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By Paul Nixon
The County Championship receives a lot of unfair criticism from the outside, but it’s clear the players still value it, as has been shown this week by Worcestershire’s signing of Ravi Ashwin.
He has come in to replace John Hastings, who was ruled out with injury, and it’s great for the game in England to have the world’s No.3 Test-ranked bowler playing in their first-class competition.
Worcestershire have had Saeed Ajmal in recent years, who was a revelation for them and will be hoping Ashwin is the same, but for me it’s just good to see Indian players coming over to play.
The biggest frustration for me is that Indian players don’t go around the world often enough and showcase their skills in different countries. It might be one of the reasons they’re not so strong away from home – their players haven’t had that experience and acquired those skills.
They haven’t even played in the Big Bash, and it’s rare to see an Indian player play first-class cricket outside their home country. Indian cricket lose out on learning skills from other nations and, of course, other nations lose out on the experience these players have.
County cricket is an institution and a lot of overseas do want to play it. Virat Kohli was talking recently about potentially finding a county for a stint before the Test series in England next summer, and that would be brilliant.
Here in the West Indies, a lot of players want to play in England. But many focus on T20 competitions and with the Blast taking place over a number of weeks, often being played only around weekends, it can be tough to lure them over.
Overseas players often settle in very quickly so signing one isn’t often seen as a risk. It’s why Essex and Hampshire are doing so well with all their signings. These players have committed to something and bought into the concept.
Ashwin will do well at Worcestershire, not just because he’s a quality player, but because it’s something he wants to do. He wants to improve his game and sees Championship cricket as an avenue for doing that.
He’s going to be playing Division Two cricket, but that’s all he will be focusing on. He doesn’t have to worry if he’s going to be picked for India, we all know he will be, and can just put all his efforts into Worcestershire.
Counties get a good deal, too. You look at South African players and see the Rand is very cheap, so you can pay these players slightly less and both parties are getting a good deal.
In the modern era, overseas players will have often played with at least one other from overseas in most dressing rooms. With players going all over the world, there’s not as much hiding space and everyone knows everything about each other. You already know what you’re going to get when signing someone because you’ve seen them play a handful of competitions already.
What we have to remember is that county cricket is run by senior professionals. And whether they’re from England or overseas, they are a huge influence on their counties. They are mentors for youngsters and play a huge role on and off the pitch.
For me, county cricket is becoming slightly younger, in terms of the players involved , but you still need your 34-year-old pros who are wise old heads that create calm and stability in a team.
Every England player would tell you they had bundles of help from the older lads in the changing room, both at county and international level. Cricket needs to value these players and help them stay involved with the game. You can’t just dismiss a player because of their age.