Let’s leave the mercenaries out

The overdependence on overseas players has been an expensive proposition and very detrimental to the development of home-grown talent, writes Bob Simpson.

After having watched England fail to qualify for Euro 2008, I realised the damage done to English football by the overuse of foreign players in their various leagues.

I was also convinced that John Buchanan’s suggestion that players from overseas be allowed to play international cricket for a foreign country is wrong.

The basis of John Buchanan’s reasoning is that since Australia are very strong at present, the players left out of the national team should be allowed to play for another country. But somewhere along the line, John’s thinking has clouded his judgement, thanks to the success of the Australian team. He must be having a very short memory, for it wasn’t very long ago, the mid-1980s to be precise, that Australia were second-last in the international rankings. It took 10 years for Australia to regroup and finally beat the then premier team, the West Indies, in the Caribbean Islands in 1995.

It took much soul-searching and disappointments before Australia began the climb with eager and well-trained group of youngsters and reached the summit.

There is no doubt in my mind that the quality and standard of world cricket now is the lowest that I have seen in my over 50 years of first-class cricket. The reasons are numerous. The problem cannot be fixed by just bringing in mercenaries to strengthen the various nations.

English football and cricket are glaring examples of the overuse of foreign players. This has been going on for a long time in English cricket, starting perhaps some 40 years ago when the English counties were allowed to use any number of overseas players in their teams. Some counties were allowed to use up to four or five overseas stars, particularly from the then star-studded West Indies team in a bid to win the English County Championship. Some counties did well, while others such as Lancashire did poorly. Lancashire still haven’t won an English County Championship since the mid-1930s.

The overdependence on overseas players has been an expensive proposition and very detrimental to the development of home-grown talent. The imports deny the local youngsters a position in the team and the opportunity to hone their skills at the top domestic level. In the English Premier League some clubs have hardly one or two Englishmen in their teams. This can’t be good for the development of the young home-grown talents.

English county cricket is infested with imports and players who have qualified through having parents and grandparents born in England. The English County Cricket has increased the number of these players, and South Africans and Dutch Afrikaners are now flooding county cricket.

Northamptonshire under former South African and Australian Test cricketer Kepler Wessels are well on way to emulating Chelsea in having the most number of overseas players in their line-up. Knowledgeable people with a deep concern for England cricket and where it is headed for have told me that in county cricket at least half the players are not qualified to play for England.

Taking into account that there are 15 players per team, there are 300 cricketers from 20 teams involved in county cricket. My friends suggest that of these 150 are foreigners, while 100 would never be good enough for higher honours. This then leaves only about 50 players, who may or may not have the quality and temperament to be considered for the English national team. Little wonder that English cricket has been so up and down in recent times, particularly when we take into consideration the high rate of player injuries these days. For England, the base for selection of international players could be as low as 25.

Shaping up a side just to secure the odd victory is not the way to develop a consistently good team. It will take much more than that, and natural skills and temperament.

Terry Jenner, who has been linked to Shane Warne’s development, has toured the world and passed on his skills as a leg-spinning coach for many years. I have yet to see one leg-spinner anywhere in the world who is now playing Test cricket with the stamp of Terry Jenner.

The tragedy for world cricket would be for all the countries to adopt Australia’s coaching methods and philosophy. Sure, there is much good in Australian coaching, but I don’t want to see other teams in the world as clones of Australian cricket.

The beauty of world cricket has always been the contrasting styles and flavours of the various cricketing nations. Right now, unfortunately, much of those traditional charm and character is fast disappearing from the stage of world cricket. The West Indies are a classic example as they are only a pale shadow of a great cricketing nation they once were.

Some years ago I was saddened to hear an Australian Cricket Board official in charge of coaching development suggest to me that his desire was to develop a programme which every coach would pass on to the players he instructed.

I was gob-smacked, and for once lost for words, for this coaching method went totally against all that I believed about coaching. And that is every youngster has his own individual skills, flair and feel for the game and it is the job of the coach to bring out these qualities and get the best out of his charge. He should not thrust his own, often misguided theories on the youngsters.

World cricket has its problems; its quality and standard is slipping so badly that it is in dire need of coaching. By all means, let us think long and hard as to what is needed to restore quality and pride to those countries that need help.

There is more than enough money being made in world cricket today to be used for the improvement of the game. Let us, however, not downgrade the passion and pride in representing our country by bringing mercenaries into the equation.