Posted by: nestaquin | January 15, 2009

The Relevance of County Cricket

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Hayden batting in the maroon helmet of Northamptonshire

Is it possible our very own The Tooting Trumpet has an Ashes advent calendar hanging above his desk? As each day passes you can sense his competitive juices surfacing as he and the rest of England anxiously wait for the Australians to fall while they cling to the same players that were thrashed last Ashes and have done little of note since. Perhaps, as our man in chilly London infers below, Australia’s youngsters and although unsaid I suspect England’s elite (I use that word reluctantly), only need to return to their Counties to gain the upper hand when the contest begins in 175 days in the unlikeliest of places, Wales!

Nestaquin has written eloquently of Australia’s new hero, David Warner, suggesting strongly that we should not consider his international bow freakish merely for his lack of first class experience, since Australia’s cricket structure has prepared him well.

That, and the retirement of Matthew Hayden set the Trumpet thinking about the next generation of Aussie players and how they might differ from their forebears since, whilst domestic Australian cricket is widely acknowledged as providing the best platform to foster international class players, a surprising number of the last generation of Aus cricketers (excluding the all-time greats – McGrath, Gilchrist and Warne – who make their own rules) played a significant amount of soft, bad habit-forming County Cricket before finding their feet in the Test arena.

At the end of 2000, Matthew Hayden had just 12 Test matches under his belt, but he had played 41 first class (FC) county matches in England. At that same moment, fellow opener (though he wasn’t then) Justin Langer had played 37 Tests without really nailing down a place – he had also played 43 FC county matches for Middlesex. Simon Katich has played 53 FC county matches; Mike Hussey has 60 such matches; Andrew Symonds 92 (only 5 fewer than he has for Queensland); Mark Waugh 93; and a young Stephen Waugh 19. Amongst the bowlers, fewer played in England, though Stu Clark has 13 and Kasper has an incredible 67 such matches.

And I underline, these matches were played before these men established themselves as Test regulars and exclude twilight careers like Langer’s wonderful Indian summers at Somerset.

So why did so many of these players, who have formed the backbone of Aus batting and some handy bowling options, choose to play on the notoriously soft County Cricket circuit? The money must have been handy, but that can’t be the sole reason, as money alone didn’t help to launch the careers of some (ME Waugh, Hussey) or relaunch the careers of others (Langer, Hayden, Kasper).

The real reason why these players found County Cricket so useful, is the concentration of experience our little island gives. Conditions and pitches change from day to day and venue to venue, from Test grounds to public parks, from opponents with twenty years experience to baffle on the pitch and talk over in the bar, to tyro quicks from Barbados, Bristol and Karachi eager to make their way as pros.

Geoffrey Boycott always says that it was easier to score Test runs than County runs as the pitches were better, and he has a point even today.

The moral of this story is that many Aus cricketers will see the IPL + State Cricket as the new route to establishing oneself as an international. It may be – but history shows that a season or two in the derided English domestic game has served the previous generation well. Mr Warner, Mr Hughes and Mr Hilfenhaus might want to ponder that.

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Responses

  1. Very nice work Toots and I tend to agree that County cricket is an important part of a young Australian cricketer’s education.

    As for the players mentioned, Hughes is the real deal and in a perfect world will play a few seasons in England before replacing Katich. (Jaques will get Hayden’s spot if fit).

    Hilfy was hoping to play in England last winter but injury set him back. Would have been handy as he would have learnt alot but on the bright side, like Warne, he’ll arrive with a big reputation and without any Englishman having faced him.

    As for Warner, I doubt he is good enough for a County to sign him at present for their First XI full time.

    You could see last night that he struggled to middle it when the pitch was holding up a bit.

    Cricket has been played competitively for near on three centuries and swinging cross batted like a baseballer may work occasionally but it will fail more times than it comes off.

    Even with the technology and sports science of the 21st century to aid batsman, the tried and true works best.

