Controversial new signing Riki Wessels made a flying start in his attempt to make an impression for Nottinghamshire this summer with an unbeaten century in his first innings for the county in their pre-season match against Surrey at Trent Bridge.
The 25-year-old former Northamptonshire wicketkeeper-batsman accepts that he will play second fiddle to Chris Read with the gloves, but has already staked a strong claim to be considered as a specialist batsman.
After Surrey had been skittled for 109 – Andy Carter taking four for 24 including three wickets in an over, and Charlie Shreck continuing his latest comeback from injury – Wessels opened up with Neil Edwards. They put on 188 before Wessels retired on 120, with Edwards going on to 88 – and both earning praise from the county’s batting coach Paul Johnson.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen Riki play in two years and big scores from our batsmen in pre-season will give Mick Newell a nice selection problem when we prepare for the Hampshire match,” said Johnson. “It was great to see Neil Edwards do well alongside him and we want to go into the season with confident bowlers and batsmen fighting for places in the team.”
But Wessels’s reappearance in county cricket flies in the face of England and Wales Cricket Board attempts to limit the number of registrations of overseas players.
Wessels has apparently exploited a loophole in the tightened-up regulations to secure an obscure Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa. He also reportedly set up his own company with a minimum £200,000 in a bank account and employed a website operator to beat the system after initially hoping to qualify as a Kolpak player via marriage, before the wedding fell through.
Nottinghamshire miss out on the opening round of County Championship fixtures to give them more time to reacclimatise after their trip to Abu Dhabi to face the MCC, and instead have a three-day game against Oxford University in the Parks before the serious business starts against Hampshire at Trent Bridge on April 14.
“We’ve still got some time to work on a few things and what we’ve seen in Abu Dhabi combined with this game and the Oxford match will have an influence on who gets a place when it gets serious,” added Johnson. “Anyone who is on the staff and scoring runs will want to get into the team and we want to see players earn the right to expect a place.”
Wessels has been playing for the Mid West Rhinos in Zimbabwe since leaving Northamptonshire at the end of the 2009 season – three years after the departure of his father Kepler, the former South Africa and Australia dual-international, who had been coach at the club.
“Riki was very young when he broke into the Northamptonshire side and showed great promise which I think he’s ready to deliver on,” said Newell. “He’ll provide back-up for Chris as a wicketkeeper but beyond that he’s a one-day batting option and he’ll be keen to break into the team on merit.”
“I want to play as much as I can and I know that I will need to push hard to force my way into the Nottinghamshire team, especially in four-day cricket,” Wessels said.