Indian cricketers are on their golden platter these days especially contemplating on the bowlers whether be it a seamer or a spinner, all of them are right on the money. These players have already scaled up their potential ratios over the years and as a reward of which now they are being called for County Cricket in England. Players like Cheteshwar Pujara have already tested the atmosphere of county cricket prior to this, but this time the demand is not for batsmen but it is for bowlers like Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, and Ishant Sharma. Pujara, who played a few matches for Nottinghamshire earlier this English domestic season, is expected to return to the County side after the conclusion of the Test series in Sri Lanka.
Ranked No 2 behind Jadeja in ICC Rankings for bowlers in Test cricket, Ashwin was rested from the Indian side to take on Sri Lanka in five ODIs and one T20I post the three-Test series of which the final match is underway. Meanwhile, Ashwin’s decision of heading England to have a stint in the ongoing County Championship with Worcestershire, post the conclusion of the India versus Sri Lanka Test series in the island nation scratched the surface. Worcestershire, who have had the services of champion Indian bowlers in Kapil Dev and Zaheer Khan in the past, had shown the keen interest in Ravichandran Ashwin, expecting the spinner to join their ranks towards the end of the season. Ashwin is likely to be available for Worcestershire as early as for their match against Gloucestershire, starting August 28.
Post Sri Lankan tour, India will head home for another packed schedule at home, which begins with a five-match ODI series against Australia. Unless Ashwin is selected for that series, he is expected to continue playing for Worcestershire till the end of their season as the County team is striving for promotion.
Alongside these two, the world No 1 Test bowler and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja is also reportedly in talks with several countries for a stint. However, nothing has been finalized as of now, reported cricket website ESPN Cricinfo. Ravindra Jadeja to has been rested from the second leg of India’s tour of Sri Lanka.
While on the other hand, Ishant Sharma also enrolled his name as another Indian cricketer set to play County cricket this season, for Warwickshire. Ishant is also not a part of the Indian side for the limited-overs series in Sri Lanka, his participation in the County Championship is expected to bolster the preparations for next year’s India’s tour of England for a proposed five-Test series.
Beneficial aspects of county circuits for Indians:
By early 2006, Zaheer Khan had gone full circle, from being India’s darling at the ICC knockout trophy to a player who had middling returns and injury problems (and spent quite a bit of time on the sidelines of the Indian team). In a bid to stage a return to the Indian team, he joined Worcestershire in the English summer of 2006. In Worcestershire, Zaheer Khan figured that he had to stay fit throughout the entire season, seam the ball more, and make some adjustments in his bowling action. Along with Graham Dilley, the Worcestershire bowling consultant, he shortened his run-up and improved the balance in his delivery stride.
He had a highly productive county stint, picking up 78 wickets in 16 games at around 29 runs per dismissal, en-route to topping the Division Two wickets list and back into the national reckoning.
Upon his return to English shores in 2007 as an Indian player, he had fashioned the first Indian series win in England since 1986. He was also instrumental in India’s ascent to the summit of the Test rankings. Coincidentally, his bowling statistics in both the Test and ODI formats took an upturn post his county stint, and he also racked up some great fast bowling numbers as well.
Nearly two months after winning the 2011 World cup with the Indian team, he labeled his county stint as the turning point of his career in an interview.
“Yeah, in many ways it was [the turning point of my career]. It was really important for me to play at the highest level, and to get back into the Indian side. I always knew I had the potential to perform but somehow I was not able to deliver. The stint at Worcestershire helped me understand the game, why I am playing and other things in terms of preparations for matches and bowling on different kind of wickets. It was a great learning curve.”
It wasn’t just Zaheer Khan who had a marked improvement after a spell in county cricket. Kapil Dev played for Northamptonshire and Worcestershire in the early 1980s. His best phase as a fast bowler for India overlapped with his period in county cricket. Tendulkar and Dravid were huge hits at Yorkshire and Kent respectively; several other Indian players too benefited from the exposure the county circuit offered.
For long, the English county cricket circuit remained the ultimate finishing school for cricketers, one where they would rub shoulders with top overseas professionals. Recently, Wasim Akram and Michael Holding paid homage to county cricket’s role during their formative years; it is also instructive to note that while they bemoaned the absence of top professionals due to the crowded cricketing calendar, they still reckoned it to be the best place to learn fast bowling.
The IPL digression:
The English cricket season runs from March to September — a totally complementary time to the Indian domestic season. However, post-2007, the IPL has occupied the Indian cricketing calendar in April and May, making Indian professionals less attractive/partial to English county sides. There is also the point of disparity in potential earnings. Why would anybody in their right mind choose to toil away in a faraway country, doing your own chores, and earning peanuts (relatively) when one could earn much more from a two-month-long Jamboree, bowling four overs at a time (for the bowlers) in 14 matches in front of millions of adoring fans? It would be hard to see someone like Zaheer Khan making this choice today.
In fact, the IPL question loomed on the horizon recently. Virat Kohli, having failed miserably in the 2014 tour to England, expressed his desire to play a few county games in order to get acclimatized before the next English tour. But the extent of his participation remains doubtful for the reasons mentioned above.
Test cricket is a different beast compared to the other two limited-over formats. The ODI and T20 can be won by run containment; whereas, a team needs to learn to take 20 wickets in order to win a Test match. Therefore, coaxing the batsman to make a mistake when there is no necessity to score runs or manufacture a wicket, is quite a different proposition compared to the challenges of the limited formats. Consequently, the struggle for survival while batting in a Test is a different challenge compared to going hell for leather in the shorter formats.
The BCCI should identify premier Test-match specialists, and send them to experience county cricket before the next round of overseas fixtures.
Assuming the ICC rankings to be a barometer for excellence, the fact that very few players are present in the top 10 of all the 3 rankings (Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Kane Williamson, de Kock, and no bowlers) shows that only a few are able to master the challenge of doing well seamlessly across all three formats. For example, Ashwin was in the limelight for his shorter-format success initially, but there have been murmurs about his prowess on that front being on the wane.
Since success in Test cricket is dependent on developing a good bowling unit, the Indian think-tank should do all it takes to prepare one for greater challenges abroad. The BCCI should identify premier Test match specialists, and send them to experience county cricket before the next round of overseas fixtures. The Indian team has done well recently at home, but the legacy that it will leave for the future generations will be dependent on their overseas results.
With Cheteshwar Pujara — and before he was called up by Kings XI Punjab to fill the gap left by a last-minute injury, Ishant Sharma — not finding any takers among the IPL franchises, they wouldn’t have any problems with the IPL or county cricket choice. However, players like Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Umesh Yadav will feature in the IPL. The Indian team think-tank would do well to send these players to England for a season or two in order to sharpen their weapons; a reciprocal agreement with other countries wouldn’t hurt either.
It should also consider compensating them financially for a loss of IPL earnings; the BCCI certainly can afford to do so. And with the world’s top cricketers playing in the IPL, Indians would be the overseas professionals of choice in various countries. In short, the BCCI should institute a county scholarship program to build on the recent successes, and look to construct an all-weather Test team which can consistently win matches home and abroad.