Ishant to join Sussex for first two months of county season
Ishant Sharma is to join Sussex for the first two months of the 2018 county season as an overseas player.
The India seamer, who became available when he went unsold in the IPL auction, is expected to join the club on April 4. That means he should be available for five County Championship fixtures and eight Royal London One-Day Cup matches. He will provide a significant boost for a squad that will be without Jofra Archer and Chris Jordan for much of that period due to their IPL commitments.
"Securing Ishant's services has been very important for us," Sussex's director of cricket Keith Greenfield said. "Once Jofra and Chris were picked up in the IPL draft, it became crucial to sign an experienced international-quality seam bowler who could provide valuable support and know-how to the rest of the seamers.
"Ishant has the attributes to be very successful in early season English conditions and a great role model. He fits the bill perfectly and we look forward to welcoming him to Sussex Cricket."
The signing may not please everyone, however. England coach Trevor Bayliss has previously expressed frustration at the way in which the counties allow overseas players to prepare ahead of Test series in England and, with India playing a five-Test series in England in the second half of the year, Ishant will have an ideal opportunity to adapt to the conditions and the Dukes ball.
He is far from inexperienced in such conditions anyway. As well as having toured with India's Test squad in 2011 and 2014 - when he was named Man of the Match for his Test-best 7 for 74 in the second innings as India won at Lord's - he played in the 2009 World T20 and 2013 Champions Trophy teams, with his spell in the 2013 final (he dismissed the well-set Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara from successive deliveries) proving crucial.
The signing continues the recent relaxation of rules as regards India players featuring in foreign domestic competitions. Appreciating that increased experience of such conditions could help India improve their overseas record, the BCCI also allowed R Ashwin to play for Worcestershire towards the end of the 2017 season - where he played a significant part in their County Championship promotion - while Virat Kohli has already expressed a desire to follow suit should a suitable gap in his schedule be found. Cheteshwar Pujara, who has become a regular face on the county scene after spells with Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, has already confirmed he will return to Yorkshire for the early part of the 2018 campaign.
Whether there is scope for further members of the India Test squad to feature in county cricket this year remains uncertain. Their schedule - which includes a one-off Test against Afghanistan in Bengaluru in mid-June - is hectic and, while the Test series in England does not start until August 1, the limited-overs section of the tour beings in early July.
While Chadd Sayers, the Australian swing bowler, had claimed last week he was hoping to sign for Sussex for the same period, it appears the club had accepted that gaining a work permit for him (he has not played any international cricket) could have become a significant challenge.
"We're delighted to secure the services of an experienced and very skilful international seamer," Sussex head coach Jason Gillespie said. "We believe Ishant will fit right into the Sussex dressing room and we are all really looking forward to welcoming him to Hove."
"It's a great honour to represent Sussex CCC, the oldest first-class county, and I am looking forward with excitement to my maiden stint in county cricket," Ishant was quoted as saying in a club press release.
"I would like to extend a special thanks to Sussex for taking note of my ongoing performances and deeming me suitable for this opportunity. I hope to add value during my time as part of the Sussex family this season."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo