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Friday, October 10, 2008

Sri Lanka's IPL tie-up puts series at risk

SLC is on the verge of signing a deal that will undermine the ECB's attempts to attract sides to tour England in May
ECB Chairman Giles Clarke

ECB Chairman Giles Clarke
Mike Atherton, Chief Cricket Correspondent
The future of England’s early-season international programme was potentially undermined yesterday with reports that Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) was on the verge of signing a ten-year $70 million (about £41 million) deal with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). If signed, the deal will tie Sri Lanka’s players to the Indian Premier League (IPL), which would immediately threaten the two-Test match tour to England in May next year.

The ECB responded by insisting that it has a signed contract with SLC, that the tour is part of the ICC Future Tours Programme and that, since it has heard nothing to the contrary, it expects the tour to go ahead. Privately, though, there is a great deal of unease at Lord’s, not just concerning next year’s tour, but that its ability to attract full-strength international teams to England at the start of the season will become severely compromised by the growing strength and influence of the Indian Twenty20 leagues.

Bangladesh are due in England in May 2010 and most of their top players are at present tied to the IPL or the Indian Cricket League. Invariably, it is the smaller, weaker or less marketable nations who are asked to tour early in the season before the leading part of the summer, and it is precisely these teams that are being picked off by Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner.

In Sri Lanka’s case, this latest development suggests that the players and their agents have won a power struggle over Arjuna Ranatunga, the former Sri Lanka captain, who is now chairman of SLC. Ranatunga went out on a limb by agreeing with Giles Clarke, the ECB chairman, that his country would tour England next year after Zimbabwe’s withdrawal. It was a move that antagonised Sri Lanka’s players and the IPL. In the end, money, and the need not to upset the most financially powerful institution in cricket, has won out over Ranatunga’s independent spirit and his determination to protect the primacy of Test cricket.
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Modi’s latest move is further indication of the growing animosity between the BCCI and the ECB, which is looking increasingly isolated. Australia and South Africa have recently committed themselves to long-term partnerships with India, leaving Clarke with precious few allies and little room to manoeuvre.

There was no official response from the ICC, except to say that the matter would be raised at next week’s board meeting in Dubai. It ought to be: when the IPL began, Modi said that international competition would always take priority over the IPL. Haroon Lorgat, the chief executive of the ICC, has also committed himself to such a stance. As always, what the administrators do and what they say are two entirely different things.

The ECB may be forced to revert to playing one Test series a summer. Ironically, this would be good news for England’s big-name players, given that it would allow them to play in the IPL, county commitments permitting.

The dollar signs are once again whizzing in front of their eyes.

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