Caught in the middle: the young Indian domestic players who've signed up for the ICL have the worst of it © ICL

Almost a year since it was announced, and about eight months since the launch of the IPL relegated it to being the second best league of its kind, the Indian Cricket League is not down and out just as yet. Its second Twenty20 tournament has been an improvement over the first. They have managed to get three grounds to stage it on, and the move to get an all-international team, the Lahore Badshahs, has worked like a charm - in Pakistan, at least, where viewership for the ICL has soared. The contests themselves have been tighter, and followed by large crowds at the grounds - especially in Hyderabad. And next on the bill is an India XI v Pakistan XI v World XI tournament. There is a possibility there may be more teams with a core of players from Sri Lanka, New Zealand and South Africa based on the Lahore Badshahs model.

However, even after this moderately successful second campaign, the questions remain: will anyone actually watch the ICL once the IPL comes sweeping in? Does the Indian market have room for two similar leagues, one of them full of players who are fading from public memory by the day? It's hard to see how the ICL can have made profits in its first year, but the good news for the participants is, its promoters seem to be in it for the duration. "We are into this long term. We are not here to organise one event, take the players for a ride and then forget about it," says Kiran More, who is on the administrative board of the ICL.

Be that as it may, there is one particular group of stakeholders that has already lost plenty: the young Indian recruits who are losing out on their chance to play first-class cricket. These players are already speaking of missing "real cricket", the four-day version.

The divergence of interests is plain to see. The ICL features, apart from players plucked from the Indian domestic scene, international cricketers who have had their time at the highest level, for whom the motivation is no more than making a quick buck from the shortest version of the game. (Shane Bond might be the only real exception in this category.) Not so for the young Indian players. Marvan Atapattu, the captain of the Delhi Jets side, sums it up well. "I am talking being 37 years of age. If I was 20-25, I would have loved to have much more cricket than I do playing just Twenty20. At this young age, it's [about] nothing but playing cricket. But for unfortunate reasons they are not being able to do that."

From veterans such as Rohan Gavaskar, Deep Dasgupta and JP Yadav, to some of the younger players who were not even regular starters in their state XIs, it is a worry they all share. They may be enjoying the high-octane - compared to Indian domestic cricket at least - contests and the improved training facilities and support staff, but they know what they're missing. "There is no greater joy than coming back to the dressing room really tired after having batted a day," says Gavaskar. In his case, what makes it worse is having watched from outside as his former team, Bengal, was relegated last season after successive final appearances in the Ranji Trophy. "I followed Bengal's progress - progress would be the wrong word. It was very painful, very disappointing. Bengal is a better team than the results showed.

"I definitely miss that cricket. If you ask any cricketer here, the response will be the same."

It is an off day during the ICL tournament and teams are taking turns training at the LB Shastri Stadium in Hyderabad. It is the Jets' turn to practise from 11.30am to 1.30pm. The players get along well with each other; new recruit Bond has already become "Bondy" to his team-mates. On the sidelines of the session, JP Yadav says: "Yes we miss the real cricket, but what else could we do? Look at our support staff - the physio, the trainer, the masseur, the practice wickets. We don't have all this in domestic cricket, and we won't get it in the next ten years."

Rewind to a day before the start of this year's Deodhar Trophy in Bangalore. The main stadium was taken up by a TV crew shooting a promo for the Bangalore IPL team, the outfield looked clearly abused. The Deodhar teams were shunted out to the small National Cricket Academy ground, where they had to bat on underprepared wickets. Why, Uttar Pradesh even won a Ranji Trophy title and reached the final another year without any support staff to speak of, a ground to call their own, or any gyms to work out in.

Later in the evening JP is to meet friends and former team-mates, among them Mohammad Kaif, who are in Hyderabad to play a Deodhar game for Central Zone. Surely the conversation would touch on the differences in their circumstances: both are now signed up with Twenty20 leagues, one very much a part of the establishment, the other an outcast.



The forecast is grim: there's no prospect of four-day cricket in the ICL any time soon © AFP

Gavaskar fumes at the ban. "It's not like we have committed a crime; we are just playing another tournament. There are players who have come up and shown what they are capable of, against international players. These are the sort of players who, if you are sensible and little broad-minded, you might want to get involved with Indian cricket."

Atapattu shares the sentiment. "These players deserve to play the longer version. Hopefully people will understand this and things will be sorted out."

Not that the ICL is anywhere close to giving them some long-format cricket. The logistics, to start with, are stacked against it. "We need more grounds to start a four-day tournament," says More. "We have put down a three-year plan which doesn't include four-day matches," says Atapattu. "Academies will certainly come up after this."

Not many of the players involved will disagree that they made the most important move of their careers by joining the ICL. The advent of the IPL has not given them reason for regret, exactly, just a new question to ponder: how does choosing one league over the other make them unfit to play four-day cricket?

The BCCI for its part is likely smiling at the plight of those who "turned their backs". The players, who will be judged variously as rebels, traitors or brave men who made their choices, are meanwhile losing out on something that will never come back: time.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo