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Are overseas players worth the bother for counties?

They are, if teams know where to look and can work their way around the international schedule

Tim Wigmore

December 23, 2012

Comments: 19 | Text size: A | A

VVS Laxman drives through the off side, India v West Indies, 3rd Test, Mumbai, 5th day, November 26, 2011
VVS Laxman: an attractive buy for counties in 2013 © AFP

Surrey's capture of Graeme Smith suggests that county cricket still retains the ability to attract the world's best players. But thanks to a combination of Surrey's cheque book, Smith's willingness to forego a potential IPL contract, and his lack of involvement with South Africa's limited-overs sides, his recruitment will remain exceptional: Ricky Ponting has already indicated he will not be playing county cricket. Rather than search for another Smith, county coaches would be better occupied asking: who's the next Jeetan Patel?

Patel, the New Zealand offspinner who averaged almost 50 in Tests at the time, was few people's idea of an overseas star when Warwickshire signed him for the 2012 season. Yet he bowled with intelligence and control to claim 51 wickets at fewer than 23 apiece. The Championship title, and an international recall, were well-earned rewards.

The challenge for counties is to find players to match Patel's impact. As James Cross, an agent with Target Sports Management says, "It's very difficult with the amount of money on offer with the various T20 leagues all over the world." Even with counties no longer participating in the Champions League from next year, Cross says, "a lot of the budget that counties put aside for an overseas player may well be put into the T20 competition." This is in part due to the difficulties of getting overseas players to commit for the whole season.

That task will be harder than ever in 2013, with the Champions Trophy and the Ashes following the IPL. Angus Fraser, Middlesex's managing director of cricket, admits that it is getting "harder and harder" to find overseas players of sufficient quality. And even when there is a gap in the schedule, "countries are very protective about the volume of cricket that their best players play". Centrally contracted players require clearance to play for a county, and countries can put limits on the amount of bowling players are allowed to do, as with Vernon Philander at Somerset this year.

In such circumstances, it is easy to write off the overseas market as a mixture of has-beens and never-will-bes. But overseas players remain worth the bother: along with Patel, Steve Magoffin and Chris Rogers probably made the most impact of overseas players in the county game last season. They each played for a side that finished in the top four of the Championship.

Fraser believes that it's crucial that overseas signings can commit to more than just a few matches. "You obviously want a high-quality overseas player but I know commitment comes by being there the whole time," he says. "If you're only there for ten weeks or whatever, it tends to be a bit more of a fleeting romance than a real commitment to what you're trying to do at your club." His words are borne out by the performance of Rogers, who scored 1086 Championship runs for Middlesex in 2012, and research showing the link between settled sides and success.

When it comes to counties signing global stars, Fraser says: "The only chance you've really got is when a player retires from international cricket." For the 2013 season, one such player stands out: VVS Laxman. He has retired from India duty and crucially no longer plays in the IPL, but two hundreds in his last four innings for Hyderabad show he is not lacking in first-class motivation. His previous success in county cricket (he averaged over 60 in 16 Championship games for Lancashire between 2007 and 2009), strong team ethic and the potential boost to ticket sales adds to his attractiveness.

While no other player who could play for close to a full season rivals Laxman in stature, there is no shortage of viable propositions for counties. The postponement of South Africa's Test series in Sri Lanka means their Test specialists will be in demand: Jacques Rudolph and Imran Tahir (see below) would be canny county acquisitions. And after the conclusion of New Zealand's tour of England, Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum could offer counties both runs and flair.

A more intriguing Kiwi signing would be Jesse Ryder. His destructive talents may too often extend beyond batting but few possess superior ball-striking ability. Given his current international and IPL situation, he could be available all season.

Six overseas players who are potential county stars

  • VVS Laxman Laxman may have retired from international cricket, but his class remains. He would provide copious runs, season-long availability and aesthetic pleasure - just ask Lancashire fans.
  • Devendra Bishoo The rise of Sunil Narine has marginalised Bishoo's position with West Indies. But he is a legspinner with variation, and a legbreak that turns sharply and zips of the pitch. County batsmen beware.
  • Daren Ganga A widely acclaimed captain of Trinidad & Tobago, Ganga would bring tactical sharpness and a fresh outlook. He also possesses a resolute defence that earned two Test centuries against Australia.
  • Brendan Taylor The quality of the Zimbabwean captain's batting is sometimes overshadowed by his team-mates' struggles. But Taylor bats with aggression and fierce self-belief, as highlighted by an outstanding fifth-day century against New Zealand last year, which included five sixes.
  • Imran Tahir The mauling of Tahir's legspin in South Africa's recent draw in Adelaide means his international career may soon be over. Yet his googly and sharp turn have long proved to be potent weapons in county cricket.
  • Jesse Ryder Ryder's history of disciplinary problems is well established. But the rare combination of power and timing that marks his batting would enrich county cricket, which could be the perfect place for Ryder's own rehabilitation.

