Wednesday, May 02, 2007

When I'm Sixty Four?

This was the Surrey line up for their county game against Hampshire that's finished last weekend...

12th man - Schofield

Now, of those twelve, how many of those are either current England internationals, or players who have a legitimiate chance of making the England side if they continue to develop at a decent rate? My answer would be 'possibly one' - Newman in ODIs. Sadly we need to officially give up on Rikki Clarke now, a player who should be tried in a court of law for criminally wasting such an enormous talent.

Second question - How many players are there in the Surrey Second XI who are desparate to break into the first eleven and prove their worth, but see their path blocked by a bunch of underachieving ex-England has-beens who see the county circuit as a gravy train to help fund their retirement. What about the young attacking spinner who sees not only Ian Salisbury still being paid good money to bowl two long-hops an over - but Chris Schofield signed up to do exactly the same thing. What about the middle order bat stuck behind Ramprakash and Mark Butcher in the queue?

The nub of the problem is that there is no clear definition of what county cricket is actually for. Is it's purpose - as Surrey CCC seem to think, to keep cricketers on the down slope of their careers in gainful employment at the expense of developing players for the future who could contribute to the success of the county - and possibly the national team, or should county cricket be a proving ground for young talent where they can compete and hone their skills in a truly testing and competitive environment.

There needs to be a system whereby promising youngsters are recognised and encouraged through the system - but then (here's the important bit) they need to be able to play a lot of meaningful, very competitive cricket. Without being put to the test, how will young players ever cope when the chips are down at a higher level. For example, it's frankly ludicrous that up to the start of this season, Saj Mahmood had bowled less than a thousand first class overs. That fact surely must be related to the fact that he appears to be bowling blindfolded when the pressure's on at international level. But hey, not to worry - he's looked world class in the nets.

Here's a further list of names I quickly pulled from last weekend's results - Croft, Caddick, Afzaal, Silverwood, Chapple, Cork, Hegg, Maddy, Gallian, Ealham, White (C), McGrath, Gough, Hick, Batty, Irani, Tudor, Crawley, Smith, Adams, Kirtley.

All of them ex-internationals with no hope of further call up (please, God) but all taking up spaces in county sides that could be usefully filled by the 'future' rather than the past.

Yes - their counties would argue that all of them still produce runs and wickets - but to what end? How many of them are simply hanging on for a benefit. A county selector will presumably pick the county also ran who happened to play one test against Australia, and got flogged all round the Oval ahead of a promising eighteen year old.

By way of comparision, check out the NSW squad for the season just gone. A list of over 30 names - many familiar and, apart from Glen Mcgrath only one obvious ex test player there - Graham Thorpe - ex Surrey & England!!

Of course, let's not be too 'Year Zero' about it. The Surrey example is an extreme one - and a lot of counties do manage to select a good balance of old pros and up and coming talent, but in the Brave New World of county there needs to be a list - call it the 'They Shoot Horses' list if you will - of acknowleged ex internationals of a certain age who aren't going to figure in any England plans. Counties should be limited in how many they can field at any one time - similar to the way overseas players have been limited over the years. I'm happy for them to make a living playing cricket, but not at the expense of a younger talent coming through.


Tim said...

But if counties thought along your lines, then the standard would be awful, full of vagely promising 18-25 year-olds. Surely a higher standard is better all round - I don't see players like Adil Rashid stunted by players who won't be of direct use to England at Yorkshire like Rudolph, Khan, Gilespie, Gough, McGrath, Brophy and Kruis.

Mark said...

You're right, Rashid hasn't been stunted - but can you really be sure that there aren't players further down in the Yorkshire system who haven't been.

I'd like to see a better balance than there is now, but for a county like Surrey to have such an imbalance between 'established 'pros and potential talent doesn't do the game any favours.

Actually, what I'd really like to see is a big reduction in the number of teams in the main 4 day domestic tournament, but that's something for a future post!