August 18, 2008, I remember a 20 something lad opening the innings for India in a One Day International against Sri Lanka at the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium. He looked fresh and naïve, quite similar to a first-year college student. His stance was natural as he stood there, wide-eyed, to face his first delivery in international cricket. His stay at the crease was quite ordinary as he could only score a dozen runs before being trapped by Nuwan Kulasekara. The disappointment on his face was screaming aloud as he silently made his way back to the dugout.
There was a time when having an illustrious cricketing career was all that mattered for a cricketer. Back in the 1990’s and the early 2000s, if cricketers didn’t have a successful international career, it used to be the end of the road for them. It was a time when playing cricket for the country was on top of a cricketer’s priority list. It was a time when test match cricket dominated the international cricketing scene and it was a time when pride was way more important than money. Continue reading “Twenty20 and the rising cult of freelance cricketers”
The moment people hear about an India-Pakistan cricket match, blood starts gushing through their veins. Cricket freaks across the globe have their hearts pounding in their chests. Work gets sidelined, with emails piling on at a rate of knots in mailboxes, and all of us are there, with our eyes glued to the TV screens, desperately waiting for a miracle to occur out of nowhere. Every time Virat hits the ball all the way to the fence, the entire nation erupts in jubilation. The entire nation is there, hopping and jumping in excitement. There’s anticipation wherever you look.
+It certainly won’t be an overstatement to say that the Indian test side is at the very peak of its prowess. The Indians have had an emphatic home season, handing comprehensive defeats to the likes of New Zealand, England and Australia. The test side looks solid and stable with the top-order piling on the runs, the middle order adding significantly to the contributions made by the top-order. Of late, the Indian seamers have also been performing reasonably well. ‘What about the spinners?’, you’d be thinking. Ah, Ashwin’s contributions speak louder than words. Have to call him a contemporary great.
But hold on, most of these players have only delivered the goods while playing on home soil. These players haven’t really performed during overseas tours. In 2014, the Indians had gone down like a pack of cards when they toured England. They suffered a 3-1 thrashing at the hands of England. As the ‘red cherry’ swung in England, the Indians found it hard to tackle the swinging ‘red cherry’ on the seamer-friendly tracks of England.
The South Africans are scheduled to tour England in 2017. Of the proteas team, quite a few players have been a part of English county sides. JP Duminy has had a stint with Surrey, Vernon Philander has played for Middlesex, Faf du Plessis has represented Lancashire, Hashim Amla has had a stint with Essex. The list is never-ending.
On the contrary, only a handful of Indian players in the current test side have had the ‘privilege’ of representing English county sides. Cheteshwar Pujara had a stint with Yorkshire in 2015 after having failed to attract bidders during the IPL auction. His return to form can be credited to his time with Yorkshire.
When the Indians toured England back in 2007 and made the Englishmen bite the dust, almost all their squad member had enjoyed a stint in county cricket. Sachin Tendulkar (Yorkshire) Sourav Ganguly (Glamorgan), Rahul Dravid (Kent), VVS Laxman (Lancashire), Yuvraj Singh (Yorkshire), Zaheer Khan (Worcestershire) had spent a considerable amount of time playing for English Counties. All of them had enhanced their skills while sweating it out in England.
Playing in Ranji Trophy doesn’t allow Indian players to go out of their comfort zones and get access to those spicy and lively English batting strips. Another problem with the current generation of cricketers is that they’re too busy playing for their respective franchises. Earlier, the summer used to be reserved for playing county cricket in England. But with lucrative and cash-rich Twenty20 leagues coming into existence, playing for county sides seems to have taken a backseat. The charm and the glamour of the IPL are too formidable to be disrupted.
A stint in English county cricket would allow the likes of Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja and Murali Vijay to get accustomed to playing the short ball.
Raina, in particular, has struggled against short-pitched deliveries fired at him at steaming pace. It has been one of the foremost reasons behind his absence from international Test Match Cricket. Batting against short-pitch bowling can be a challenging experience at first, but it would allow Raina to learn from the mistakes he has committed is the past. Similar is the case with Rohit Sharma. He’s a formidable force when he bats on the slow Indian and spin-friendly tracks here in India, but turns into an ordinary batsman when it comes to performing overseas. A season or two in English domestic circuit would allow him to eliminate his weakness of getting beaten-up against out-swinging deliveries outside the Off-stump.
Then there is this duo of Jadeja and Ashwin. The moment the ball begins to grip and turn, they’re unplayable, but their prowess with the ball in hand can only be seen on Indian turfs. The variations they produce appear harmless on seaming wicket outside the sub-continent. A county season in England would act as an ideal training ground for them to learn the art of bowling spin in varied conditions.
If Virat Kohli wants a taste of victory outside the sub-continent, a pace bowling unit capable of taking 20 wickets in a match. Ishant has some serious pace but has under-performed for the most part of his career. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar can swing the ball both ways but lacks pace. Umesh Yadav is perhaps the best among them. He bowled with renewed vigour and firepower. India’s pace trio would get to learn quite a few skills if they plan to be a part of English counties.
This is something Zaheer Khan did really well. After hitting a rough patch in 2006, Zaheer Khan flew all the way to England to play white-sweater cricket for Worcestershire on the seaming, bouncing tracks of England. He honed his skills and came back all guns blazing into the Indian side.
Some tough calls are the need of the hour if the Indians want to fare well in seaming conditions. Of late, star Indian batsman Virat Kohli opened up and stated he’s keen to stretch is nerves in county cricket as he aims to prepare for his next outing in England in 2018.
So, to top it all, it won’t be wrong to say that county cricket would act as an ideal training ground for our ‘desi’ batsmen. But again, truth be told, they’re too busy flexing their muscles in cash-rich Twenty20 leagues. We need BCCI’s intervention here. If the overseas records are to be improved, we certainly need our players to swing it around for a season or two in county cricket.
Seeing more than 350 players going under the hammer is exciting. It really thrills me out when I see bids being placed and players from across the globe going under the hammer (the auction hammer, I mean). The auction for the 10th season of the cash-rich Indian Premiere League saw two different flavours. On one hand, players from England attracted a lot of bids. The auction saw Ben Stokes, England’s star all-rounder in white-ball cricket, being sold for INR 14.5 crore to the Rising Pune Supergiants (That’s insane). Stokes would certainly be the happiest person on earth right now. Everytime I look at his (Stokes) price tag, it baffles me.