So too would Daren Ganga. He has never played county cricket before, but for any county wanting a captain from abroad he would be an outstanding candidate. Ganga had an unfulfilled Test career as a batsman, but as a domestic captain he is perhaps unrivalled in the world today: his calm and tactically astute leadership of Trinidad & Tobago underpinned their run to the 2009 Champions League final.

Counties have seldom displayed much appetite for recruiting from outside the eight main Test-playing nations. Given next season's schedule, that could change. Two Bangladesh players, IPL commitments notwithstanding, are particularly appealing. Shakib Al Hasan took 35 first-class wickets at under 22 apiece for Worcestershire in 2010, while his batting is also worthy of a county top six, and Tamim Iqbal proved against England in the same year that his technique and scything off-side play could thrive in English conditions.

In 2010, Shakib became the first Bangladeshi to be signed as an overseas player in England: how long until we see the first Afghan? You may be disappointed. Thanks to the inflexibility of the ECB's eligibility criteria, no players outside the ten Full Members are permitted to play as overseas players. That seems a depressingly close-minded attitude, given the excitement that would be provided by Mohammad Shazhad's switch-hitting or Hamid Hassan's reverse-swinging yorkers.

Nevertheless there is no absence of foreign talent for counties to sign, even as they confront the reality that it has never been harder to recruit established international stars (Smith at Surrey excepted). As for Patel, Devendra Bishoo, the West Indies legspinner with impressive variations, including a dangerous topspinner, could be the 2013 equivalent. He took 3 for 34 on debut against England in the World Cup last year, and as he looks to rejuvenate his international career, he might find that there is no better way than exposing English frailties against spin.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by brusselslion on (December 24, 2012, 21:39 GMT)

Admittedly, he was only signed for 20/20 but the prize for worst 'marquee' (ha) import must go to Dirk Nannes for his stint at Surrey last season. On the other hand, Kartik was superb in the championship as was Ohja the previous year. Hum... maybe there is something to the 'young & hungry' and 'something to prove' arguments?

Posted by brusselslion on (December 24, 2012, 21:23 GMT)

Admittedly, he was only signed for 20/20 but the prize for worst 'marquee' (ha) import must go to Dirk Nannes for his stint at Surrey last season. On the other hand, Kartik was superb in the championship as was Ohja the previous year. Hum... maybe there is something to the 'young & hungry' and 'something to prove' arguments?

Posted by Kingzzzz on (December 24, 2012, 21:02 GMT)

A lot of Irish players play in County Cricket which is great same thing should be done to other neighbouring nations like Scotland and the Netherlands.

Posted by sachin_vvsfan on (December 24, 2012, 19:09 GMT)

Hope laxman shines this time in England.

Posted by skilebow on (December 24, 2012, 17:29 GMT)

Yeah I"ve always felt that comments like Jose Puliampatta's are borderline racist. But back to the actual content of the article I think the best overseas players to get are up and coming Aussies or Saffers. They're usually hungry and they can adapt quicker to english conditions than sub-continetal players

Posted by brittop on (December 24, 2012, 9:12 GMT)

Jose Puliampatta on (December 23 2012, 16:22 PM GMT): What are you talking about?

Posted by TheRisingTeam on (December 24, 2012, 6:07 GMT)

But I really hope Tamim Iqbal gets to play in County Cricket again next season considering how much he's loved there. His back to back 100s at Lords and Old Trafford was a delight on these seaming conditions.

Posted by TheRisingTeam on (December 24, 2012, 6:04 GMT)

I feel County Cricket should try to recruit at least a couple of Bangladesh players because its true past Bangladesh players that have played in County Cricket in the past 2 years like Tamim and Shakib have performed very well and was loved by its County fans. Also many Bangladeshi's such as myself live in England so it will bring in extra crowd to see these guys and County teams.

Posted by gristy83 on (December 23, 2012, 21:33 GMT)

What this article hasn't mentioned is how the ECB are now offering incentives for counties to produce home grown players. This was brought in following the farce that was created after the introduction of Kolpak players. What some of the counties are doing now is only looking to bring in a genuinely class overseas instead of just looking to bring one in the for sake of it.

