Vic Marks possesses a Sheffield Shield winner's medal, something not many Englishmen have © Getty Images

It is 12 months since Steve Harmison bowled that ball. You know the one; it was deftly taken by Andrew Flintoff at second slip, who threw it back towards the bowler as surreptitiously as possible in the hope that no one had noticed what had happened.

That was the vainest of hopes. We all know the time, the place and the occasion: 10.30am, November 23, 2006, Brisbane - the first ball of the first over of the first Test of the last Ashes. It became the moment that defined that series.

That start was a humiliation and England were trying to avoid a repeat in Sri Lanka this December. So they had sent Harmison to South Africa to play two first-class matches for the Highveldt Lions to prove his fitness and form before the tour.

This caused some surprise. Imports into English first-class cricket are everywhere; English exports into overseas first-class competitions are far rarer.

Harmison's opening partner, Matthew Hoggard, did have an invaluable spell with Free State in South Africa before embarking on his Test career; Vikram Solanki and Kabir Ali worked on their techniques in India last winter. But for two reasons it has become a rarity for English cricketers to play first-class cricket overseas.

Most English pros are now paid sufficiently well - and for more of the year - for them not to need to play overseas. Moreover the demand for them has diminished. First-class sides in Australia or South Africa do not want English imports. In the past they may have been eager to learn from English pros; today the emphasis is upon nurturing their own talent and producing a strong national side. For the Australians in particular it would now be unthinkable for a state side to sign an English pro. They would be ridiculed for having to sink to such depths.

This was not always the case. Twenty years ago Australian cricket was in such straits that it was ready to clutch at almost any straw; the Ashes were in England's hands, and as Mike Gatting led his tourists triumphantly around the country in 1986-87, two state sides signed up a couple of England's also-rans. Richard Ellison was Tasmania's overseas pro and I turned out for Western Australia.

My enrolment happened with typical Aussie directness. In mid-September at a trial match at the WACA it was decided that the state side needed a spinner if Western Australia were to win the Sheffield Shield, and there was no one of sufficient experience in Perth. A list was drawn up and some way down it was my name. So I received a phone call from Rod Marsh, then a state selector, and a surprising invitation to come and play. "When?" "In about ten days' time." "Oh, all right then."

Thus began the most rewarding cricketing experience. I have a Sheffield Shield winner's medal tucked away - not many Englishmen have one of those - and did enough to silence the "What the bloody hell are we doing with a Pom in the side?" lobby. And I learned a lot - I found myself in a very talented and disciplined team. Having to prove myself in a different environment and to new colleagues enhanced my cricket at a time when stagnation might have set in.

The expert conclusion to all this? Well, it is pretty obvious. No matter how sophisticated and state-of-the-art the wonderful facilities at Loughborough and elsewhere, nothing beats playing matches in a new and challenging environment to enhance the standard of our players. We should grab every chance to play overseas - just as countless visiting players to this country have done over the last five decades.

Vic Marks played for Somerset between 1975 and 1989 and for Western Australia in 1986-87. He is cricket correspondent of the Observer and a BBC Test Match Special summariser