County news May 9, 2012

Was Mitchell Starc's journey really necessary?

The UK's visa policy for the past couple of years has been a shambles, with changes in regulations frequently leaving cricketers with visa problems and delayed entry into the UK

There is something depressingly small-minded about the decision of the UK Border Agency to send Mitchell Starc back to Australia because his visa forms were not filled out correctly.

In one inflexible decision, the UK announced to the world that when it comes to the application of the law above the application of common sense it is still capable of proving itself a world leader in the field.

Well done everybody. An elite sportsman has to fly all the way back to Australia, collect a form and then fly back again. That will teach the world that when it comes to the protection of its borders the UK means business.

Yorkshire, having dispensed with Ajmal Shahzad this week as a long-running and largely misguided virility contest finally played itself out, were understandably anxious to proclaim themselves innocent as Starc, the Australian fast bowler who they imagine will kick-start their season, was deported.

Indeed, it was noticeable that as Colin Graves, Yorkshire's no-nonsense chairman, rubbished Starc's agent he defended the right of the immigration authorities to apply the letter of the law. "You can't blame the English authorities, they've got rules and regulations, and he didn't have the proper paperwork," he said, so inviting suspicions that when he finally loses patience with Yorkshire, a job will be awaiting him running immigration at Leeds Bradford airport.

He is being overly generous. Starc is an international sportsman and as such is coming to England to increase the happiness of the nation, although if this rain continues admittedly not by much. He is not a drug trafficker, an illegal immigrant or somebody trying it on. There are times when a spot of courtesy does not go amiss. There are ways in which these issues can be resolved and flying somebody around the world to fill in a form does not strike you as the best of them.

If you have to introduce a rule where only a government minister can give dispensation then get the sports minister on the phone. It should be a relief to talk about something other than the Olympics.

It may have been noticed that UK immigration policy has not exactly been running smoothly recently. Long queues at Heathrow have been brought widespread criticism, arguments have raged in the House of Commons and the immigration minister, Damian Green, has been told to sort it out. Presumably staff shortages mean that the jobsworths are now making key decisions.

Is it really beyond the wit of the UK immigration service to sit Starc in a room, contact his agent in Australia and get the correct paperwork emailed over? Make him suffer a little bit if you must. Give him a plastic chair and a dusty formica desk, treat him to a bit of the dismissive arrogance that characterises immigration officials the world over, even force feed him undrinkable coffee, but don't put him on a plane back to Australia.

And if email can't be used to receive the missing paperwork for some inexplicable security reason, if the fax machine has broken and if carrier pigeons are disallowed because of the dangers to air traffic control then if somebody must suffer a couple of back-to-back 24-hour flights let it be the agent who allegedly made a mess of it

The UK's visa policy for the past couple of years has been a shambles. Changes in regulations mean that cricketers - both professional and amateur - are regularly beset by visa problems and their arrival in the country is delayed. Three West Indies players are late arriving in the UK with the first Test at Lord's a week away because of this very fact.

It is happening far too often to be constantly explained away by human error. It is the system, stupid.

British Olympians have been complaining apparently that their home advantage has been weakened ahead of the London Olympics because of a wish to parade the "British sense of fair play," which has meant that overseas competitors in many sports have been allowed to get first-hand knowledge of the facilities in advance. They never did that in Beijing, or Athens, or Sydney or pretty much any Olympiad in modern times.

But Britain's Olympians need not worry. On the evidence of Mitchell Starc, the UK Border Agency can be relied upon to be full of nationalistic zeal. All these assumptions of a Fast Track may prove to be untrue. The first Russian weightlifter to be spied walking towards the border will be sent back to Moscow to fill in another form in no time.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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