When Overseas Players Were For The Season

Fresh from South Africa’s tour of Bangladesh, Imran Tahir is currently settling in to life with Nottinghamshire.

Awarded his County Cap before play began at New Road today, Tahir took 2-80 in his first County Championship game for the Outlaws as Worcestershire were bowled out for 269.

A strong addition for Notts at this late stage in the season, as Mike Newell’s side look to put some distance between themselves and the relegation zone, Tahir is now on to his seventh County.

Tahir may be the journeyman of journeymen, but he is also a perfect example of how County cricket’s overseas players are not quite what they used to be.

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This is not a slight on Tahir’s ability, but an indicator of the way the sport has changed for County cricket clubs.

Tahir is the fifth overseas player to represent Nottinghamshire in any format this season, joining countryman Vernon Philander, Australian’s Ben Hilfenhaus and Daniel Christian and Darren Sammy as ‘Outlaws’ during the 2015 campaign.

It’s a far cry from my early cricket experiences at Trent Bridge, when New Zealand all rounder Chris Cairns was the club sole overseas player season after season.

While Cairns was King of Trent Bridge, West Indian legend Courtney Walsh was the spearhead of Gloucestershire’s attack, Stuart Law dominated for Essex and Wasim Akram powered Lancashire.

Before them, Sir Richard Hadlee, Clive Lloyd and the late Malcolm Marshall plied their trade on the County circuit, year after year.

While international tours did take these stars away from their counties occasionally (though Law played surprisingly few games for Australia), others stepped in. Maybe just for a single season, but nearly always they played the full season.

Brian Lara set a record 501* during his season with Warwickshire, a County lucky enough to have Allan Donald’s services for more than a decade as well. Glenn McGrath turned out for Middlesex and Worcestershire, while Sachin Tendulkar was famously pictured with a pint of bitter after signing for Yorkshire.

They were the giants of the game, free to further their first class careers in England thanks to an international schedule very different from the one we see today.

Even during the periods when the game allowed clubs to field two overseas players, many names repeated themselves from one season to the next.

But the rise of Twenty20 competitions such as the IPL and CPL have combined with an increasing amount of international cricket to change the land scape.

Chris Gayle’s feet barely touched the ground during his whistle stop appearance for Somerset earlier this season, Peter Siddle stopped by for Lancashire and Dean Elgar’s stint with Surrey was purely to cover for Kumar Sangakkara and Moises Henriques pre-planned absences.

Sangakkara did return to Surrey, allowing one of the finest batsmen of this generation to strut his stuff on the County circuit, while Steve Magoffin and Jeetan Patel have proven to be excellent signings for Sussex and Warwickshire respectively.

But these are not the grand signings of old, no matter how highly you might think of Jacques Rudolph.

International retirement has seen some star names feature in County cricket, with Shane Warne Captaining Hampshire and Mushtaq Ahmed becoming the cornerstone of two Sussex Championship wins, while the Kolpak agreement has brought others to these shores, including Notts Brendan Taylor and West Indian paceman Fidel Edwards.

But again, while they are talented cricketers, it is not quite the same.

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The days I am so nostalgic for are clearly long gone. The game has moved on. Some players are almost entirely committed to being 20 over mercenaries now and a never ending international calendar affords few breaks for England’s own players to feature for their Counties, let alone for the major foreign stars of the day to sign for a full season.

It seems unlikely we’ll ever see Mitchell Johnson play a full campaign at The Oval, or Virat Kohli desperately try to keep his hands warm on a freezing May morning at Chester-Le-Street. Perhaps that is part of what makes the old times seem that much more special, knowing that we may never see the modern equivalent of Curtly Ambrose opening the bowling for Northants from April to September.

The rapid nature of the current Ashes series has brought in to focus the explosive nature of the game now, the speed at which it is played and – hot off the back of New Zealand’s tour of England – how swiftly we move from one show down to the next.

Perhaps it is a byproduct of the increasingly energised formats of the game, the much tighter schedule that must accommodate the four day game, a 20 over competition and a 50 over tournament – all played at a pace much different to that which we saw 20 year ago, when County Championship games would play for three days, then take a break on Sunday’s for the Sunday League match before resuming on the Monday.

Increasing revenues, the growth of the sport in places like Afghanistan and the rabid consumption which the internet age allows for have all played their part in this changing landscape. Progress cannot, and should not, be halted. The sport must adapt and grow to survive, and hopefully thrive.

But you’ll forgive a little nostalgia. From stars like Waqar Younis and Steve Waugh to duds like Sherwin Campbell, the overseas stars of old helped fuel County cricket in years gone by. They entertained the old and inspired the young, leaving thousands with happy memories from their days sat at the boundaries edge.

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on August 7, 2015, in County Championship, Domestic Cricket and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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