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Testing time for English cricket

Yorkshire's chief executive Stewart Regan fears top England stars could turn their backs on Test cricket if they are prevented from playing in the Indian Premier League.

Regan believes they could reject the offer of central contracts in favour of the cash-rich Twenty20 tournament.

His warning comes after England's Kevin Pietersen branded it "ridiculous" that centrally-contracted players are not allowed to take part in the IPL, with the England and Wales Cricket Board having refused to allow them to participate in an inaugural event (April 18-June 1) that clashes with the English season.

Regan told the Yorkshire Post: "The worry is: what will happen when centrally-contracted players are out of contract at the end of this year?

"The England players are only on 12-month contracts, so what's going to happen if a solution isn't found?

"My fear is you might find some of them saying, 'Well, thanks for the offer of a central contract, but, actually, I'm going to go and play in India because I can make five, six, or 10 times more money.

"The players will be thinking, 'I've got a choice to make here. Do I sign another England contract, or do I go and play in India?' If money talks, they will go and play in India."

Regan believes there are only two viable solutions to a crisis that threatens to undermine English cricket. "Either the IPL moves its competition so that all players around the world can play in a time period that doesn't affect their own domestic season, or, if that's not possible, we have to beef up the Twenty20 competition in the UK in such a way that it becomes equally attractive to stay and play over here," he added

"The ECB are considering how changes could be made to Twenty20 cricket in England while adopting a watching brief to see how this year's IPL pans out, but I think the current status quo is unsustainable.

"If English cricket simply sits on its hands and does nothing, then it wouldn't surprise me if England's players turn down central contracts.

"Although I've never hid my feelings that Twenty20 is hugely important for the game, the future of Test cricket must be protected as well."

Regan said he sympathised with the ECB and also those England players who are missing the IPL, whose top earners can net more than 500,000 for six weeks' work.

"The England players are seeing their competitors around the world being able to take part in this tournament because it doesn't clash with their own domestic season, and it's easy to see why they're frustrated at not being involved," he said.

"At the same time, the England players also have to see it from the ECB's point of view.

"I suppose it's a bit like the situation we had with Anthony McGrath at Yorkshire last year in that if a player has a contract, then a club are going to expect that player to honour his contract.

"It's the same with the ECB. They've got contracts in place with England players and are simply saying, 'sorry, guys, but you've got a contract and we've got commitments to visiting teams, a Future Tours Programme to consider, and you can't just drop your contract and go and play somewhere else because someone's waving a few pound notes at you.It's possible to sympathise with both parties."

The Twenty20 explosion has affected Yorkshire's overseas player arrangements for this year, with confusion having surrounded the availability of pace bowlers Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Morne Morkel owing to their involvement in the rebel Indian Cricket League/ICL players' auction, and now Morkel looks set to miss the start of the club's County Championship campaign.

Regan explained: "We've been led to understand that centrally-contracted South African players have to play in upcoming Twenty20 competitions in South Africa, and, if that's the case, Morne may not be joining us until the end of the month.

"It's likely that he'll miss the first Championship game against Hampshire, but we're not sure at this stage whether he'll miss the following game against Nottinghamshire."

Morkel is currently on tour with South Africa in India.

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