The ICL's move to obtain ICC recognition has entered a critical phase with both sides meeting in Johannesburg next week along with the BCCI, the third party in the issue. The ICC is making a serious push for a settlement at that meeting, on February 21, and is so hopeful of a solution that David Morgan, its president, has alerted Subhash Chandra, the ICL owner, on the possibility of having to stay back an extra day to finalise any agreement.
The issue was discussed in detail at the ICC board meeting in Perth last month following which, it is learnt, the ICL was offered a masters/veterans tournament as a compromise formula. However, the ICL is sticking to its demand of being granted "authorised unofficial cricket" status under existing ICC rules though they are open to providing certain assurances - particularly a guarantee against poaching players contracted to their respective national boards.
The ICC recently drafted new rules on official and unofficial cricket making it virtually impossible for future ICL models to come up but these rules are effective in June. The ICL request falls under existing rules, which state: "In the event of anybody wishing to stage an 'unofficial cricket event', ICC approval should first be obtained before full members could release their players for the event".
The rules also stipulate that any such approval will require an assessment of various criteria, including the home board's approval if the event is in an ICC member country. The ICL's request is currently stuck in this legal wedge.
The ICC is clear that the matter has to be sorted out between the BCCI and ICL but it is also keen for an early resolution in the best interests of the game, particularly for the 150 ICL cricketers who have been banned by their boards. Officially at least, the BCCI continues to insist that its stand on the ICL remains the same - it has banned all players associated with the ICL from its tournaments and denied them access to facilities managed by the board or its affiliates.
In fact, the first meeting, in September, between the BCCI and the ICL collapsed in 20 minutes after Chandra refused the Indian board's offer to disband the ICL and take up an IPL franchise instead. The BCCI and ICC subsequently came up with the Masters offer, which the ICL is yet to accept because it goes against their basic philosophy of identifying and nurturing young talent.
But Sharad Pawar, the former BCCI president and ICC vice-president, has been known to enjoy a longstanding personal equation with Chandra, which is what the ICL and the ICC are banking on. There is a strong conviction within the ICL management that it's only a section of the BCCI, particularly Lalit Modi, its aggressive vice-president and IPL chairman, that's standing in the way of a resolution. Shashank Manohar, the BCCI president and Pawar associate, is expected to represent the Indian board in Johannesburg.
If efforts to reach a settlement by this month-end fail, the ICL is planning to move the courts in various countries that have banned ICL players from their domestic competitions - or, more likely, focus on England, where the trade laws governing a player's right to earn a livelihood are considered very strong.
In this context, last week's ruling by a Pakistan court lifting the ban on ICL players from participating in the Quaid-E-Azam tournament in that country is significant.
According to a copy of the court order, counsel for the ICL players quoted a letter dated December 6, 2007 from the PCB referring to "a new playing condition, 2.2." Under this, the PCB said players participating in any cricket event either at home or abroad not approved by them will not be eligible to participate in the board's cricket tournaments.
Crucially, the Sind High Court upheld the players' subsequent plea that the PCB's writ did not extend to tournaments outside the country. The ICL believes this is a template that could be followed in other countries to have banned its players from their official domestic events.
It is this legal quagmire the ICC and some of its members want to stay clear of. Asked about the ICL issue in Australia recently, Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive told Cricinfo the ICC-BCCI-ICL discussions were a work in progress.
"We are advanced in possible discussions that could hopefully determine settlement," Lorgat said. "I think we must always be optimistic that we can work out something but there are still some miles to cross."