England’s top players will go into this year’s Ashes summer with no first class cricket under their belt after it was agreed that they would be released to play in the Indian Premier League for 3 weeks. It may be seen as inevitable and necessary to retain the goodwill and commitment of the players but it really is not ideal preparation for a huge summer for English cricket.
Andrew Strauss has expressed his desire for players to take responsibility for their own performances, probably as a reaction to the excessively hands-on approach of Peter Moores. This is to be encouraged but it has been in evidence before that players do not find it easy to switch between the different forms of the game. Batsmen find it tough to rein in the shot-a-ball mentality in favour of the more applied approach of the longer game; bowlers struggle to exercise patience and consistency, having to think the batsman out over time rather than relying on them playing a shot too many.
This has been billed as one of the biggest summers in recent years but England’s players will go into it grossly under-prepared. They will have a home series in the West Indies but the IPL is a break in the momentum of the team which should be beginning now as the tour to the Windies gets underway. The positive side is that there are probably not that many England players who would be of interest to the IPL franchises. Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff will be in demand and Stuart Broad and Paul Collingwood would be worth having in your team. But other than that, there is not a lot there to excite.
The IPL is a pretty tricky conundrum for the English game. The ECB cannot deny their star players the opportunity to earn the money earned by other top players without potentially compromising their loyalty. But, beyond the problem of England players being undercooked, it is hugely damaging to the English domestic game that top players will be playing in another country’s competition instead of the county championship. It is another blow to that beleaguered competition.
The natural knock-on effect is that counties have considerably less incentive to retain young England players who are likely to be challenging for international honours. County teams will be more inclined to sign Kolpak players and to maximise the amount they can get out oftheir overseas players. Rules are in place to restrict these but, while they will wish to contribute to the wellbeing of the game nationally, the counties are businesses and will have to consider whether England players are worth the investment.
The main concern however centres around the well-being of the national team. They have a decent chance to win back the Ashes and we must hope that their desire for a quick buck, however understandable, does not prove detrimental to the main business of the summer. We can only hope that they take the responsibility offered to them by Strauss and justify the trust he has placed in them.