IPL ready to lure England stars
Lord's are facing a Kerry Packer-style crisis over the billion-dollar Indian Premier League which would impact on Michael Vaughan's 2009 Ashes crusade.
Although Freddie Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen have rejected big-money offers to join the IPL circus, bosses of the super-rich Twenty20 competition have drawn up a wish-list of England stars to sign up next year.
And their top English targets will include Flintoff, Pietersen, Vaughan, Steve Harmison, Monty Panesar, Darren Gough and Paul Collingwood - most of whom should be taking on the Aussies in just 15 months.
Players who join the IPL, on contracts worth up to £800,000 for six weeks' work, will be banned from Test and one-day internationals unless they obtain a "no-objection" certificate from the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Hampshire big hitter Dimi Mascarenhas is the only Englishman to sign up - and he will miss the first month of the 2008 season with his county's permission.
But ECB chairman Giles Clarke, who claimed last week England stars would not be clamouring to join IPL, is out of tune with his own team.
The IPL's treasure chest was the talk of the England camp in New Zealand, with man of the series Ryan Sidebottom admitting: "The guys all talk about it in the dressing room. All of us are contracted to the ECB, but it's a difficult situation because everyone wants to play in it."
Batsman Andrew Strauss warned: "I can't believe there are not going to be changes to the game. Money talks too loudly."
And former England pace bowler Dean Headley, an ambassador for the Professional Cricketers Association, warned: "Even if there is not an exodus, there could be a lot of disgruntled England players, which cannot be healthy."
Flintoff, 30, revealed joining the IPL's slogfest, which starts this month, is "not an option" while he completes his comeback from ankle surgery.
Likewise Pietersen is happy to put England before making a fast buck for now. But they are privately thought to fancy a share of the treasure chest.
And unless the ECB softens its hard-line stance, Lord's are on a collision course with England's IPL targets, who could:
*Embarrass Clarke by turning down 12-month England contracts in September so they can 'freelance' in India.
*Take legal action against their own board, citing restraint of trade.
*Retire from international cricket and sign IPL deals worth FOUR times their basic England salary.
Dougie Brown, chairman of the PCA players union, warned: "We are looking at something bigger than Packer because the IPL is not going to go away and will last longer."
The 1977 Packer crisis decimated the England team when the likes of Tony Greig, Alan Knott and Derek Underwood signed up to a media mogul's pirate series between Australia and the Rest of the World.