    In last night’s match Duminy, Hussey and Ponting all batted successfully and unsurprisingly they played aggressively but conventionally.

    Australian cricketers still want to play County cricket, of that I am sure. Warner was signed for Delhi by Greg Shipperd, former Tasmanian and Victorian coach, but I doubt we’ll see too much of him this season. Indian conditions aren’t usually conducive to cross bat slogging and I think he will find his first season tough going even though he has toured India with the U/19s.

    Does anyone know if JP Duminy is available or signed by an IPL franchise? I can’t remember seeing a young batsman as composed as him since Allan Border was a tyke!

  2. Aggressive but conventional is the way forward in T20. At the first T20 I attended at The Oval last year, having asserted that T20 rewards proper shots and punishes slogging, I sat next to a sceptic and announced “Slog” whenever there was a slog. There weren’t many and they usually led to wickets – so I wasn’t quite as insufferable as I sound!

    Duminy is awfully good – I suspect he’ll be as good as Chanderpaul, and that’s very good indeed.

  3. Excellent as always Toots.

    The fact that county cricket has helped launch/relaunch careers is undeniable. Not just the Aussies but Zaheer Khan for one credits rediscovering his mojo to his county stint.

    My question is why has it not seemed to help English cricketers? Am I correct in assuming that the county circuit has helped cricketers from other nationalities more than home grown cricketers? May be foreign players are taken out of their comfort zones and are forced to adapt, improving their games as a result.

  4. Of course it will help English first class cricketers, without the county championship they wouldn’t play at all!

    Perhaps there is a perceived advantage for foreign players as you can compare it to their home seasons before and after county experience, whereas with poms you’d just see they improve over time.

  5. Dement – Excellent call on Zaheer, who had already started to improve, but bowled a lot of overs and grooved his action and fitness.

    I suggest that the county championship improves not just foreign up and comers like those listed above, but old foreign hands like Murray Goodwin and Mushtaq Ahmed. The reason? I think they appreciate their good fortune to make a living out of cricket and value it more. Most English pros think like Atherton and can’t wait for it to rain to get back to the card schools or the gee-gees. The evidence of that attitude is there for all to see.

  6. ‘So why did so many of these players, who have formed the backbone of Aus batting and some handy bowling options, choose to play on the notoriously soft County Cricket circuit?’

    Despite all the convoluted attempt at reason here, the answer is so simple , really.

    It’s weather. AU cricketers play in the Soft County cricket because it’s the AU winter , you see. Round Earth? Northern Hemisphere, Southern Hemispher? Summer, winter? Get it? Of course, this is handy for the County Circuit in England, as an Au player puts bums on seats, generally. It suits both outfits. There has never been an Au player who actually chose to play the Eng County circuit INSTEAD of playing for AU, but if you’re not picked, the English circuit is a fine way to practise.

    So why don’t English players shuffle off to AU in their winter?? ( AU summer) .. the answer to that is just as simple. I leave it to you to work it out.

    *cheers!!*

  7. Nobody really cares who is in the team when they go to see county cricket – much the same as they don’t care who is in the team when they go to see State cricket in Aus. It’s the ritual and the event – cricket is not a personality-led sport.

    “…the English circuit is a fine way to practise.” Well that is my point, convoluted or not. But for something to be a fine way to practise, it surely has to have a challenge – champs don’t spar against bums.

    I’m glad that so many Aus players have benefited from county cricket (or those likely to replace the old guard, Hussey jnr, Bollinger and Jaques have played here too) and I suggest that might be a reason for it getting a bit more respect from players, fans and journos all over the world.

  8. For Au cricketers, its either winter touring with the AU X1 or footy.

    I havent noticed any increase in respect for county cricket from players, fans, journos anywhere, I’d be interested in that, please direct.

    What I have noticed, with increasing frequency is the complaints, justifiable in a way, of the uselessness of the system for production of English cricketers, and the increasing of their skills. It’s not as if a whole lot of skill is picked up by English cricketers being alongside good stuff, is it? Is this an inability to learn or an inability of these uitlanders to teach? And is this their job?

