In a recent discussion on the ESPNCricinfo County live blog, the topic of associates and affiliate members came up in the context of overseas players. The dilemna was ‘why if players are good enough are they being denied the possibility of playing, purely on the basis of their nationality, or the fact their country is not a top side.’
After all, it would seem ludicrous in any other sport to have this situation. Could you imagine if Dwight Yorke had been prevented from playing for Manchester United because he was from Trinidad and Tobago (currently ranked 81st in the world).
Numerous players from associate and affiliate sides could benefit so much from a stint of cricket in the UK regardless of format, and would certainly enhance and improve the image and attention in their country domestically if they improved themselves, and brought more success.
Currently, counties are restricted to choosing one overseas player, and this is restricted to countries that have played a requisite number of International matches. It seems a rather arbitrary and stifling rule, especially as the vast majority of affiliate and associate members would not be of the standard to play in the UK anyhow. Why put a barrier up to prevent those that are good enough from partaking in ‘the finishing school’, purely because their International side is not good enough.
It’s unlikely that should players from affiliate or associate members ever be allowed to be considered as overseas players, that all of a sudden Kenyans, Namibians, or Swedish cricketers would pour into the counties because the plain facts are that most would not be of the standard.
But, as with every developing country in cricketing terms there would certainly be a select few that are good enough, and it seems such an illogical rule to restrict them on such an arbitrary basis of nationality, or the number f games their internationally affiliated side plays.
Afghanistan have of course been a hugely impressive side in terms of how they have developed from playing in dirt tracks on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and making it all the way to the top as an Internationally ranked side. They are a side of course that has some players that look entirely out of their depth against established teams, yet at the same time players like Mohammad Shezhad, Shapoor Zadran and Mohammad Nabi were all highly talented. Shapoor Zadrand was easily reaching 90 miles per hour in the world cup, which regardless of your passport stamp is extremely difficult to face.
If he was running in for even a second division side, it would be beneficial firstly for him, secondly for the county side that signs him, and thirdly, perhaps most importantly, for the state of Afghan cricket. It would be the big break. Just take a look at Zadran in action:
Having a player in an established first class league, exposed to the cricketing world, and with new opportunities that would go with that. Did someone mention the IPL?
In the past, players such as Kenya’s Steve Tikolo and Canada’s Jon Davison were stars in very average minnow sides. But, beyond them, there was relatively little and there was no long term and sustainable growth of cricket in their lesser established cricketing countries because their success and talent was not built on clearly. These were players that had talent and would have not only benefited from even a short stint of cricket for a county side, but it would have placed them on a plinth that would help to grow cricket domestically in their own country, and hopefully develop better domestic talent, and the image of the game in general.
The only way for associate and affiliate nations to sustainability develop is to grow domestic popularity of the game, as this breeds interest, and essentially a larger poole of talent. If offering those associate and affiliate member countries that have players that are good enough for a stint in the UK that very opportunity, then realistically, what is going to be the downside? Maybe a home grown player misses out in the UK occasionally, but judging by the number of Kolpak players already milling around county cricket in a number of formats, this issue doesn’t seem to have been sincerely addressed anyhow, and what is the problem with it anyway? It improves the cricket immeasurably to have a better quality of talent on show. If it is not going to be a hugely significant number of players from affiliate or associate members that would meet the standard of county cricket anyway, then surely all this rule change would potentially do, is lift a barrier blocking talent of those that would meet the standard, such as Shapoor Zadran, that are currently prevented on the basis of where he is from. It seems a small price to pay to allow a handful players the opportunity to play, that they otherwise would have been deprived of on a very illogical policy.
What is needed is perhaps an overseas policy allowing overseas players from the established nations, in addition to one overseas player from an associate or affiliate member. It is important to remember that most counties would not pick an associate or affiliate member, but those that would, could benefit, and there would be a very size able mutual benefit for the associate or affiliate member also. Perhaps this could be trailed in the lesser profile YB40?
Of course many will dismiss this as an unwanted change. “Why should they take up English players places” i hear people saying already, but in reality this would not be a widespread thing. It would would benefit county cricket by allowing those who are good enough to be in contention, which is minimal at the moment. It would afford a greater profile to cricket in the domestic cricketing league of those countries, and motivate affiliate and associate members to build on development with further development. It would be a hugely beneficial move, and it would remove an entirely arbitrary restriction.