Today marks 98 days until the 1st Ashes test starts. In those next 98 days the two combatants for the Urn will be undertaking various preparatory steps with an eye on victory in the most time honoured contest in cricket.
Also during that 98 day span the annual hit and giggle, sorry T20, tournament that is the Indian Premier League will also be fought out on the sub-continent. The English and Australian teams are contributing the following players who might play in a roll in the Ashes campaign to the IPL this season:
Ben Hilfenhaus (Chennai Super Kings)
David Warner (Delhi Daredevils)
Ryan Harris (Kings XI Punjab)
Shaun Marsh (Kings XI Punjab)
Brad Haddin (Kolkata Knight Riders)
James Pattinson (Kolkata Knight Riders)
Glenn Maxwell (Mumbai Indians)
Mitchell Johnson (Mumbai Indians)
Phil Hughes (Mumbai Indians)
Michael Clarke (Pune Warriors)
Steve Smith (Pune Warriors)
Moises Henriques (Royal Challengers Bangalore)
James Faulkner (Rajasthan Royals)
Shane Watson (Rajasthan Royals)
Kevin Pietersen (Delhi Daredevils)
Eoin Morgan (Kolkata Knight Riders)
Three problems immediately come to mind when looking at the impact of the IPL on the preparations of players for the Ashes:
1. The English are not effected indeed they are probably enhanced: Simply put the English team are not effected by the imposition of the IPL on its team because of the few players they have playing in the competition. The remainder of their players will be playing in the County Championship in England and, by my count, will have the opportunity to play in no less than 15 County Championship matches as well as a three test series against New Zealand before taking to the field on June 10 at Trent Bridge.
2. Is playing T20 cricket good preparation for a test series? The IPL runs from 3 April until 26 May. Those Australian players who are committed to IPL franchises, and it is conceded there is a whole squad of them, will be in India for the whole of that time and then will travel to England (those who are selected) to play in the ICC Champions Trophy from 8 June until the final (if Australia makes it) on 23 June. The next first class or red ball game of cricket the players playing in the IPL will actually play will commence on 26 June against Somerset at Taunton. There is one first class game after that against Worcestershire at Worcester in the week following before the first test.
If the recent results in India taught Australian cricket nothing else it is the importance of the need for a solid preparation before a series. It is incomprehensible that the Australian team could be getting anything like that given the forgoing schedule. For a start the players participating in the IPL will be expected to move from Indian conditions to those of England with very limited lead time to prepare. Further, a season of hit and giggle will not prepare anyone for the seaming decks one can surmise will be produced in England. Defence with the bat will be at a premium in England and the Australian players are preparing with a competition that is focused on scoring rate not occupation of the crease.
3. Sitting on the bench in India is not good preparation either: One of the real problems that I foresee for the Australians playing in India is not that they will be playing too much cricket but too little. The IPL is replete with stories of players who are international stars or, at the very least, developing stars getting large IPL contracts and then spending the seven weeks of the tournament mixing the cordials and sitting on the pine. I see that as a real risk for players like Steve Smith, James Faulkner, Ben Hilfenhaus, Ryan Harris and James Pattinson. Rolling the arm over in the nets in India once every couple of days for seven weeks is not the kind of intense physical training one would expect these players to need in advance of the Ashes.
I concede that I am traditionalist and I am not a fan of T20 cricket. I also concede that no matter what fans like me think domestic T20 cricket is here to stay. Frankly, I do not begrudge anyone wishing the supplement their income from playing in tournaments such as this. Equally, I want to see Australia win the Ashes back in England, preferably on or about 5 August at Old Trafford (end of the third test) but I fear that, on top of the type of squad the Australian selectors are likely to name (see my blog on that topic here: https://shumpty77.com/2013/04/01/unluckiest-players-in-the-country-who-will-miss-out-on-ashes-selection-and-why-they-ought-be-there/ ), the preparation that the Australians are going through in advance of the series is giving the English an extra advantage that they do not really need.