Let me tell you a story about two foreign cricketers wanting to play domestically in England this summer as locals. One was cleared, the other was not. The first is a former New Zealand Test bowler whose wife is British and is already settled in the UK. The second, a Pakistani with first-class experience in his homeland is married to a Dane and wants to continue as a professional on the county scene. You’re thinking the first one got the clearance, right? Well you’re wrong.
The refusal to alter Iain O’Brien’s status from overseas to domestic player, and Naved Arif’s subsequent signing by Sussex has highlighted the tangled mess of red tape the county game has been caught up in. Pakistani left-arm pace bowler Arif, 29, committed to a one-year contract at Hove after qualifying thanks to his missus Saddia.
Under European Union law, sports governing bodies must respect an individual’s right to re-locate and pursue employment within the EU boundaries, and as the law extends to spouses, the England and Wales Cricket Board were obliged to give the former Sialkot player, who up until February was due to play a second season for Rawtenstall in the Lancashire League in 2011, the green light. Ironically, the clamping down by the ECB on foreign players featuring as locals over here has forced agents – Essentially’s Eddie Tolchard in Arif’s case – to seek legal loopholes to get their clients gigs.
“When people have a right to work in this country then we afford them that right,” said Alan Fordham, the ECB’s head of cricket operations. However, Arif’s right by the letter of the law does make New Zealander O’Brien’s refused application 12 months ago appear something of an injustice. O’Brien wanted to be considered as a domestic player with Middlesex following his marriage and decision to settle down to a new life in the UK. Technically he did not meet the satisfactory criteria – in contrast to Arif’s case no re-location by an EU citizen had taken place – and so the ECB rejected his application.
Then, when an independent appeal panel upheld the ECB’s decision,the final two seasons of his three-year contract were waived – Middlesex had agreed the deal based on him altering his overseas status and he quit international cricket in December 2009 to do so. In contrast, new Surrey signing Zander de Bruyn was able to use his British wife as part of his qualification via the Kolpak route - as South Africa unlike New Zealand hold a trading agreement with the European Economic Area, he is treated as any other migrant worker in the EEA would be.
The moral of my story is simple: the ECB have done absolutely nothing wrong but neither have they got it right. Surely, O’Brien deserves a chance to make a living in the country of his life partner? Setting a precedent is undoubtedly what concerns those at Lord’s at a time when they have committed to encouraging a greater proportion of English-qualified players in each county team but for a sport that supposedly prides itself on fair play, they appear to have misread the spirit of the game.
Bat manufacturers Mongoose have come into line with the incentivised world of modern cricket and, after ditching retainers for their clients, will award hefty bonuses for big-hitting this summer. Marcus Trescothick, their marquee winter signing, has been promised a £1million cheque should he replicate the feat of Albert Trott, who cleared the famous Lord’s pavilion with one blow back in 1899. Somerset captain Trescothick will ordinarily use a customised CoR3 – the first traditional-looking bat with the splice housed in the handle rather than the hitting area, to increase elasticity in striking the ball – but will wield the long-handled MMi3 for Twenty20 action. In addition to the Trescothick-specific challenge, Mongoose’s graded payments plans for players, which reward publicity gained via performances, include a £50,000 promise for hitting six sixes in an over and a minimum £2,500 for a hundred on Twenty20 finals day.
Ray Illingworth, whose first year as Yorkshire club president coincided with much stronger links with the county’s ex-players’ association, has been re-elected for a second term at Headingley. Meanwhile, another of Yorkshire’s posse of former England captains, Michael Vaughan, has been made an honorary life member. In addition to his media and sports management work, the 36-year-old is currently engaged by the county on a consultancy basis, both as a mentor and advisor on recruitment.