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February 13, 2013
Owais Shah could become the first English cricketer to be a full-time freelance player as the growing influence of T20 leagues makes itself felt on county cricket.
Shah, who is currently contracted to Essex, has become a regular on the T20 circuit, appearing in the Big Bash League, the IPL and, most recently, the Bangladesh Premier League. With T20 leagues also set-up in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe and new leagues scheduled for the Caribbean and, in theory at least, the USA and Pakistan, Shah may be among the first to decide his future lies as a travelling freelance with no permanent affiliation to any of the first-class counties.
While several players from other countries - the likes of Scott Styris and Dirk Nannes - have already made the decision to pursue their careers as unattached cricketers, no English player has yet successfully managed it. Andrew Flintoff might have been the first had injury not intervened.
Shah's T20 ambitions are understandable. Aged 34 and with very little chance of regaining an England place, he may consider there is little point in continuing a first-class career if it conflicts with opportunities to secure his family's financial future over the last few years of his career by concentrating on T20 cricket. The lure of helping Essex battle their way out of Division Two of the County Championship may well have paled by comparison.
Counties are also growing increasingly uneasy about the disruption caused by players missing part of the domestic season. Nottinghamshire have already forbidden their contracted players from playing in the IPL this year and other counties may, in time, follow suit.
"We continue to assess our options and opinions over the IPL," Essex's head coach, Paul Grayson, told ESPNcricinfo. "Any coach will tell you about the benefits of having a settled team and you just have to look at the success of Derbyshire last year to see that. They got off to a good start and went on to win promotion, while we missed our IPL players for the first seven Championship games and were always playing catch-up.
"Of course we can understand players wanting to take part in these leagues. It's a short career and who wouldn't want to earn as much as they can? We all understand that and not many of us would turn it down. And, to be fair to Ryan ten Doeschate and Owais, the players we will miss this year, they are absolutely committed to Essex whenever they are here.
"But maybe enough is enough. Maybe the time has come to put our foot down. We want our players to be 100 percent committed to Essex and we do have the option of refusing to issue No Objection Certificates if we feel that is the right route to go down. I suppose there is a worry that players might consider moving to another county if we did that, but these are the issues we are continually discussing."
Grayson has previously indicated that the county could follow Nottinghamshire's example in the future.
"The message sent out by Mick Newell, the director of cricket at Nottinghamshire, was very good," Grayson said. "He was saying, 'We're a big club and we have ambitions.' He has good players and he wants to make use of them to win trophies.
"We knew when we signed Owais that he was keen to play in these T20 leagues and we made a verbal agreement with him then. He is contracted to us from June until the end of the season and it may be that, after that, we decide that agreement doesn't work for us anymore. Who knows: maybe he could end up signing a T20 deal with Essex?
"We are going to see freelance players very, very soon and it could be that Owais is one of the first."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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