Round about this time last season I had a look at the records of the respective overseas professionals around the counties, to see who is getting best value from their star import. The results made for interesting reading, with some counties getting little return on their investment.
Let's have a look at this year's overseas stars in Division 2
Derbyshire - Chris Rogers - 64 batting (as I type)
Essex - Danish Kaneria - 20 wickets at 28
Glamorgan - Mark Cosgrove - 73 batting, 3 wickets at 30
Gloucestershire - James Franklin - 26 batting, 8 wickets at 36
Kent - Wayne Parnell - 45 batting, 11 wickets at 29
Leicester - Ian O'Brien - 18 wickets at 19
Middlesex - Phil Hughes 144 batting
- Murali Kartik 9 wickets at 15
Northants - Johann Van der Wath - 30 batting, 10 wickets at 35
Surrey - Ryan Harris - 49 batting, 3 wickets at 45
To be honest, they're better stats than some posted last year, with most counties probably happy at this stage. Cosgrove has done very well at Glamorgan before a hand injury and the switch to Herschelle Gibbs, while Ian O'Brien, erstwhile scourge of Matlock opponents in Derbyshire league cricket, has exceeded expectations at Leicester with some good spells, albeit with the hand of helpful tracks at Grace Road.
Middlesex have probably done best, with Phil Hughes almost Bradmanesque in his stint with them at the start of the season, while Murali Kartik has shown himself one of the clever bowlers on the circuit in recent seasons since he took over. Surrey are perhaps the only ones dissatisfied, with Grant Elliott doing little when he came over, before being replaced by Ryan Harris, whose reasonable batting average is the result of only two innings.
The skill that is perhaps most in demand on the circuit is spin bowling, but the options are few. If one assumes that Sri Lankan pair Muralitharan and Mendis will rarely be available due to international commitments, and that Daniel Vettori is unlikely to want to add another county stint to the demands of the New Zealand captaincy, there is little out there. Pakistan have a couple of useful spinners in Malik and Afridi, but most other countries have containing spinners (South Africa) rather than ones who will destroy a batting line-up.
Warwickshire have found that out with their signing of Jeetan Patel. Six wickets at 67 is not the return they'd have hoped for, but to be fair, Patel's career record did not suggest a bowler of undiscovered talent, but any bowler who signs for Warwickshire and expects to maintain a reputation is clearly mad. The Edgbaston tracks will inflate the average of a batsman beyond their talent, while highlighting any bowling frailty.
The Bears currently have six players averaging over 40 with the bat, with ex-Derbyshire player Ant Botha scoring 58 per innings... Rikki Clarke has managed an average of 39, way in excess of what he did for us last season. Meanwhile, no regular bowler has an average of less than FIFTY! Chris Woakes, a fine young bowler with England aspirations has 11 wickets at 54 and is the pick of their attack, while Boyd Rankin has 6 wickets at 60 and Ant Botha 5 wickets at 83.
I might be alone in this, but something will need to be done soon about the increasing imbalance between bat and ball. Whether that is reducing the number of overs before a new ball, or leaving wickets uncovered after the start of a match, the game is getting imbalanced in favour of batsmen who are not, by any stretch of the imagination, world beaters.
Anyway, as I finish Derbyshire have slipped from a position of promise at lunch of 98-1 to the troubled waters of 119-4. After what appears a fine knock, Chris Rogers has again failed to turn it into a really big score. Of course, we won't know its true value until they have to bat on it, but at this stage we look set to make 200-250, which is a far from adequate first innings dig. We'll see how it goes later on.