    I am not convinced that the County cricket circuit is a sort of finishing school for International cricketers as proposed. Really. It just doesnt fly as a theory in that respect.

    I would state that the challenge is to play against and with other champs during the off season ( off for the Inter chaps) .. playing with and against your english county cricketer, bums or not, is probably a small price to pay, and not a bad one, just not important.

    The comparison with who is in a State team in AU and who is in a county team in England is spurious to the max, actually. A state team in AU will be made up of only AU contenders for the National team. So it does have quite a lot of impact as to who is in it. A whole other sort of thing, as you well know. Who is in the county team is irrelevant to the selection of the Eng team. Obviously.

  9. Pepp – the point that Aus State cricket is predicated on improving the Aus team and English County cricket is not predicated on improving the England team is a good one to which I hope to return in a future post.

  10. I’ve long been of the opinion that an overseas pro should have played a test match in England before being qualified to play county cricket – for whatever reason, employment law perhaps, that’s never been the case. To take an example from 2007, the last year of two overseas pros per county, Somerset had both Justin Langer and Cameron White. To me, Langer is the one who truly benefits the English game, the balance between the experience he passes on and the experience he gains, is in England’s favour.

    Incidentally, Langer might provide the example ‘pepp’ was looking for:

    “I never thought I would say this, but the standard and intensity of the cricket in the first division matches what we have back home,” the captain (Langer) said.

    “I remember talking to Shane Warne [the Hampshire captain at the time] last season when we were going for promotion and he kept telling me how serious the standard is in division one. From an England point of view this is great. If young guys can crack it in this division then they will be ready for international cricket.”

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/cricket/article4076286.ece

    Although to be fair, that was one hell of a blow he took from Ntini.

    As for my own take on county cricket, I’d definitely agree that the intensity has improved since the two divisional system was brought in, but the sheer amount of games played remains a double-edged sword. For a season or two it can be a way to gain a lot of experience, but after a while it does become a treadmill.

    To quote Geoff Miller, “The art of selection is not to pick players too soon and not to pick them too late.” The sheer volume of cricket played in England makes that art, just that little bit more difficult to master.

  11. Conversely I think a stint outside their country will only help English cricketers.

    That is why Monty’s SL fiasco is so difficult to understand

    Btw can foreign players play in Australia or SA domestic teams?

  12. TTT, a tangential question. What is the origin of the phrase Indian Summer?

  13. DH, there is no rule that I am aware of banning overseas players from playing Australian First Class cricket. However, this season there is only one, Younis Khan, who is playing a handful of games for South Australia.

    Alot of players come over and play Grade cricket but they have to pay/be sponsored for the privilege as it is an amateur competition.

    Generally, only Australians are selected because the selectors have an obligation to groom players for the national team. Nothing upsets the locals more than a foreigner preventing a local lad from getting an opportunity.

    Botham, Sobers, Holding, Daniels, Garner, Imran are some players that have played Sheffield Shield in the past while recently a few of the better Zimbabwean players of European ancestry like AFlower and Murray Goodwin have participated.

    A Southern Hemisphere T20 franchised based competition is being planned for 2011 and I expect foreign players to participate.

    So the simple answer to your question is yes, foreigners are able to play in Australia.

  14. raj, there is an explanation at the link below. I’m not sure of its veracity but it’s an interesting explanation nonetheless.

    http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/indian-summer.html

  15. Len – having heard his excellent commentating and radio work, Langer is becoming English I think. So it must have been a helluva blow!

    I like the overseas pros – the more the better for me. If the English player is good enough, he’ll come through.

    I have to disagree about them playing too much cricket – they don’t play enough. Here are Surrey’s fixtures – http://www.surreycricket.com/team/fixtures/

    By my reckoning, if you just count matches against other counties and count T20 as half a day’s play (40 overs, so it’s barely that), it’s 84 days cricket of a 166 day season. Almost exactly half the time at work, the other half the time at home or wherever. Not bad for a full-time contract, especially when you roll in early finishes and rain-offs.

