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Cricket's new order

By Oliver Brett

The news agenda in international cricket has been dominated by rapid developments in domestic Indian cricket.

The official Indian Premier League (IPL), and the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) are two rival, cash-rich competitions, which threaten the stability of international cricket as we know it.

Here we pick through the details and explain how a brilliant English concept which started in 2003 (Twenty20 cricket) could, in a worst case scenario, spell the death knell for Test cricket, with its roots stretching back to the 1870s.

How and why did the IPL and the ICL form?

For much of the decade, Zee Telefilms, the biggest media company in India, had made a series of bids to broadcast top international cricket for Indian audiences.

Despite always offering the largest bids in terms of money, it was rebuffed time and time again by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

In 2007, Zee, still holding a bundle of cash it wanted to spend on cricket, decided to set up its own competition - the ICL.

Brett Lee
Australia paceman Brett Lee was signed by Mohali for $900,000
This featured six teams, with recently retired top names such as Brian Lara and Inzamam-ul-Haq.

The format was Twenty20 cricket, and the winning team, the Chennai Superstars, pocketed US$1 million.

Even while this competition, squeezed into two weeks at the start of December, was going on, the BCCI was flexing its muscles and working on a rival competition - the IPL.

As an official domestic event, the IPL would have, as its principal advantage, the blessing of the International Cricket Council. That meant players could sign up to IPL without kissing goodbye to their ambitions to play Test cricket and one-day internationals.

Which big names are involved?

Along with Lara and Inzamam, the ICL snared the New Zealand all-rounder Chris Cairns, the Australians Ian Harvey and Stuart Law and the Sri Lankan ex-captain Marvan Atapattu.

But there were one or two younger players who took the risk of ending a long career playing for their country - New Zealand's Hamish Marshall was a prime example, and the man-of-the-match in the final, Shabbir Ahmed, is one of Pakistan's most talented bowlers.

There was also a healthy English contingent - Chris Read, Vikram Solanki, Darren Maddy and Paul Nixon.

606: DEBATE
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The IPL, which is scheduled to start in April, has all the biggest names in the game, with the notable exception of the star England names.

Players were signed up to join eight teams in a frenzied auction on 20 February.

India's one-day captain Mahendra Dhoni was bought by Chennai for US$1.5m (770,095), while Calcutta splurged more than US$6m on a team that featured Sourav Ganguly as its "icon" player, and even awarded a contract to the Zimbabwean Tatenda Taibu.

Indians were predictably well represented, but Australia also sent all their biggest names like Ricky Ponting, Brett Lee, Andrew Symonds and Matthew Hayden.

And retired Aussie legends Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne were eagerly snapped up.

Why does the IPL not have any England players?

England start a home Test series against New Zealand in mid-May, at a time when the 44-day first season of the IPL will be reaching its climax.

As such, the ECB has said its centrally-contracted players do not have time to play in the IPL.

However, although it has got its wish this time, it is difficult to imagine that the ECB will be able to stop the IPL capturing at least a handful of England players for its second season.

There have even been indications that the IPL might try to schedule its second season at a time when England's players would be available.

What are the implications for the game's future?

Since the Kerry Packer revolution of the late 1970s turned international cricket into a fully professional sport, the International Cricket Council has kept the game's top players within the auspices of its official competitions.

The Test nations have played against each other, and the ICC has reaped good money by tacking two further tournaments - the Champions Trophy and the ICC World Twenty20 - onto its traditional flagship, the World Cup.

Preity Zinta
Bollywood favourite Preity Zinta and chairman of IPL Lalit Modi

What the ICL, and more so the IPL can do, is return much of the power in the game to the players and their agents - and in that way they threaten to take it away from the administrators.

The ECB was understood to be holding frantic meetings on Friday to try to resolve a way forward - knowing that the county game looks likely to suffer as one of the first victims of the two Indian leagues.

But the simple economics of the ICL and the IPL mean club cricket has the potential to all but consume international cricket.

If the IPL gets it right, its first achievement would be to kill off the ICL in a handful of seasons.

It would then have the power to become cricket's version of England's money-spinning Premier League in football.

In that way, the new emerging clubs like the Rajasthan Royals and the Delhi Daredevils could be cricket's first Manchester Uniteds and Liverpools.

The national boards would no longer be able to "own" top players, whose first allegiance would instead be to their clubs.

That is assuming they don't all follow Kevin Pietersen's lead. On Friday, he said he would remain loyal to his adopted country at all costs.

If the IPL is really successful, will the Ashes come to an end?

As the BBC's Kevin Howells writes in his Test Match Special blog, "only those with a degree in law and confidence in handling a crystal ball can be certain what will happen."

One possible scenario is that other countries would begin to copy the Indian model, so an Australian Premier League and an English Premier League - though it might have to change its name! - could compete with the ICL.

The people who would benefit the most would be the players, closely followed by their agents

The ICC could continue to exist at a much lower level, where it would continue to oversee the World Cup and the ICC Champions League.

But there would be no "bilateral tours" forcing countries to tour Bangladesh and Zimbabwe every so often. Instead, national boards would have to make do with one or two landmark series, such as the Ashes.

The people who would benefit the most would be the players, closely followed by their agents.

Instead of playing for nine or 10 months of the year, week in week out, the treadmill would be dramatically reduced, while their pay packets would increase exponentially.

What is the downside?

The development of grassroots cricket, certainly in England, could be severely impaired as the ECB would not be rich in the funds needed to promote it.

There would be fewer professional cricketers around, and fans would be in a particularly bizarre position.

With less opportunities to cheer on their national team, they would find themselves pledging allegiance to new unfamiliar "franchises".

If they like what they see, and do not get sick of an unrelenting fast-food diet of Twenty20, then all well and good. If not, then cricket's new world order would face its first challenge.


see also
Pietersen rebuffs Indian offers
29 Feb 08 |  England
Will India's cricket league work?
27 Feb 08 |  South Asia
Gillespie doubt on Glamorgan move
29 Feb 08 |  Glamorgan
Kiwi Vincent joins rebel league
28 Feb 08 |  Cricket
Cricket bidding frenzy
20 Feb 08 |  Cricket
A step too far?
19 Feb 08 |  Cricket


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