Whether you love it or hate it, there can be no doubting the entertainment value provided by the Indian Premier League. Given the number of top level players that turn out for their respective franchises, it also doesn’t take a genius to work out that for talented young starlets the IPL represents a fantastic opportunity for them to improve their skills against the very best. It’s no secret in sport that when playing better players one has to, by necessity, raise one’s own standards.
What a shame then that the big cheeses at the ECB have so far – by and large – treated the IPL and similar global T20 competitions with the sort of disdain they usually save for former players’ warts-and-all autobiographies.
Hope is on the horizon, perhaps, in the shape of the new director of cricket, Andrew Strauss. In the last couple of weeks the former England captain has given a set of rather bipolar interviews in which he first said that his charges would be allowed to miss test matches in order to play in the IPL (The Telegraph), before undertaking a complete about-turn and telling the BBC that the test team remains the priority.
He then clarified his position in an interview with Nick Knight for Sky Sports. “The great thing about going to those [T20] tournaments is that you go as an overseas player, so you’re under pressure to perform and win games of cricket. That’s exactly what we want our players to do.
“Thirty-eight of the 44 players involved in the semi-finals of the World Cup had IPL experience. We should seek further opportunities to get our guys in there.”
So the ECB’s position on the matter is as clear as mud, then.
But assuming that England’s test players won’t be allowed to take part in the IPL – they have a two-match series against Sri Lanka next May, coinciding with the tournament – that still opens the door for members of the ODI and T20 sides to sign up.
So who are the five lions who might need to dig out their passports come next spring?
There is a suggestion that Jason Roy is starting to find his feet as an international limited overs cricketer, and that development could surely only be enriched by a stint in the most difficult T20 conditions on earth.
The 25-year-old possesses that very un-English quality – unpredictability – and has embraced the short form of the game and its necessary innovations. He has already proven to be a success in another T20 competition in the sub-continent following a spell with the Chittagong Kings in the Bangladesh Premier League, and surely his skill set could only be enhanced by facing some of the best bowlers in the world on a thrice-weekly basis in India.
Roy was the leading run scorer in the 2014 rendition of the T20 Blast, and with his ability to hit the ball to all corners of the park he is set to play a huge role in a couple of important years for England’s short form game as the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017 and the World Cup of 2019 await on the horizon.
David Willey has already proven himself to be something of a flag-bearer in this area: he has been allowed to skip the England Lions tour this winter to play in the Australian Big Bash for reigning champions and tournament second-favourites Perth Scorchers; a rather obvious sign that perhaps Strauss and the ECB are warming to the idea of their employees trying their hand at T20 cricket overseas.
The 25-year-old is another that has seemingly taken to international cricket with aplomb, and while he absolutely larrups the ball with willow in hand he has proven just as effective with the new cherry; his gentle left-arm seamers and off-cutters proving particularly difficult to score from.
What is particularly exciting about the son of former England all-rounder Peter is that he can clearly handle the big occasion too: remember the 19-ball half century and hat-trick he took in the final of our domestic T20 competition in 2012?
Last season he took things to the next level with a match-winning century in the quarter-final against Sussex; particularly when he deposited Michael Yardy for 34 from a single over. Almost as if to show off his versatility, he then destroyed the Warwickshire top order in the semi-final with the new ball in hand.
If his career trajectory continues in the vein it has so far, it’s not hard to imagine Willey having great success over in India.
Another young man who seemingly has the game and the temperament to be an important cog in this England machine for years to come is Reece Topley. Despite only being 21 years old, he bowls with the nous of somebody far senior and has baffled the Pakistan batsmen at times during the ongoing ODI series in the Middle East.
You would fancy him to be a success in the IPL given his repertoire of swinging length deliveries, cutters and slow bouncers – variety really is the spice of life for seamers in the T20 format, after all.
At 6ft 7in tall, England supporters will be hoping there is more in the tank than the 84mph he currently averages. Perhaps the IPL could help him find it.
At 24, James Vince has already been very lightly pencilled in as a potential England captain of the future.
He already skippers his club side Hampshire in all three forms of the game, and it’s not hard to see why: he was the leading run scorer in the T20 Blast last year with 710 runs at a phenomenal average of 59.17.
He’s been a regular feature in the England Lions side and made his ODI debut in that abandoned one-off clash with Ireland last summer. Vince will also captain the Lions in the T20 series against Pakistan this winter; and that will give him ample opportunity to put in some eye-catching displays for any watching scouts.
Chris Woakes is certainly a contender for IPL selection as he is unlikely to return to the first choice test XI any time soon. However, he has cemented his place in the T20 and ODI sides with a series of good performances, and at 26 years old he is at that perfect age to still be learning his craft but yet experienced enough not to be overawed by the razzmatazz of the big occasion.
He is still favoured more as a bowler – after plenty of strength and conditioning work last winter he now regularly tops speeds of 87mph with the ball, and he looks an accomplished lower order nudger with the bat too.
Woakes is the kind of ‘bits and pieces’ cricketer that tends to flourish in the IPL.