal conversations between some franchises and players about being available to play in multiple tournaments," Mills told ESPNcricinfo. "That can take a different shape and form for different players. But it should come as no surprise to anyone in cricket that these conversations are happening and that players will have these sorts of options in the future.
"Without going into the specifics of individual conversations, they are about a player being available to play for a franchise in different T20 leagues. A franchise might have three or four teams globally, so they might want the player in multiple competitions - as opposed to just the IPL. It's not necessarily about signing a player up for all competitions exclusively but rather additional ones to their IPL team."
Mills said he wasn't aware of any individual having signed a contract yet with a franchise, but that FICA was "aware of conversations for a little while now with a few players to be available for multiple competitions."
The possibility of such a scenario has floated around the game in an abstract sense for some time now, and has gathered pace since the spread of IPL franchises such as Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders into new leagues in the UAE, South Africa and the US. It has occasionally reared its head, as in the protracted wrangling of David Warner's contract situation
last year, or Trent Boult foregoing his central contract
. But confirmation by the head of the global players' body that talks, even if at an informal level, are taking place turns a possibility into a more tangible vision of the future.
It may not happen quickly. Earlier this week on the BBC's Test Match Special
podcast, for instance, the ECB's managing director Rob Key
said that prising away England's biggest stars will not be so easy. "Test cricket is still the hold for English players, I don't see any time in the near future certainly where one of the Test players, certainly the centrally contracted players, is going to say 'by the way I'm going off to America for three weeks," Key said. "I just don't think that's going to happen. That is not a threat at the moment. Obviously it is different for white-ball cricketers."
"You could look to create windows where people agree to not play any international cricket when a T20 league is happening. Everyone will need to compromise a little bit, but it is possible."
Heath Mills, FICA's executive chairman
There will also be logistical obstacles to overcome, not least in finding a way around the different draft and auction processes in different leagues, as well as rules on salary caps and retention. And Indian players, the game's biggest drawcards, will not be available to any league but the IPL, at least not with the BCCI's current stance of not issuing NOCs (No-Objection Certificates) to play in other leagues. But the issue has been on the minds of administrators, as evidenced in the blunt words of Richard Gould, the ECB CEO, who recently talked about the need to pay players better
for international appearances.
"We're going to have to pay them more money," Gould said. "That's probably likely to be based on appearance money rather than the central-contract element because I think that gives us the most cost-effective way of dealing with any particular competitive tournament at that particular time.
"Our responsibility is to make sure we can compete in the global player market to ensure that our players want to play for us, men and women, both for England and within our domestic competitions. But to do that, we've got to make sure we've got the financial clout to retain them.
"Often, I think people will place a huge emphasis on playing for England, and we're grateful to them for their loyalty. But we need to make sure that we can pay the going rate, and having come back from football, player markets are something I know pretty well, and we need to make sure we can compete in the global player market. And that global player market does change from month to month depending on what other competition there is there."
FICA has long called for a rationalisation of the cricket calendar, consistently arguing that the glut of international bilateral cricket, ICC events, and T20 leagues is forcing the best players to choose and prioritise where and when they want to play. Mills was critical of how members go about putting together the Future Tours Programme (FTP) - the most recent version of which was announced last year. "The current situation sees each board organise their own bilateral programme and its T20 competition independently of each other. And everyone wants the best outcome for them alone. But they also all want the best players to enhance their international and T20 products. But obviously, the best players can't be everywhere on the same day.
"Whilst we have an arrangement where everyone does their own thing in terms of scheduling, we are going to have this collision of T20 leagues and international cricket occurring every month. The boards and the leagues are effectively cannibalising themselves. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me."
Mills offered a solution, by creating three windows in a year for T20 leagues alone, so as to avoid direct clashes with international cricket.
"One option boards have is to actually come together and agree to incorporate T20 leagues in their bilateral programme and within that process look at creating windows for T20 leagues. You might create a window in April-May for IPL, you might create another window for T20 leagues in the southern hemisphere in January and early February, you might create another window in September before an ICC event.
"You could look to create windows where people agree to not play any international cricket when a T20 league is happening. Everyone will need to compromise a little bit, but it is possible. Until that happens there will continue to be a collision and players will be forced to make a choice. And sadly I'm not sure that bilateral cricket will win."
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo