The governing body of English cricket the ECB is concerned about the number of foreign players playing in English cricket. So is David Letherdale, the chief executive of the Professional Cricketers’ Association.
“It is hugely disappointing that some counties have felt the need to sign players as Kolpaks or on EU passports instead of developing and producing home-grown players themselves for the future benefit of English cricket. We are concerned that the number appears to have risen again in recent months. It is a situation that gives us cause for concern and one that we will continue to monitor.”
The deterioration in the England cricket side can be dated from 1969 when the residential qualification rule was dropped and foreigners came into county cricket in numbers. Although it took a decade or so after 1969 for the full effects to be felt the 1980s saw the damage it had done becoming apparent as the England team became more and more restricted to a small pool of players . Eventually in the 1980s the selectors turned to foreign imports who had qualified as English after less than ten years residence in England.
After the freeing up of entry to the County Championship in 1969 there was no limit to the numbers of foreign players who could come. Restrictions were eventually placed on the number of foreign players who could play but it still meant that every county bar Yorkshire had two foreign imports who normally played regularly . This meant that 34 or so places were barred to English players, There were also a few foreign players who came with EU passports and more who arrived with British passports or the right to one because of one or more of their parents or grandparents was British.
The final nail in the coffin for English cricketers was the creation of the Kolpak status in the 2000s. This allowed anyone who could claim a passport from an EU country or from any country which had an associate relationship with the EU which included freedom of movement to have the right to work in the UK. The countries with EU associate status include South Africa, Zimbabwe and several in the Caribbean.
The argument for foreigners
The argument for importing large numbers of foreigners into English cricket has rested on two claims both of which is false. When the residential qualification rules were removed in 1969 it was argued that high quality foreign players would substantially increase crowds particularly at County Championship games. This never materialised as a sustained phenomenon. The arrival of a particular star such as Gary Sobers at Nottinghamshire or Barry Richards at Hampshire might result in a temporary boost in the numbers of spectators but it did not last.
The second claim was that having high quality foreign players in County Cricket would raise the standards of the English players. This argument was developed when the increase in crowds argument had become a dead duck. It can be comprehensively shown to be untrue. Between the mid 1970s to the mid-1990s the general quality of foreign imports was at its highest and the imports were contracted for the whole cricket season. Many of these imports remained with the same County for years so English players had every chance to learn from them if learning was possible simply from observing them. Yet it was during this time – and particularly the 1980s and 1990s – that the England side was hideously unsuccessful, indeed, arguably the twenty years from 1980-2000 were the least successful overall for any extended period in its history. The truth was that English players learnt nothing of use from the foreign imports, either from playing with them or against them.
Since the invention of the Kolpak status and the rise of T20 the quality of the foreign imports has declined sharply and the foreign players who do come often play only part of a season and rarely stay with the same clubs for years on end.
But it was never simply a question of the quality of the foreigner brought into county cricket. The problem was whether of Test quality or not the foreigners have displaced English players in large numbers.
The problem with foreign players goes far beyond their numbers. They tend to be pace bowlers and upper order batsmen. These players normally occupy the best batting spots and their pace bowlers will generally get the new ball. Foreign bowlers of any type will also tend to get choice of ends and to be under bowled when a pitch is benign. English players have take the crumbs which are left after the foreign players have been fed. It also means that there have been times in the past 50 years when the England selectors have had precious few upper order batsmen and opening bowlers to from which to choose, for example the lack of quality pace bowling in the 1980s and 1990s because so many of the foreign imports were pace bowlers.
It is important to understand that the influx of foreigners does not affect just the first class county first teams. Foreigners are increasingly flooding into the second elevens of the first class counties, the minor counties and good quality club sides, in fact, any team which can pay them.
There are and have been plenty of very promising young English cricketers over the years who have never been given an early chance when their second team performances for first class counties have justified it or even worse were never given an extended run in the first team. A, Gordon, PC McKeown, B Parker, G P Burnett, R J Bartlett, JW Cook, A R Roberts, JD Fitton, PJ Lewington, D M Cox. Any of those names ring a bell? I doubt it but they were all very successful second eleven players who have played since the 1969 influx of foreigners but who never got a sustained chance in their respective first teams. (Details taken from the First-Class Counties Second Eleven Annual)
No other Test playing country in the cricketing world opens its first class domestic competition to huge numbers of foreigners. Neither should we.
