August 16, 2013

Everything you wanted to know about county cricket

A specially formulated FAQ, exclusively for Indian fans

Indian cricket fans all over the world were overjoyed this week when it was revealed that Gautam Gambhir would be joining English county side Essex Eagles for the remainder of this season's county competitions.

However this development has also left many Indian cricket fans groping in the dark for information and insight about the county cricket system: What is Essex? Are there actually any eagles there? Are there any enthusiastic counties that were allowed to play for one season and then unceremoniously dumped for dubious legal reasons but really just because of racism and jealousy?

No need to worry, my fellow Indian fans. As a long-time resident of the United Kingdom, let me take this opportunity to demystify county cricket for you in the form of a simple, easy-to-use, patronising FAQ that you can cut and keep in your wallet, handbag or man purse.

Q. Hi Sidin. What do you mean by the term "county"?
A. Hi Raveena. Thank you for your question. The "county" was originally conceived as an administrative unit of England way back in the 11th century, when the Anglo-Saxon powers were defeated by the Normans. The county system has since been superseded by other administrative land divisions for easy governance - boroughs, city councils, no-alcohol zones, KFC, Heathrow Lost Baggage Desk - but cricket clubs continue to use the ancient nomenclature.

Q. Who were these Normans?
A. The Normans were invaders from France.

Q. Invaders from France?!
A. Ha ha. I know. But this was long before the United States or Germany had been invented and put a stop to this kind of insolent behaviour. Also, to be fair to the Anglo-Saxons, the Normans were part of the Schengen region, and they let them in freely only to realise a few days later that there were branches of Le Pain Quotidien (French for "our crusty bread will cause bleeding in your mouth") everywhere.

Q. Accha. How many county cricket clubs are there?
A. The point of this FAQ is not to dwell on unnecessary details but to paint a much broader picture of the… FOUND IT ON WIKIPEDIA… currently there are 18 first-class county clubs and several minor county clubs. In typical eccentric English fashion, and for commercial purposes, the 18 clubs are divided into two divisions. They are called the Barclays Premier League Divison One and the African Cup of Nations Division Two.

Q. How delightfully eccentric. Have many Indians played country cricket over the years?
A. Indians have been playing a stellar role in county cricket for decades. Every fan is well aware of the travails of Ranjitsinhji, who invented the leg glance, and Duleepsinhji, who invented the plagiarisation of someone else's surname for career advancement. But since then a galaxy of Indian stars - Pataudi, Amarnath, Prabhakar, Kapil, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Kartik, Srinath, Kumble, and now Gambhir - have found welcoming employers in several counties.

Q. Did you just say Tendulkar? Tendulkar played county cricket?? Kindly elaborate. Also, please tell us what is the gap in performance between Tendulkar and the second-greatest county cricket batsman of all time.
A. Alas, many cricket fans have little idea of Tendulkar's four-and-a-half month stint at Yorkshire in 1992, where he endeared himself to the locals by drinking local beer and eating fish and chips. He scored 1070 runs in 16 games. Most observers say that these runs were scored with no selfish intent whatsoever, with Sachin focused purely on the performance of the entire Yorkshire team.

Yorkshire ended that season the third-worst county team.

Q. Sachin Tendulkar "consumed drinks" and ate non-veg??
A. Yes. But he has stopped all such behaviour after arranged marriage with Anjali.

Q. Good. So tell us a little bit about Essex, Gambhir's new team.
A. Essex is currently placed fourth in the second division. Since 2000, when the two- division system was started, Essex have been relegated thrice from the top flight. They last won the County Championship in 1992.

Q. Has any other Indian played for Essex?
A. Harbhajan Singh played for them last year.

Q. Unbelievable. I think their overseas recruitment Excel spreadsheet is in ascending instead of descending order. Are there actually any eagles in Essex?
A. Are there any Knight Riders in Kolkata?

Q. No need to be rude just because you live in the UK.
A. This is the problem with you Indians in India. Too much emotion.

Q. Go to hell. Maintain some dignity in the FAQ.
A. Go FAQ yourself.

Sidin Vadukut is a columnist and editor with Mint, and the author of the Dork trilogy