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ECB denies opening up window of opportunity

The ECB emphasised last night that the schedule for England's tour to the West Indies has not been designed to create a window for its players to take part in the Indian Premier League (IPL) next year.

It was announced yesterday that England's tour to the Caribbean would end on April 3, a month earlier than the corresponding trip four years ago.

That could leave centrally contracted players such as Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, known to be coveted by Indian franchises, time between international commitments to play in the lucrative IPL, the second season of which will run from April 10 to May 29.

Several England players have expressed the hope that a window would be found in the international schedule next year to enable them to play in the IPL. But the ECB was at pains to point out that the West Indies tour dates do not give the players licence to depart for India at the start of a hectic summer that culminates in the Ashes series.

“The dates for the tour to the Caribbean were agreed before the IPL was ever mooted,” an ECB spokesman said last night. “Those dates have not changed.

“The tours this winter were scheduled to give players appropriate rest after the India series [before Christmas] and the West Indies series so that they could prepare for a full and important domestic season that includes an Ashes series and the ICC World Twenty20 competition.”

The key words here are “appropriate rest”. After the West Indies tour ends on April 3, England are scheduled to play a Test series against Zimbabwe, due to begin as early as May 7, followed by a one-day series that finishes on May 30. The ICC World Twenty20 runs from June 5 to 21, with just a 2˝-week break before the Ashes series begins in Cardiff on July 8.

Peter Moores, the England head coach, has the discretion to release players from their central contracts, but with such a crowded schedule he is unlikely to want key players to risk burnout in an Ashes summer.

The West Indies tour dates could allow time for England players to participate in the first three weeks of the IPL, perhaps longer if Zimbabwe's Test status is not restored, or the tour is cancelled for political reasons.

One of the prime motivations behind the ECB's continuing negotiations with Allen Stanford for a series of lucrative Twenty20 matches was to prevent a collision with players eager to cash in on the IPL, until 2010 at least. A recent ECB policy statement said: “The ECB has never stated that centrally contracted players are banned from IPL.

It should be noted that in 2008 and 2009 the npower Test match series clashes with the scheduled dates of the Indian Premier League, but future schedules of the IPL from 2010 onwards are yet to be released.”

The need for “appropriate rest” would be particularly applicable to an injury-prone player such as Flintoff, who is now certain to miss the forthcoming one-day series against New Zealand. With England due to announce their one-day squad on Friday, Flintoff said yesterday that his recovery from a side strain is likely to take another three weeks. The five-match series runs from June 15 to 28.

“I've still probably got three weeks,” Flintoff said at Lancashire's Twenty20 Cup launch yesterday. “I saw Geoff Miller [the national selector] and Peter Moores last week and they're not going to rush me.”

Having suffered the injury three weeks ago, Flintoff is concerned at the limited amount of first-class cricket available to him before the Test series against South Africa starts on July 10. If he returns for Lancashire in three weeks, he would have a week of Twenty20 Cup matches and then only one LV County Championship match, against Sussex at Hove, before the South Africa series. “There'll be a number of Twenty20 matches, but I'd like to get some overs under my belt in the longer form of the game,” he said.

Jesse Ryder, the New Zealand batsman, will also miss the one-day series after failing to recover from the tendons he severed during England's recent tour to New Zealand.

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