Monday, 23 March 2009

Spring Dreaming?

By the time this article has been checked by the Cricket Tragics roster of editors and proofreaders, Monday’s decision on where this year’s IPL is to be held may already have been made. With India unable to guarantee suitable security, the choice looks to be between England and South Africa.

Maybe this is the early spring sunshine speaking, but this could be precisely what English cricket and Giles Clarke need after the Stanford scandal and the quiet death of the EPL.

The IPL is the world of the ‘what if’: it gives Warne and now Pietersen the chance to show the captaincy skills that have been passed over at national level; it lets us see whether a top order of Gilchrist, Afridi, Gibbs and Symonds could top 300 in 20 overs (last year, an emphatic no for the out-of-pocket Deccan Chargers); whether old pros like McGrath can still contain the finest young talents (an equally emphatic yes so far); and, most importantly, whom Harbajhan can antagonise other than the Australians.

With the ICC World 2020 also coming up in June, England has the chance to show that it is better at hosting international cricket events than it was 10 years ago. This could, in turn, open the way to British grounds regularly becoming neutral Test match venues, a hobby-horse of Clarke’s for some time and a move that is surely key to the future of Test cricket: not only is Pakistan likely to remain a no-go area for the foreseeable future, but Test crowds outside England are often non-existent. The large British Asian community, a prime reason behind the near guaranteed Test ticket demand, currently seems, according to South African sources, to be a key factor swaying the BCCI, alongside the possibility of road (rather than air) travel between games.

At the risk of sacrilege, it may appear the biggest problem is that England’s very possible Ashes capitulation in the face of the Mitchell Johnson show could seem like an anticlimax.

Far from it: as Andrew Miller argues, the conflict between Sky, broadcaster of the West Indies Test and one-day series, and Setanta, holder of IPL rights, might be deadly. The hijacking of the county 4-day season (which begins, like the IPL, in mid-April) will surely also cause some sort of kerfuffle, though the first round of May’s Friends’ Provident Trophy might perhaps migrate to reserve grounds without too much fuss. And surely the weather ought to be an issue, particularly when a South African summer is the other option?

Perhaps, then, this will all remain in the world of the ‘what if’ and be forgotten, in a few days, along with the spring sunshine. Now, though, I’m not so sure – and I’m beginning the week excited, but worried about the primacy of Test cricket.

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