Sunday, 26 July 2009

Changes afoot

Those who are frustrated by the proliferation of overseas players in the English County game will have their prayers answered for next season, when the new legislation comes into force on visas for overseas players.

Essentially, this will mean that any cricketer wishing to play County cricket in the UK must have played either one Test in the past 2 years, 5 Tests in the past 5 years or 15 one day internationals in the past 5 years.

It will have huge implications for Counties. Northamptonshire, for example, will be unable to sign Nick Boje and Andrew Hall, Lancashire Francois du Plessis. Derbyshire will not be able to sign Nantie Hayward, nor Chris Rogers. The latter may get a Test match over the winter if Phil Hughes doesn't return to form (or before the end of the summer), but as things stand he cannot return for next season.

On the other hand, Wavell Hinds WILL be able to re-sign and, judging by the fact that he has just (deservedly) been awarded his County cap, he probably will do. Hinds has been a great success in all formats of the game this season and has been a huge contributor to a happy dressing room.

This will mean that the search for overseas players next season will be even more competitive and should mean that they are of a higher standard. Given that the new regulations require recent international participation and that many centrally contracted players will not wish to add to their playing commitments (nor be allowed to in some cases), the pot of available players will be much smaller.

Therein lies Derbyshire's problem. We have the smallest playing budget (for salaries) of any of the first class counties. Fact. This is the stumbling block with any of the "name" players who come on the market, as we would struggle to compete with the bigger counties, especially those on the Test Grounds. The likelihood is that if we sought a player on the radar of Lancashire, Surrey or Nottinghamshire, to use a few examples, we would be unsuccessful if money was the sole motivator of the player concerned. This is where sweeteners such as the captaincy, or "a challenge" come into play. Realistically, however, money talks...

One would assume that the appeal of Chaminda Vaas, who has recently quit Test cricket, will be considerable, but the crazily congested international calendar today suggests that few of the stars from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka would have time for a full English season, even if they had the inclination. Lucrative tournaments in such places as Dubai proliferate and with IPL commitments too, there will be fewer players prepared to commit to a 6-month county slog.

This, of course, makes the role of the Academy so crucial at Derbyshire. Whether we like it or not, at some point the wealthier counties will come sniffing after our prize assets and we have plenty. In coming years, the likes of Wagg, Redfern, Borrington, Smith and Madsen (the latter unaffected by the new regulations with his Italian passport) will not lack for suitors and John Morris acted sensibly in tying up the cream of our talent on long term deals. We will need to continue to source under performing players elsewhere and bring them on, as well as identifying talented youngsters from various sources around the country. One would hope that loyalty will still have a place in the game, but could anyone reading this tell me honestly that if the chance to earn 50% more for their job came up elsewhere that they wouldn't be tempted?

For next season, various names were bandied around at Derby last week among people I spoke to. Cameron White, the Aussie who did so well for Somerset in 2006 was one, Vaas was another. Shahid Afridi is another whose name has been mentioned in despatches, but all of these players are likely to cost serious money and to have a number of suitors for their services should they opt for a county stint.

Andrew Symonds, unlikely to play more international cricket after his various transgressions, is another but a number will be scared off by his reputation.

Perhaps the best option for Derbyshire (and one which would get my vote) would be engaging Charl Langeveldt as overseas professional for 2010 IF he plays for South Africa again in coming months and therefore becomes eligible again. He played a key role with our bowlers last year, in the same vein that Michael Holding did for Kim Barnett some years ago. Someone who would take the ball when it was going wrong and either keep it tight or get a breakthrough. In this year's Twenty/20, the thing we lacked was the bowler who could give 4 tight overs. This in turn puts pressure on scoring at the other end where the bowler often benefits. Derek Morgan attributed a lot of his wickets to the batsmen relaxing after Gladwin and Jackson came off, while Colin Tunnicliffe got wickets with the pressure exerted by Mike Hendrick.

Langers was a jewel last season and if fully fit would give us a terrific seam attack for 2010 that Morris could rotate to keep fresh. Langeveldt, Wagg, Hunter, Clare, Smith, Groenewald and Jones (who I would sign) could be supplemented by Sheikh and Whiteley in a talented line up.

Some may argue that our greater need is for a batsman, but I'm not so sure. Much will depend on other moves in the coming months, but with Borrington and Madsen as potential openers and Park, Redfern, Hinds and Smith to follow, John Sadler and perhaps one other batsman would help make up a good line up. For me, Sadler deserves another year. He's scored heavily and consistently in league and Second XI this year but has been kept out by the good form of those in the side. I'm less sure about the claims of Steve Stubbings, Dominic Telo and Dan Birch. Like Tom Lungley, I see them all as vulnerable this season. I'd be sad to see Stubbings go as he's been a fine servant, but we need to move forward. Telo has not scored the runs we would have hoped for, while Birch's immobility in the field and inconsistency with the bat suggest he will be released, especially after the recent suspension.

Tom Lungley presents a dilemma. On his day he is a fine bowler, but he's had one good season in five and a lot of injuries. I'd prefer to see Steffan Jones engaged as a 100% tryer in all conditions who has a better than most fitness record. Maybe Lungley will get and benefit from an opportunity elsewhere. Time will tell.

On the subject of Steffan, over 90% of those voting in the last poll would like to see him at Derby next year. I'm one of them. Now for this week's - at this stage, do you think our greater need for next season is a batsman or a bowler as overseas player?

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