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ECB rocked by players survey

The Potentially devastating effects of the Indian Twenty20 revolution were laid bare yesterday, when a survey revealed that a third of England-qualified players would consider premature international retirement to make their fortune on the sub-continent.

On a day when ECB lawyers were ironing out the small-print on a lucrative deal with Allen Stanford, the urgent need for a big-money agreement became clear.

The governing body are poised to finalise terms with the Texan billionaire and the West Indies Cricket Board on a series of five Twenty20 matches in Antigua worth $20million each to the winners, plus an annual fourteam tournament at Lord's, with prize money of $10m a time provided by Stanford.

This vision of unprecedented riches may just be enough to allay fears of what could amount to a mass rebellion among English players. The Professional Cricketers' Association released results of their survey of 334 players, which acknowledges that the Indian leagues present a 'threat to the fabric of the game'.

One player trying to get back into the England frame, Matthew Hoggard, took his best Yorkshire figures for five years yesterday as Hampshire fought to avoid an innings defeat at Headingley.

The 31-year-old has bagged better returns in an England shirt in recent years, but his six for 57 was his most successful haul at county level since a seven for 49 against Somerset in 2003.

However, some 35 per cent of England-qualified respondents would abandon their international careers early to play in either the Indian Premier League or the unauthorised Indian Cricket League.

Exactly the same proportion suggested that there would come a time when these Twenty20 options took precedence over 'home board' commitments.

Nearly a fifth of those questioned said they would participate in the ICL despite the threat of a 12-month ECB ban.

In terms of broader ramifications, more than half of the respondents feel that the growth of the bite-sized format threatens other forms of the game. But a resounding 93 per cent argue that Test cricket should retain its current, prime status.

As a snapshot of views in the professional game, the survey will alarm the authorities in English cricket. But a response is on the cards, with the counties poised for a showdown on the subject of a star-studded English Premier League during a meeting at Lord's on Tuesday.

The consensus view is that a competition involving all 18 first-class counties is not viable. One solution would be to carve the country up into regional franchises, but yesterday the heavyweights flexed their muscles.

Stewart Regan, Yorkshire chief executive, said: "I don't think Yorkshire and Lancashire would play as a merged side. That wouldn't appeal to me, I don't think it would appeal to our fans and it certainly wouldn't appeal to our players."

Lancashire chief executive Jim Cumbes said: "I'm not very keen. Sitting in a city with 11million people within an hour's drive, I don't think we actually need regional cricket."

Derbyshire chief executive Tom Sears spoke up on behalf of the smaller counties. "I wouldn't rule out a regional-based competition or city franchises," he said. "If the money filters down to the other counties not necessarily at the forefront of the competition, that will be beneficial to all."

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