As some of you may already know, Justin Langer, the former opening batsman for the Australians, who, together with Matthew Hayden, formed a partnership that even rivalled the great Greenidge and Haynes (although I still personally believe that the West Indians were better) writes a cricket column for the BBC. I’ve always loved reading cricketers columns because, unlike footballers, who either seem to write stuff that furthers their own agendas or come across as incredibly unintelligent, cricketers seem to write so well about the game. Their columns are generally very well thought-out, well written (presumably because unlike football, which is a working class game, cricket is a middle-class one) and incredibly insightful, not to mention downright interesting to read.
I do agree with Langer’s reservations about the abuse of the Kolpak ruling, which, while it does allow English cricket fans to enjoy the exploits of some talented overseas players that they might otherwise not get to see live, and while there is absolutely no doubting the fact that it raises the quality level of our own game (considering the fact that the majority of Kolpak players seem to be Australian, brought up through domestic cricket which is clearly superior to our own), only harms the long-term interests of the England cricket team itself. For starters overseas players who play county cricket in this country have a lot less trouble when touring in England with their countries because they’re used to the conditions here. Yet English players can’t say the same about overseas conditions. Of course, to counter this, more English players could try playing domestic cricket abroad (as Vikram Solanki and Kabir Ali both did recently in India) so whilst it’s not great, that’s not necessarily a crucial problem.
However, what is, can be demonstrated by comparing young Liam Plunkett to Ryan Sidebottom. On the one hand you have a young lad who is being asked to learn his trade at the highest level, to groove his action in Test matches, instead of with his county. On the other, you have a young man who, through learning his craft with his county, has come back to the Test arena a better player. The same comparison can be made between Lancashire pacemen Sajid Mahmood and James Anderson. James Anderson burst onto the international stage only for people to realise that this young man wasn’t quite ready. Having gone back to his county, and returned with a vengeance, there’s little doubt now that he’s a very useful ODI bowler, although he’s still not quite proven to be consistently accurate enough for Test cricket. Sajid Mahmood, however, is blessed with so many natural attributes, including his blistering pace, but unless he’s left to develop with his county he won’t turn into the player he can be.
You may be wondering what Kolpak has to do with all of this, especially as all of those players are English. Well, in order for a young English cricketer to develop into a world class player, capable of doing the job on a hot day in Brisbane, he needs time to hone his skills at county level. They can only hone thier skills by playing, and playing regularly, but if the county is able to afford to bring in an overseas player under the Kolpak ruling all this does is diminish the amount of time counties will invest in young English players before writing them off. Whilst there is the positive side-effect that competition for places will spur youngsters onto better things, there is the big downside that for every young English player that doesn’t make the grade, counties are actually providing the very cricketing education needed for an overseas player to make the grade and one day come back to haunt the England side. That can’t be a good thing.
Where I disagree with Langer, however, is Twenty20. I will admit at the outset that I’ve seen possibly a half-dozen matches, and not one of them to the end, but there is a reason for that; I was bored senseless by it. Dugouts? No, those belong in baseball, not cricket, along with all the music and circus razzmatazz that surrounds Twenty20. The more I watch of it the more it begins to resemble baseball; the fielding team throws the ball down in ways designed to make it hard to hit far, and to try and induce a false-stroke to a fielder, the batting side try and slog every ball as hard and far as possible. However resembling baseball isn’t bad, I actually love a good game of baseball (rare for an Englishman), but here’s the crucial point; cricket isn’t baseball. Twenty20 isn’t baseball. Twenty20 is the poor man’s baseball, it’s like buying knock-off Rolex watches because you can’t afford the real thing. If you want to watch baseball, go watch baseball, it’s good, and trust me, you’ll enjoy it a hell of a lot more than game of Twenty20.