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Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Tuesday, 15 April 2008 11:59 UK

Counties in India's shadow

By Oliver Brett & Arlo White

Rain at Headingley; Mahendra Dhoni
A rainy start to the county season contrasts with excitement on offer in India

On Wednesday, the County Championship will splutter into existence for another year with a round of matches at familiar provincial outposts such as Chelmsford and Bristol.

Forty-eight hours later, the floodlights will be switched onto full beam at Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium (capacity 55,000) as the Indian Premier League explodes into life.

It has never been that difficult to mock county cricket, with its sometimes comically awful weather and ever dwindling (and ever aging) supporters.

But this year, with the IPL set to showcase a blueprint for cricket's future, the English domestic game seems as out-of-date as black-and-white TV.

One problem is that instead of allowing Twenty20 to become the centrepiece of the domestic season, the ECB has retained the three other competitions - one a 40-over league which an internally-commissioned review group wanted scrapped.

I don't know much about it, but I've heard people talk about it... I'm not interested

Ravi Bopara on the IPL

Even before the counties have embarked on their campaigns this season, the effects of the IPL are already noticeable.

Where are the big name players we have become accustomed to seeing, like Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Andrew Symonds? Playing IPL of course.

Instead, counties have brought in a glut of unheralded foreign pros, many sidestepping qualification quotas because of loopholes in European Union law.

Come September, only one English player will be able to compare the IPL with the traditional county game.

Dimitri Mascarenhas, of Hampshire and the Rajasthan Royals, told BBC Sport: "The only big names who aren't playing [IPL] are the English big names - the Pietersens and Flintoffs.

"We have seen how much Twenty20 cricket has grown over the years.

"The players love it, the crowds love it and all the chairmen love it because it creates so much money for their club.

"We have to embrace it so why can't we bring as much of it as possible here into this country and generate as much money as possible here?"

Dimitri Mascarenhas
Mascarenhas - the only Englishman to sample the IPL this season

Mascarenhas's Utopian view stands in extreme contrast to Ravi Bopara's feelings.

Both men are all-rounders on the fringes of the England set-up, but when asked what he felt about the IPL, Bopara was almost in denial.

He said: "I don't know much about it, seriously I haven't read about it but I've heard people talk about it, not at Essex just around... normal fans, mates and stuff.

"But I'm not interested. I'm more interested in what I am doing right now."

Bopara has already set aside a target of being his county's top run-scorer this season, and his mantra is that he will "keep pushing and keep pushing" to get back into the England squad.

For a 22-year-old with no dependents it's perhaps not entirely surprising.

But for a player towards the end of his career, with a mortgage and children, it might be a different story.

And it might lead to players retiring from the county game early - whether to accept the cash from the IPL, or its unofficial rival the Indian Cricket League.

Bopara's batting coach at Essex, Graham Gooch, is realistic about the money that top English players want to earn.

He feels there can be no guarantee the current format will remain, especially if the ECB develops a franchise-style league to mimic the IPL.

606: DEBATE
MagicManchha

And he is worried that some of the smaller counties will just get trampled underfoot.

"It will affect everything if an enhanced Twenty20 competition comes to this country," said Gooch.

"That will bring with it, I would have thought, further players from outside this country but we must protect the integrity of bringing our players on, both in Test cricket and the one-day format.

"There are traditionally 18 counties. Some people will put forward a new approach in slimming down the number of teams.

"If that does happen in Twenty20 cricket in this country that will be a precursor to it happening in all cricket."

Sussex captain Chris Adams, whose team won the County Championship on the final day of the 2007 season, is also extremely conscious of the IPL's implications.

"The wind of change is not just upon us, it's blowing a gale at the moment," he said.

Adams believes both his county, and the ECB as a whole, have been "reactive rather than proactive" in responding to the growth of both the IPL and the ICL.

And he feels strongly that something must be done to ensure English cricket continues to have a strong global presence within the game, though he confesses he does not have "all the answers".

The future of world cricket is going to rely heavily on the IPL. It's to be embraced, not pushed away

Sussex captain Chris Adams

"We have to make sure the administrators worldwide get it right. If you turn your back on [the IPL] and go into trench warfare you are going to lose out," said Adams.

"The bottom line is we have an obligation to provide England with the best talent possible to play Test cricket, first and foremost, and one-day internationals.

"We need a place for those cricketers to go and play their cricket and to develop as players.

"In the last five years we have had fantastic competitions in this country, with Warne, Muralitharan and Andrew Flintoff all playing against each other.

"On the back of that we've had reasonable success in the international arena.

"Twenty20 is growing bigger and stronger by the day, IPL is taking it even further and the future of world cricket is going to rely heavily on it.

"It's to be embraced and not pushed away."


see also
IPL founder warns England stars
15 Apr 08 |  Cricket
County-by-county guide
15 Apr 08 |  Counties
Indian Premier League team guide
15 Apr 08 |  Cricket
England IPL ban 'will not work'
09 Apr 08 |  England
ECB chief rejects Pietersen plea
07 Apr 08 |  England
Cricket's new order
29 Feb 08 |  Cricket
Will India's cricket league work?
27 Feb 08 |  South Asia


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