ECB wait for second IPL auction
The Indian Premier League is to stage a second player auction within weeks amid mounting speculation that a number of English players are considering breaking ranks and declaring themselves available for the Twenty20 tournament starting next month.
Dimitri Mascarenhas is among the England players linked with the IPL, though sources last night denied that he had finalised a deal with a single franchise. Luke Wright and Alastair Brown have also attracted interest for their ability in the shortest form of the game.
Of England's centrally contracted players, Kevin Pietersen has already rejected a firm approach from the IPL and there has been widespread speculation that Andrew Flintoff has turned down a multi-million dollar offer to sign up. Flintoff said last month that he was focused on regaining his England place. His agent was unavailable for comment last night.
Last month the first IPL player auction saw 77 cricketers from around the world win contracts worth almost $42m (£21.4m) from the eight franchises that make up the league, prompting huge interest from players and agents not involved first time round. With franchises besieged by agents and conducting direct negotiations with players themselves, the IPL has decided to stage a second auction.
Franchise owners have been reminded that they are forbidden from striking direct deals and can secure players only through the auction system. The issue is fraught with difficulties for the England and Wales Cricket Board, which is desperate to preserve the status of the county season as well as the international calendar.
Meanwhile the government and the ICC have opened talks about Zimbabwe's 2009 tour of England. It is understood that the International Cricket Council chairman Ray Mali, its chief executive Malcolm Speed, the president-elect David Morgan and the ECB chairman Giles Clarke met the culture secretary, Andy Burnham, last week to discuss the issue.
The government is considering preventing Zimbabwe from touring, though yesterday it denied it had any plans to issue a blanket ban to all athletes from that country. More immediately the government may also refuse to grant a visa to Peter Chingoka, the chairman of Zimbabwe Cricket, to attend the ICC's annual conference at Lord's in June.
This issue is problematic for the ECB because any government action that also affected the Twenty20 World Championship later in the summer, in which Zimbabwe will play, would be commercially and politically disastrous. The ICC delegation sought to persuade Burnham that ICC events such as the annual conference and the Twenty20 tournament were of a different order from bilateral tours and that Zimbabwe's representatives should be admitted even if they were banned from a normal series.