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Clarke flies out to woo England players

Giles Clarke, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, is meeting England's players ahead of the first Test in Hamilton to outline proposals intended to compensate them for not joining the Indian Premier League.

The ECB is considering whether to stage more Twenty20 internationals in an English summer - with additional player bonuses no doubt as part of the package - but the most intriguing possibility is that they will arrange a tie-up with the Texas-born billionaire Sir Allen Stanford, whose own Twenty20 competition in Antigua has just completed its inaugural event.

Stanford is hardly a traditional ally for the ECB. He finds Test cricket boring, he is trying to sell Twenty20 cricket to the Americans and his first Stanford 20/20 tournament was of dubious quality, but these are uncertain times and the ECB might do a deal.

The cash-strapped West Indies Board is building an uneasy relationship with Stanford, who has promised $130m (65m) to West Indies cricket over five years. It is no empty promise. He was ranked by Forbes magazine as the 239th richest individual in America. Clarke attended an ECB board meeting last week which discussed Stanford's challenge to Australia and England to compete against his West Indies All Stars in a winner-takes-all $20m game.

Clarke is also privately excited by the thought that Stanford might attract a US audience in the way that the International Cricket Council has failed to do as it has been at loggerheads with small-time US administrators.

The ECB's priority, however, is to remove the possibility that England players might be tempted by the IPL. Clarke cannot fail to be aware that agents representing England players have discussed the possibility with Indian board representatives of their involvement in future years.

India's lucrative new Twenty20 league has attracted many of the world's top sportsmen, but England players are unable to take part this year because of the start of the county season and, even if it is brought forward to March in 2009 as organisers have intimated, it clashes with England's West Indies tour.

A tie-up with the West Indies, whose season runs deep into April, is the most logical solution for the ECB, which wants to maintain control of its players and is encouraging the counties to employ them on annual contracts. Counties are also bound to market the domestic Twenty20 competition.

Stanford's preferred style of cricket might possess more razzmatazz than subtlety but if he revives interest in the Caribbean, and even makes parts of the US take notice, then the ECB might be wise to ally itself to his vision rather than succumb to the IPL which is liable to disrupt its own international and county programmes.

source - guardian.co.uk
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