(England’s Pietersen – not cashing in for at least a year)
….but excuse me for dreaming. The Observer’s Jamie Jackson writes, “with the advent of another new short-form competition, Twenty20, and the billion-pound Indian Premier League launching this week, the structure of English cricket is once more under threat.”
The power of the 18 first-class counties who control the game through the England and Wales Cricket Board – and who collectively superseded MCC – is being questioned and could come under attack from a similar direction: the popularity of short-form cricket, especially in cities.
This time the establishment, the ECB, could be the loser. Whatever happens, those who run cricket are in for a rough ride. There is talk of splits, breakaways, of player revolt, and of soured relations between those who are pushing for radical change and those who are against it.
Andrew Wildblood, the IMG executive who dreamed up the IPL with its commissioner, Lalit Modi, over a cup of tea at last year’s Wimbledon, tells Observer Sport: ‘Cricket like any “product” has to respond to changes in its consumers’ demand and must innovate to protect its future. The authorities need to be at the forefront of this, as has clearly been the case in India. I believe that the ECB should at least consider something like a franchised, private ownership model, or creating new entities playing Twenty20. I think this can be done in a manner that is complementary to the existing structure and creates new value for existing stakeholders.
‘English cricket seems confused. How many people can name the format of all the competitions, say which is 40 overs, which is 50, which day a Championship match starts, whether it is three days or four days, who sponsors what? I regard myself as a cricket lover, but I certainly don’t know.’
On Friday the first match in the IPL is between the Bangalore Royal Chargers, owned by billionaire brewery tycoon Vijay Mallya, and Kolkata Knight Riders, backed by Bollywood’s biggest stars Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla.
Mallya’s franchise, the second most expensive of the eight in the IPL, cost $111 million. Kolkata went for ‘only’ $75m. But with former India captain Sourav Ganguly leading a team featuring Ricky Ponting, Kolkata should give the Chargers (Rahul Dravid, Jacques Kallis) a run for their money in Bangalore’s 55,000-capacity M Chinnaswamy Stadium.
About 50 of the world’s top cricketers from outside India will play in the IPL but only one from England, Dimitri Mascarenhas, who signed for Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur for £50,000. This is because the Indian league, which finishes on 1 June, clashes with England’s Test series against New Zealand. Over the coming 44 days of the 59-match competition, there will be no Andrew Flintoff or Kevin Pietersen, both of whom might have pocketed as much as the $1.35m that made Australia’s Andrew Symonds the most expensive non-Indian (and richest) bought at the remarkable player auction held in Mumbai at the end of February.
Pietersen recently broke ranks to describe the absence of English players from the IPL as ‘ridiculous’, saying: ‘You don’t want them [ECB] choosing. It’s silly to think that you’re losing up to a million [dollars] over six weeks. It’s definitely something that the hierarchy needs to fix into our fixtures”.