To those saying that the counties should snap up the young Aussies, why? If they're not of Test standard then I personally wouldn't take them if I was in charge of a county. It would potentially take away a place from a talented youngster whilst maybe not improving the side. There are plenty of Premier Leagues in England where talented young overseas can go to for decent money. I only know of players in the Kent Premier League but in recent years they've had Dan Christian and Steve Smith playing there so the standard can't be too bad if they've since gone onto play for Australia!

Posted by   on (December 23, 2012, 21:24 GMT)

County cricket is the real deal, all players should strive to play for the counties especially countries that are weak in test cricket.

Posted by QingdaoXI on (December 23, 2012, 21:14 GMT)

Mohd Kaif from India will also be available as due to his test batting not considered as good buy in IPL, so should be Rahane and Pujara for half season IPL onwards and Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Nasir Jamshed, Umar Amin from Pakistan, Thirmanne, Karunaratne from Sri lanka, Doolan, Fergusson, from Australia Young Braithwaite from West Indies and the lisT Goes on..

Posted by   on (December 23, 2012, 16:47 GMT)

Taking my county (Worcestershire) we have had some BRILLIANT overseas players. Zaheer Kahn (with a point to prove), Phillip Hughes (with a point to prove) Andy Bichel (with a point to prove) Kenny Benjamin (with a point to prove) Ray Price (with a point to prove) ...hmm there's a pattern emerging here...Then we've had some terrible ones. Shoaib Aktar (fat, lazy primadonna - probably the biggest waste of space ever. Didn't even turn up to matches on time to take the field) Mornantu Hayward (5 slower balls an over - till we realized he was just....slow) The best recently has been the ex Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hassan who was flipping fantastic! A real credit to himself and his nation.

Posted by   on (December 23, 2012, 16:22 GMT)

When will these guys be eligible to 'represent' England? What is the eligibility criteria, to convert mercenaries into loyal representatives, who can even sport the three lions tattoo? If no one answer, can KP at least! Please answer, to help out many aspiring cricketers all over the world, who hope to build a 'Flowering' career! Straight answer; no pretentious misleading answers couched in the 'Guiles' of serious lingo! (Of course, I cry for the talented young and aspiring English boys toiling in the country circuit, year after precious year, till they become old enough to become 'ineligible'!

Posted by Rey23 on (December 23, 2012, 12:29 GMT)

The ECB's eligibility criteria seriously needs over-hauling. They were brought in as a reaction to the over-use of Kolpaks, but the result has been over-compensation in the opposite direction. By my understanding of the rules, several of the names mentioned on this page wouldn't be allowed to be recruited by counties - Daren Ganga being one in the main article, or the likes of Doolan, Bird, Cutting or other young Aussies mentioned in the comments. They either haven't played international cricket yet, or haven't played it recently enough to qualify. They can get round the rules, but only if they hold a UK or EU passport.

If the worry is over giving England players a chance, than this is already catered for - with only one O/S player allowed for the full season, and two in T20. This rule particularly penalises exactly the type of players who could stay for the entire season - ex-international players no longer needed by their country, and rising stars coming up through the ranks.

Posted by shillingsworth on (December 23, 2012, 11:54 GMT)

Strange article which misses the point. English county cricket doesn't exist to provide a living for retired international players from overseas nor those who are not of international class in the first place. Odd also that Ganga is being touted as a Gloucestershire captain - they signed Klinger several days before this article was published. Furthermore, Ganga hasn't played international cricket for some time and would presumably struggle to get a visa.

Posted by sifter132 on (December 23, 2012, 8:58 GMT)

Kirk's on the right track. Any young Aussie with designs on Test cricket and who isn't in the ODI squad or IPL would be a good pickup. Hughes and Khawaja were obvious ones last season, in 2013 it might be Callum Ferguson or Alex Doolan for batsmen, Jackson Bird or guys like Trent Copeland/Ben Cutting for bowlers, and Tim Paine/Brad Haddin for a keeper. Ricky Ponting's less likely, but he might be persuaded eg. by Jason Gillespie at Yorkshire.

Posted by nzcricket174 on (December 23, 2012, 8:52 GMT)

Laxman, Ryder then Taylor would be my priorities.

Posted by gamespiritfirst on (December 23, 2012, 6:38 GMT)

How about signing Rahul Dravid.A legend himself and always played well in England. On his last tour to England he scored three centuries in four tests. And even the youngsters in the team can learn a lot from him sharing some of the burden of the coach

Posted by   on (December 23, 2012, 3:41 GMT)

Look at players like Hughes and Usman both played country cricket and now both in the aussie squad. Would love to see more rookies who wouldn't play in the off season go over. Like Finch, Handscomb, Nevill especially with the ashes around the corner

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