The county season begins on Friday. The IPL is on, so many cricket fans are likely to have T20 rather than red ball cricket in their minds and on the screens. But one little detail has placed the County Championship very close to the limelight, if not right into it. And that’s the presence of prominent India players.
India are scheduled to play five Tests in England in the summer. And learning from their decision to not play any substantial practice games in South Africa before their tour of the country earlier in the year – where India got progressively better as they played more cricket – the BCCI has allowed Virat Kohli, among others, to play county cricket ahead of the Test series that starts in August.
Kohli will join Cheteshwar Pujara, Ishant Sharma, Axar Patel and most probably Ravi Ashwin in England. Add out-of-favour fast bowler Varun Aaron to the list and you have a sizeable Indian contingent in the county circuit, albeit at various stages as Kohli and Ashwin are playing in the IPL.
It’s an amazing turn of events. England, for years, did not take the IPL seriously which resulted in top English players not being provided a clear calendar to feature in the league. But after Kevin Pietersen became an ardent supporter of the IPL and the England board started to see possible benefits to their white-ball game, cricketers from the country were made available for almost the entire duration of the league. This year sees a record 12 England players in the IPL.
Similarly, India have been accused of not taking pre-series preparation seriously. They showed up for the 2011 England tour ill-prepared and were thrashed 4-0. Also, there was next to no training before the South Africa tour.
This year India can’t be accused of not preparing well. So there has been a sea change in attitudes on both sides.
However, Indian players’ presence on the county circuit has not gone down well with some in England. Bob Willis believes a player like Kohli should be “made to suffer” instead of being allowed to improve his game. Safe to say there are other traditionalists who agree with Willis.
Counties themselves are unhappy that they have to make do without top English players for a big chunk of the championship as they are currently in India. Since most of the top cricketers in the world are already at the IPL, it means counties don’t have access to the players they want.
Which makes the presence of Indian players in the championship interesting and some sort of a compensation for the ‘loss’ suffered due to the IPL. Obviously, the Indian players won’t come cheap but at least it will raise the profile of the games from a viewer’s perspective and, hopefully, produce good results for the counties.
India and England cricket boards have maintained a strange relationship over the years, ranging from mild distrust to great bonhomie (as was seen during the ‘Big Three’ takeover attempt of the ICC along with the Australians). The working relation they have reached now seems sustainable and beneficial.
While England cricketers will get to improve their game in the IPL, even if the risk of fatigue and injury remains, Indians can now work towards ironing out their deficiencies on foreign soil not only this year but in future as well.
Fast bowlers were the winners as Australia’s post ball-tampering era began on Wednesday with a heavily revamped list of nationally contracted players, minus the suspended Steve Smith and David Warner.
The list of 20 men’s players offered deals by Cricket Australia for the 2018-19 season on the basis of their performances over the past 12 months included five first-timers.
Speedsters Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson and Andrew Tye made the cut, along with all-rounder Marcus Stoinis and wicketkeeper Alex Carey.
New Test captain Tim Paine and batsman Shaun Marsh rejoined the list, while spinner Adam Zampa, pacemen Jackson Bird and James Pattinson, all-rounder Hilton Cartwright and wicketkeeper Matthew Wade dropped off.
Chadd Sayers, who has played Test cricket in the past six months, missed out.
The minimum value of a contract for the upcoming season is AUS $286,000 (Dh 813,000).
With the next World Cup falling within the contract period, selectors placed a strong emphasis on the limited overs formats in selecting players.
“This period is set to include a significant amount of limited-overs cricket, including the World Cup 2019 in England and Wales,” said national selector Trevor Hohns.
“For that reason, there has been a bit of a focus in this contracting period on white-ball cricket, as we look ahead to trying to win back-to-back World Cups.”
Test opener Matt Renshaw held on to his contract after being rushed in as a replacement for Cameron Bancroft in the fourth Test against South Africa late last month.
But Joe Burns, who was also jetted to Johannesburg to help out after Smith, Warner and Bancroft were sent home over the tampering scandal failed to make the grade.
“It’s a tough process, but we’re very satisfied with this group of 20 players,” said Hohns.
“We think this a well-balanced list to represent Australia across all three formats.”
The ball-tampering scandal during the third Test in South Africa stunned the sport and sparked reviews into the culture within Australian cricket.
Australia contract list
Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine, Matt Renshaw, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Billy Stanlake, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye.
Glenn Maxwell says the Australian team felt Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were treated like criminals during the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa, and the ordeal left them shell-shocked.
Maxwell, who was one of three players rushed out to join the tour before the final Test in Johannesburg after the trio were sent home, said it had been extremely hard for the young squad to witness what happened to their teammates.
It was particularly tough for them to watch the televised emotional apologies from Smith and Bancroft on arrival in Australia, and chaotic scenes when Smith was booed and called a cheat while being escorted through Johannesburg airport.
“I think the way they saw it, it was obviously beaten up a fair bit and they’ve seen a couple of their mates treated like criminals,” he told Melbourne’s Radio SEN on Wednesday.
“That is a hard thing for you to watch as a teammate, and to what they went through, especially Steve Smith at the airport, that was a hard thing for everyone to watch.
“To then try and get yourself ready for a game of cricket a day later was extremely difficult, and I certainly didn’t envy their position at all. It was an extremely tough time for that whole playing group.”
The fallout had a big effect on the team as they slumped to a 492-run defeat in the final Test.
Dave Warner was the player’s most vocal voice during MOU negotiations, copping it from many. Now, ‘caught ball tampering’ trying to selflessly advantage the fast bowling unit - not for his own stats or personal gain. Rightly punished... but he’s a team man.— Moises Henriques (@Mozzie21) April 10, 2018
All-rounder Maxwell arrived along with opening batsmen Matt Renshaw and Joe Burns as the replacements and he thought he might be able to provide some energy and be a positive influence around the team.
But he admitted it had been harder than he imagined.
“I had thoughts of what it could be like, and I hoped I could’ve provided something different for the group when I got over there, whether it be energy, or just a happy face around the group to try and cheer them up,” he said.
“The enormity struck me at the end of the Test match when Boof (coach Darren Lehmann) had his goodbye speech and spoke about a few players in the group that he hoped could lead the group going forward.
“I think that’s when it all hit me and how hard it was for this young group.”
A tearful Lehmann quit in the wake of the scandal, staying on only for the fourth and last Test before departing.
His decision followed 12-month bans given to then captain Smith and his deputy Warner for the roles they played in the plot to cheat during the third Test in Cape Town.
Bancroft was banned for nine months for his part in the affair.