IPL dates could ease franchise versus country row for England’s Tests against New Zealand

With speculation that the 14th edition of the IPL will be done by the end of May, there is now an outside chance that some of the best England and New Zealand players, thought likely to miss the two-Test series, may yet be able to make it.

The ECB will doubtless be looking for confirmation, after reports the tournament will start on April 9 and culminate in the final on May 30 as that may free Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, the Curran brothers, Moeen Ali and Johnny Bairstow, particularly if their franchises fail to make the final stages.

The two Tests are due to start on June 2 and June 10 respectively so any availability will depend heavily not just on quarantine requirements for those returning but also on the England selection policy, with Bairstow in particular having questions over his Test future after a disastrous return to the India tour and the fact that he wasn’t given a red-ball central contract.

Of more concern perhaps is the need to define what priority the ECB will place on the New Zealand series now that the World Test Championship final is not an achievable objective for England and that the matches will be unlikely to play to full houses. It may be that the tourists are keener to get their leading players, such as captain Kane Williamson, RCB’s new signing Kyle Jamieson and strike bowler Trent Boult some match practice in English conditions before their final against India later in the month.

After the rest and rotation policy that, wherever one stands on its rights and wrongs, certainly did impair England in India, team selection for New Zealand’s visit will be a bellwether of the ECB’s strategic intent in a T20 World Cup year.

Ever since the end of IPL 2020, staged in the UAE, the BCCI has maintained its stance on playing the tournament in India this year. Moreover, having managed to successfully host the Syed Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare trophies, along with England in the four-match Test series, has given them renewed confidence that that will be possible.

There are reports that the governing body has zeroed in on six potential venues: Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai, where bio-secure bubbles will be created for the 60 matches scheduled to take place in 52 days. There had been uncertainty about Mumbai hosting matches after a spike in Covid cases but the local government has given its full support to the board if it chooses to use the three stadiums in the city.

It was reported that the meeting between BCCI, Mumbai Cricket Association officials and Sharad Pawar, the Maharashtra MP who has previously served on BCCI and ICC committees, yielded positive results with some level of crowd likely to be admitted. “The general impression at the meeting was that it should be just like in Ahmedabad or Chennai, where the 50 per cent crowds were allowed,” one of the members involved in the meeting told Cricbuzz.

The cricket world awaits confirmation, as one suspects that the financial incentives of the IPL will always hold sway in any franchise vs country dilemma.