It has only been in the past couple of years that the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has adopted an embracing attitude towards the Indian Premier League (IPL). The first few iterations of the world’s premier T20 franchise bonanza aroused only deep suspicion at the ECB and gave rise to the lamentable Stanford T20 for 20. Times have changed.
Under the stewardship of Andrew Strauss as MD, England players have been given greater freedom to embrace the IPL. Where Kevin Pietersen once went to war with the ECB in an attempt to be allowed to play in it, England’s cricketers are finally being encouraged to put their names forward in the auction.
Jos Buttler and Sam Billings were already assured of their contracts for the 2017 IPL, but the fees of those who are joining them have raised one or two eyebrows.
That Ben Stokes, England’s and arguably world cricket’s finest all-rounder should fetch US$2.16m and become the second most expensive player in IPL history behind Youvraj Singh, and its most expensive import in joining Rising Pune Supergiants, was perhaps not a surprise, but the $1.8m shelled out by Royal Challengers Bangalore for Tymal Mills, was.
It was 24 times over Mills’s reserve price and came at the end of a frantic bidding war for the England left-arm paceman. Sadly reduced to the role of T20 specialist because of a debilitating back condition, the move is testimony to his will to find a role in the game.
Once talked up as an England international across all three formats owing to his electrifying pace, Mills can only sustain four over bursts. He’s the quickest bowler I’ve seen in the flesh – his short run up is supplemented by explosive power through his left shoulder. He also bowls a beautifully disguised slower ball.
He will need all the tricks in the book to keep the runs down in the small confines of Bangalore, but what an opportunity for a young man who was staring down the barrel of retirement only two years ago.
Chris Woakes is off to Kolkata Knight Riders for this season for $625,000. It caps a good year for Woakes, who has become a central pillar of England’s seam attack. It helps that he can bat a bit, too.
England’s ODI captain, Eoin Morgan is set for another IPL stint, having fetched $300,000 from Kings XI Punjab. Fellow England players Jason Roy ($150,000 to Gujarat Lions) and Chris Jordan ($74,000 to Sunrisers Hyderabad) will also be in India this April.
I was slightly surprised that Roy didn’t get picked up in the first round of bidding. He’s performed consistently for England in ODIs and T20s over the past year and has visibly improved his game along the way – he is no longer a boundary or bust batsman and can rotate the strike and build big innings. He also performed well for England in their recent ODI series against India. Gujarat have potentially picked up the bargain of the 2017 auction.
His opening partner for England, Alex Hales failed to attract any interest. Again, this is something of a surprise given Hales’s heavy scoring for England and previous T20 exploits. Jonny Bairstow joined him in failing to attract a bid, which is less of a surprise given his high base price and the fact that he’s not assured of a place in England’s team.
It is a relief, however, to see that England’s players are being encouraged to embrace the IPL and that the IPL is starting to embrace them. Where Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff led, the others are only now starting to follow.
Given the life changing sums of money commanded by England’s elite players, the stable door is well and truly open and the horse has bolted. There can be no turning back now.
This is beneficial to England, as well as the IPL. It’s just a shame that it has been too long in coming.