The IPL franchises are taking a careful look at the availability of England players over the next two seasons before deciding on whether to pick them at all. The franchises’ concern is serious because England’s Test players will leave the upcoming season on May 17, ten days before the final. Next year, the ECB has told the IPL that the players will need to leave by May 1 to prepare for the 2019 World Cup, which will be played from May 30 in the UK.
There is a strong English presence in the auction pool – 21 players across both the capped and uncapped categories. Chief among the lot are allrounder Ben Stokes and Test captain Joe Root, both of whom are part of the two sets of marquee players who will come up first for bidding on Saturday. Other prominent England players who will come up for bidding on the first day of the auction include Eoin Morgan, Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Alex Hales, Sam Billings, Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow.
Stokes remains a hot pick after his phenomenal IPL debut last season with Rising Pune Supergiant, who finished runners-up. However, Stokes’ availability has been clouded by the legal proceedings concerning a charge of affray against him. Stokes is likely to appear for the first hearing of the trial on February 13. The IPL has already assured the franchises that in case Stokes is not available for the entire season, a replacement can be sought. However, that won’t be applicable if he’s unavailable for only a part of the tournament.
Stokes is one of three England Test players, along with Root and Woakes, that the franchises are likely to be keen on procuring. Unlike Stokes, and Woakes, who played for Kolkata Knight Riders, Root has never featured in the IPL. However, various franchises have said he is a “good” player and will be a part of their auction strategy.
In an e-mail sent to the franchises last week on the availability of players from various countries, the IPL had a special alert on the English contingent’s participation for the next two seasons. “If the Player is selected for the 1st Test Match vs Pakistan commencing on 24th May 2018, he will be required to return to UK by 12 noon on Thursday, 17th May 2018,” the IPL said. “If not required for England duty as outlined above, the Player will have full availability for IPL 2018 through to 27th May 2018.”
In 2019, when the IPL would be played for the first time before the World Cup, the ECB wants England’s players to leave by May 1 to prepare for the tournament, as well as the home limited-overs series against Pakistan that precedes it.
Considering it is a World Cup year, the IPL would need to end two weeks prior to the global event, as per the Supreme Court of India judgement. ESPNcricinfo understands that the 2019 IPL is likely to end by May 15, which means England’s players would depart two weeks prior to the final. “It is anticipated that any players selected in the England ODI squad will be required to return to UK by 1st May 2019 to participate in 5 ODIs and 1 IT20 vs Pakistan in the lead up to CWC 2019,” the IPL said.
On the eve of the two-day auction, there was mixed reaction from the franchises. “Stokes is a tricky one because, from the availability point of view, the English players are a huge challenge,” a franchise chief executive officer said. “They have to return well before the tournament is over.
“Next year is going to be a huge challenge too. World Cup starts on May 30. We are told England players have to leave in early May. If that is the case, there is no point picking an English player in your squad because you can’t be picking players for less than half the tournament and then start worrying.”
The franchise CEO admitted Stokes was on his list of prospective buys, but the trial was another hurdle. “The trial is about to start. We never know where he stands.”
One franchise official said he will not “take the risk” to hire a Root in case of partial availability. “If you are leaving 10 days before the final… I wouldn’t take that risk. If I take, say, a Root, and he is leaving on May 17, then I need a back-up too.”
Incidentally, the ECB recalled England’s players last season, too, to prepare for a limited-overs series against South Africa. Stokes, Buttler and Woakes were allowed by the board to play the entire league phase of the IPL only. Hence, a franchise analyst reasoned, the case wasn’t any different now. “If he [Stokes] plays 14 matches, then it is fine. He will once again end up as a top-buy if franchises are ready.”
A team director at a franchise said Root could be a smart buy and could come handy if he is bought cheap. A good price, he said, would be INR 3 crore (USD 472,000 approx). Root has set his base price at INR 2 crore (USD 315,000 approx). “People could think of buying him because he will come cheap. He is good. Although he has not played too much T20, he is capable. He can bat for sure, and he can be a part-time bowler as he showed recently against Australia in the ODIs.”