New Zealand are headed towards fielding a second-string side in their first Test against England next year after their board couldn't convince the ECB to schedule the series at a time not coinciding with the IPL. It's a predicament not one of the parties could have helped. The New Zealand players earn more in one week of IPL than they do from their annual NZC contracts, which is why they are entitled to five weeks of IPL, who pays NZC 10% of the players' salary effectively to make them available. However, NZC is also bound by the ICC FTP, and ECB by its own commercial understanding with its partners.
Rough calculations, says NZC Players' Association chief Heath Mills, suggest New Zealand's IPL players will make it to England only on the eve of the first Test if they play their five weeks' allocation of IPL. Of the eight New Zealanders in the IPL, four are Test starters, and Nathan McCullum and James Franklin are not too far. Jesse Ryder has avoided a contract this year, and Scott Styris has retired. New Zealand fans are not quite holding their breath over the choice the players will make: the last time the players chose country over club, back in 2009, they made no guarantees of a similar decision in the future. Mills says he will be surprised if "most of the players didn't play the IPL".
That standoff back then led to the introduction of the five-weeks clause in future contracts, but NZC didn't guarantee them a clear window for the IPL every year, especially during years the team was due to tour England. "Our understanding was that the guys can take five weeks leave, and that NZC will endeavour to make sure there was no international cricket during that period," Mills said. "However, they did note that it may not be as easy to ensure our players could play the whole IPL when we toured England.
"They made a commitment to us that they will work with the ECB to try and get the dates of our English tour after the IPL if possible. Clearly those discussions haven't reached an outcome that New Zealand players or the players here were hoping. England don't want to move any cricket around the IPL. That's their right, and their choice. So we need to live with that."
"Living with that" will mean further devaluation of international cricket: New Zealand will be weak, England will not be tested properly, and the biggest losers perhaps will be the English public going to the Tests.
"As I do my maths at the moment, if the IPL starts on the 7th of April, as it typically does, then our guys will obviously have five weeks of the IPL, and they will then arrive on the eve of the first Test, which is scheduled for the 16th of may. Which means we will need to work this through with the NZC and the players concerned," Mills said. "If NZC feel that's not enough preparation, they may look to take other players to play that first Test match and have the IPL guys play the second Test. It's certainly unfortunate and far from ideal."
The biggest concern with the way things stand right now is that they affect smaller teams - the likes of New Zealand and West Indies - the most. The big four - India, Australia, England and South Africa - who actually dominate the decision making feel no tangible pinch from the clash between IPL and international cricket. Not least because they can afford to pay their cricketers enough to keep them away from outside lure.
"Our senior players are earning over a million dollars playing in the IPL," Mills said. "Effectively it comes to 200,000 dollars a week. So each week they are not at the IPL, they lose more than the initial contracts here in New Zealand, which I think other people don't realise. New Zealand players earn a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year whereas players from England, Australia and the bigger countries earn a couple of million dollars a year with the initial contract."
Mills said the cricket administrators needed to do more than just saying that Test cricket is the prime format. "I think from a holistic point of view this is not the answer for international cricket," he said. "Clearly if you haven't got your best players playing for your country, we can no longer say international cricket is the best playing the best. Because it isn't. The day the international cricket is not about best players against best players, we have a problem, and we need to discuss it. We need to find a better outcome."
An official window for IPL could be one solution, Mills said, but when suggested there might be no end to tournaments' asking for a window if a precedent is set. Mills said the IPL had a much bigger impact than even Champions League Twenty20, which is owned by just India, Australia and South Africa, which doesn't equate to the world game.