Warne walks out on Hampshire
As concerns grow over the Indian Premier League, Australian legend Shane Warne last night became the latest and greatest player to abandon his county commitments because of the 20-over boom.
Warne, who was expected to captain Hampshire in the second part of the season, announced that he would not be returning to the club because of "exciting business opportunities" and confirmed his retirement from the first-class game.
The news will fuel fears that cricket's centre of gravity is shifting to the east, especially as five New Zealand players also announced yesterday that they will be missing their team's first two warm-up games in England in order to play in the IPL.
Warne, 38, has taken on a major role at the Rajasthan Royals, the IPL franchise owned by the London-based businessman Manoj Badale. He will captain and coach the team, while also acting as an "ambassador" for the IPL concept.
A late convert to 20-over cricket, Warne always made a point of skipping the English Twenty20 Cup. But he has committed himself to the IPL programme, which runs from April 18 to June 1. His enthusiasm can be judged by the fact that he is flying from Melbourne to Jaipur and back again for the Rajasthan Royals' launch today.
Warne has various commitments this summer, including a poker tournament in Las Vegas in June. He would only have been available to Hampshire for a couple of months at the end of the season, and this was felt to be unacceptable for a county captain.
Hampshire chairman Rod Bransgrove emphasised that the split was amicable. "It's not just about the IPL," he told the BBC. "I think the cumulative effect of his business commitments, poker tournaments, TV appearances and so on meant that another two months away from home would have been more than he could reasonably bear. We also had to think about how much we could squeeze our season to accommodate one player, however great he is."
The Hampshire captaincy now passes from Warne to Dimitri Mascarenhas, the big-hitting allrounder who has also signed for the Royals. The difference is that Mascarenhas - so far the only English player to join the IPL - has restricted his involvement to the fortnight between May 12 and May 26. He will miss just one county championship match.
India's 20-over explosion has already had a disruptive effect on several counties' plans for the coming season, though the other cases involve the rebel Indian Cricket League.
The South Africans Justin Kemp, Andrew Hall and Johannes van der Wath were among five ICL players denied registration last week by the England and Wales Cricket Board.