The extent of the current infestation of foreigners
The 2017 County Championship season has just begun. In the first round of matches begun on 7 April 2017 the foreign component was as follows:
There were 6 matches comprising 12 teams of 11 players = 132 players in total
43 of these players were born outside the British Isles
This means 33% of players in this round of county matches were not born in the British Isles
The counties which did not play in this round of matches are Derbyshire, Durham, Middlesex, Somerset, Sussex, Worcestershire. If they have the same proportion of foreign born players on average as the 12 counties which played , that would mean another 22 foreign players to add to the 43 making a total of 65 players out of possible 216 players (12 x11) from the 18 counties.
Analysis by County of the foreign born players in the six matches played commencing 7 April 2017
Essex: RN ten Doeschate, SR Harmer, N Wagner (3)
Glamorgan: B Cooke, CAJ Meschede, M de Lange, JA Rudolph, N J Selman, CA Ingram (6)
Gloucs: CT Bancroft, GL van Buuren (2)
Hants: RR Rossouw, SM Ervine, , KJ Abbott, GK Berg, BTJ Wheal, FH Edwards (6)
Kent: AP Rouse, ME Claydon (2)
Lancs: S Chanderpaul, DJ Vilas, R McLaren, KM Jarvis (4)
Leics: CJ McKay, PJ Horton, CN Ackermann, MJ Cosgrove (4)
Northants: RE Levi, SP Crook, RK Kleinveldt (3)
Notts: MJ Lumb, MH Wessels, SR Patel, JL Pattinson (4)
Surrey: KC Sangakkara, SM Curran, TK Curran, JW Dernbach (4)
Warks: IJL Trott, SR Hain, TR Ambrose†, JS Patel (4)
Yorks: PSP Handscomb, GS Ballance, Azeem Rafiq, (3)
It is also likely that there are foreign players missing from the early Championship games as they complete other cricketing obligations in foreign T20 tournaments or for their national sides.
Analysis of the role(s) these cricketers play
The groups is very heavily slanted towards upper order batsmen and pace bowlers
JA Rudolph, N J Selman, CA Ingram, CT Bancroft, RR Rossouw, S Chanderpaul, , PJ Horton, CN Ackermann, MJ Cosgrove, MJ Lumb, MH Wessels, RE Levi, KC Sangakkara, IJL Trott, SR Hain, PSP Handscomb, GS Ballance
Wicket keepers (3)
B Cooke*, A P Rouse*, TR Ambrose*
Pace Bowlers (18)
RN ten Doeschate* CAJ Meschede*, M de Lange, N Wagner, SM Ervine*, KJ Abbott, GK Berg*, BTJ Wheal, FH Edwards, ME Claydon, R McLaren*, KM Jarvis, CJ McKay, SP Crook*, RK Kleinveldt*, JL Pattinson, TK Curran*, JW Dernbach
Spin Bowlers (4)
SR Harmer*, GL van Buuren*, JS Patel*, Azeem Rafiq*
* Denotes any player other than a specialist batsman is a competent batsman
Analysis of players by country of birth
Australia: PJ Horton, MJ Cosgrove, SR Hain, PSP Handscomb, CT Bancroft, N J Selman , TR Ambrose, ME Claydon, CJ McKay, SP Crook*, JL Pattinson (11)
New Zealand: JS Patel*,
South Africa: JA Rudolph, CA Ingram, RR Rossouw, , CN Ackermann, MJ Lumb, MH Wessels, RE Levi, IJL Trott, B Cooke*, CAJ Meschede*, M de Lange, N Wagner, KJ Abbott, GK Berg*, BTJ Wheal, R McLaren, RK Kleinveldt*, TK Curran*, JW Dernbach, SR Harmer*, GL van Buuren* (21)
West Indies: FH Edwards
India : None
Pakistan: Azeem Rafiq*
Sr Lanka KC: Sangakkara
Zimbabwe: GS Balance, A P Rouse*, SM Ervine*, KM Jarvis (4)