The Ashes Series 2009 Build-up
England is desperate to reclaim the ashes this northern summer. But it would seem that English cricket administrators are making the job harder for their national side by allowing key Australian players to play county cricket in the lead up to the much anticipated series. Jeremy Loadman reports.
Former England captain, Alec Stewart, and current England skipper, Andrew Strauss have aired their frustrations that in the build up to this year’s Ashes series, some Australian players will be playing for English domestic sides in the county championship. Unsurprisingly, both Stewart and Strauss, see this as giving the tourists an advantage by having players in the side who are acclimatised to English conditions and who have good match fitness under their belt.
Stuart Clark and Phil Hughes will play for, Kent and Middlesex, respectively. While giving any Australian a leg-up prior to an Ashes series is hardly desirable from England’s point of view, it is the case of Stuart Clark that is causing the English the most concern.
Due to an elbow injury, Clark has not taken part in any of the six tests against the South Africans this summer. With the Australian domestic season now finished, many Englishmen would have thought that Clark, who is almost certain to be picked in Australia’s squad, would arrive in England with a shortage of match practice and competitive overs under his belt. This scenario, of course, would be advantageous to the English. However, this will not be the case.
Between the start of the county season in mid-April and the first ashes test, starting July 8, Clark has the opportunity to play 6 county games, 7 domestic one day games and 10 twenty20 games for Kent. Not a bad opportunity to acclimatise and run into some form before the biggest series on the international cricketing calendar.
In the case of Phil Hughes, the circumstances are not quite the same as Middlesex signed the youngster for the 2009 season well before he was selected for the Australian team.
The hand-up that Kent is providing Stuart Clark, and subsequently the Australian effort to retain the ashes, was questioned recently by Andrew Strauss in an interview with the BBC. According to Strauss, there needs to be more emphasis placed how county sides can help the national side and vice versa.
“From an England team’s point of view it’s important we all need to buy into the fact that an England team performing well helps everyone, including the counties,” he said.
“There is a bigger picture there and I urge all people running counties to realise an England side doing well is of paramount importance for the counties and England to thrive.
“You can’t imagine Australia doing it for us so let’s hope the counties learn lessons from this and we all pull together in what is an important year.”
Former England skipper Alec Stewart called for a change in the county system that would rule out foreign players playing for a county when their national side is touring England in the same season.
“I would like to see a rule brought in which states overseas players cannot play (county matches) in our country if their side is touring that summer.
“It’s wrong that we are giving Australia a helping hand in retaining the Ashes. It’s tough enough anyway playing against them.
“But why we are giving them match practice and [im]proving their fitness in our own domestic game is beyond me.”
Strauss and Stewart make very good points. Why is the county championship giving Australian test players the opportunity to play themselves into form before this year’s ashes? Strauss is dead right when he stated that Australia would never return the favour.
Just think of the comments of Andrew Symonds when New Zealand wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum played just one twenty20 game for New South Wales this summer. Symonds decried McCullum’s appearance as ‘un-Australian’ believing that Australian cricket was selling-out by denying a home-grown talent valuable experience.
While Symonds’ view on foreign internationals represents a harsher stance to that expressed by Strauss and Stewart, (as McCullum’s appearance was simply a one-off as opposed to the season contract’s offered to Clark and Hughes) is does share the same base sentiment; namely, that by contracting overseas players, domestic sides are putting their interests ahead of the national side they feed into.
There is undoubtedly a gulf of difference between the cases of McCullum and Clark, and just as stark is the performances of the England and Australian test teams in ashes battles over the last 10–15 years. The evidence suggests that the Australian test side benefits a lot more from having its players gaining valuable experience through county cricket than does the England team by having their players come against top international talent.
Administrators need to try and find a happy medium. A system where the cricketing public get to see a high standard of domestic cricket, but also a system where domestic sides are working alongside the interests of the national team, and therefore giving it the greatest chance of winning matches. By allowing Clarke and Hughes to play valuable county games for Kent and Middlesex, English administrators are treating their national captain like a mug.
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