  16. The Kolpaks must be helping the standard of county cricket a lot. You get England’s best domestic cricketers, many of South Africa’s best domestic cricketers, and a selection of Aussies.

    If the Kolpaks disappear (what’s the latest on that? I understand there’ll be much tighter restrictions on them.) then I expect county cricket to return to somewhere near what it used to be. Though Div 1 should still be tougher than Div 2.

  17. oh definitely, county cricket has helped many australian cricketers to fine tune their games. even the timing / seasons work out well for the aussies. wish more youngsters in india would take that rite of passage. i remember kumble having a great season there a while back and obviously zaheer finds himself rejuvenated since his stint. maybe irfan can approach a county for a stint to sort out his funk.

    also not to be underestimated is the local leagues (lancashire etc) where a lot of youngsters like gilly and martyn got their first test of regular cricket in their teens.

    lately south australia has brought in a few foreigners. in 2003-2004 we had andy flower and john davison. this past season we have had younis khan and tanvir. would love to see some other overseas test players. distinctly unlikely as the aust system is really geared towards developing their own players. shame that now they have a number of talented players who have grinded out their life such david hussey, brad hodge etc with no hope of ever being promoted to test cricket because of brain dead selectors.

  18. Sunny, Irfan better approach a county without ICL players. Else, BCCI will nip it in the bud.

  19. TT: Personally I’d be against a reduction in the amount of domestic cricket played. But I can step back enough to concede that the players have a point about the amount of travel and lack of preparation time effecting the quality of play.

    Your calculations seem to be based on there being some kind of invisible clocking in machine at the boundary rope; but a cricketers ‘work’ extends beyond its confines.

    To take an example from Yorkshire’s season last year: At the start of June they had a four day championship game at Leeds, then one day to travel down to Bristol and prepare of the Q/F of a 50 over game, one day to travel to Taunton and prepare for another, very gruelling, Championship game and then two days to get back and prepare for the first 20/20 game of the season at Headingley. That’s two days to recover and get ready for a form of cricket the players haven’t taken part in for almost a year.

    I’m not sure how you’ll crowbar more matches into that schedule.

  20. Len – There are pinch points, but in a piece for the Googly I wrote last year and I can’t find, I identified a ten day and a nine day break in the Surrey season as well as lots of three day breaks too.

    They always find time for a sponsor too.

  21. TTT: I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

    >>They always find time for a sponsor too.

    Oh come on, that’s a bit of a cheap shot. All sportsmen find time for sponsors, it’s part of the job, and it’s one of the perks. But not many are as accessible to the public as cricketers.

    If you’d been at the Scarborough Festival last season you’d of seen the Yorkshire players happily practising on the outfield whilst the crowd mingled around them, Matthew Hoggard playing with his young son in front of the pavilion and during the match the ex-England captain fielding on the boundary in front of a large group of kids, and after every delivery turning round to share a joke, sign autographs and answer questions.

    Cricketers might have the odd moan too many, but they’re a long way from the money obsessed cynicism of footballers.

  22. Len – I am very well disposed to cricketers who will often do exactly as you say (I recall Dean Headley signing autograph after autograph and a shirt wet with sweat in a mid-innings break). Many footballers are good with fans too.

    My quibble is that cricketers constantly carp about playing too much (footballers and other sports people too, but not to cricketers excess) and can’t wait to get off the field for rain or bad light. Frankly, I don’t think they practise enough in the time they have, so why should more time lead to more practise? Anyone who does take practise seriously (except fielding) is always described as a freak or something and overseas players / coaches are always credited with improving practise.

    This lack of respect for practise runs through British sport as a whole, with a few honourable exceptions (Faldo, Phil Taylor, Steve Davies etc) who are usually viewed with suspicion by the public and fellow competitors alike.


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