Michael Jeh January 3, 2010

Imports swell Australia's cricket economy

Some of the players are hardly household names either and yet, their performances thus far have endeared themselves to the home crowds.

Kieron Pollard hits out for South Australia © Getty Images

Generally speaking, Australian domestic cricket has rarely embraced the concept of the ‘overseas import’. From club ranks through to state teams, there is a sense that the local lads are good enough to do the business and with a lack of money in club cricket (unlike in Britain where Aussies ply a good trade as Overseas Professionals for league clubs and counties), visitors are not feted in the same way that we get looked after in the UK.

Having played 12 seasons of cricket in England and Wales myself and been a direct recipient of untold hospitality and kindness, the likes of which the Australian club scene is scarcely equipped to reciprocate, I once made a silent pact to myself to go out of my way to look after any overseas cricketer who came to Australia. Quite often, they struggled to get used to the bouncier pitches, the style of cricket that could quite easily see you not batting for a month (club cricket is played over two Saturdays with very little Cup fixtures, evening leagues or social cricket in between). Having to find their own accommodation, part-time jobs and transport is a far cry from the sort of Rolls-Royce treatment we received as soon as we set foot on British soil.

There’s no need to worry anymore about the reception that the latest influx of foreign cricketers will receive on the domestic scene though – not if the first few games of the domestic Twenty20 tournament are anything to go by. Some of the players are hardly household names either and yet, their performances thus far have endeared themselves to the home crowds. Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, Dwayne Smith, Shahid Afridi and Kieron Pollard aren’t necessarily regular fixtures in their own national teams (Afridi the exception being Pakistan’s Twenty20 captain), yet they have already shown off the depth that these countries must possess if their qualities are deemed surplus to requirements.

Of course Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Daniel Vettori and Ross Taylor are world-class players so their bat is set at a higher level. It’s refreshing though to watch domestic cricket in Australia and see so many foreign faces with match-winning smiles and warm embraces from new friends. Afridi, dismissed for a first ball duck in his debut innings came back strongly to win the Man-of-the-Match Award at the WACA. Taylor played a blinder for Victoria in his first game, as did Bravo. Pollard’s athleticism was a highlight, as was Smith’s glimpses of brilliance for New South Wales. Naved was inspired in Tasmania’s first win over Western Australia – in WA’s previous game, Gayle was simply magnificent and courageous, even with a torn side muscle.

The word on the street is that these players are proving to be immensely popular with their new team-mates. It’s a credit to the Australian teams that they have created an atmosphere that is so welcoming to the overseas players, clearly evident in the way they celebrate each other’s successes. Anyone doubting the commitment of these hired guns need doubt no more – there is a palpable sense of players giving 100% and really putting their bodies and emotions on the line. It’s brought another dimension to domestic cricket here and I’m hoping it will be here to stay.

It will be interesting to see what happens if an overseas import has a long period of continued failures but I suspect that it won’t really be an issue. The Australian cricket scene is fiercely loyal to any team-mate and it really doesn’t matter who that person is. The very qualities that can sometimes make them nasty opponents also make Australians the very best of people to have in your trench. When you’re fighting for the same cause, you never need to worry about a knife in the back.

For a country that has for so long relied on domestic depth to sustain itself, sometimes scornfully discounting the value of foreign cricketers, these last few days have been a breath of fresh air. So long as the locals can see that their foreign import is giving 100%, I suspect that’s all they want. It’s generally what most clubs get from an Aussie player when he signs with an overseas club – a wholehearted effort. From what I’ve seen thus far, the world’s cricketers are repaying that attitude and making new friends every time they take the field. Good on ‘em.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane