I came across a tweet by Richard Edwards who writes for The Independent plugging a piece he did for yesterday’s (16/1/2013) paper featuring an exclusive with Hampshire CCC’s chairman Rod Bransgrove highlighting some ambitious and interesting plans he has for the county. Basically as the article elaborates, Hampshire have come to an agreement with Cricket Australia to take some of their more promising U-19 players and let them experience life playing for the Southern Electric Premier Cricket League. The players will not be eligible for 2nd XI or Academy matches but will get to play on seaming wickets and get to know life on the south coast for a while. What I found even more interesting is when Bransgrove mentioned that they were in talks with India and Sri Lanka over a similar deal which in Edward’s words,
… will effectively establish Hampshire as a global academy during the summer months, when most countries are in their off-season.
This announcement comes at a time when the England cricket side are the second-best Test team in the world and more competitive in ODI and T20 cricket than they have ever been. They are one of the most well-trained outfits in world cricket and boast a strength in depth that many countries could only dream of. So there will no doubt be those who feel that after all the time and effort spent getting into this position, Hampshire are playing their part in bringing the rest of the world in on the act. Now Hampshire have been quite forward thinking in their marketing strategies when it comes to the global game. In 2010, and no doubt with considerable help from Shane Warne, they announced that they will from then on relinquish their limited overs name of the Hampshire Hawks and from then on will join the Rajasthan Royals IPL franchise in a global marketing deal that would also include South Africa’s Cape Cobras, Victoria and Trinidad Tobago. For some reason this marketing strategy didn’t include Worcesterhire who were already called the Royals.
The various teams in the Southern Electric Premier Cricket League will have to put forward proposals get in on the first intake of young Aussie players, but the league overall is set to benefit and this effect will be increased if and when Indian and Sri Lankan players come over. A lot of overseas players already play in the local leagues all around England. It is a great experience for them to play in different conditions and different lifestyles and they in turn also impart knowledge and experience of the local players, taking part in coaching Colts teams. When I used to play cricket, I had a few net sessions with my club’s overseas pro who was a Kiwi wicket-keeper who had represented New Zealand at U-19 level. As a kid it was great to get bit of information from him and as a wicket-keeper he could commentate on my bowling from time to time.
Anyway I digress, the reason I’m writing this is that I think this could present an invaluable opportunity for Sri Lankan youngsters to come over here and play English cricket and hone their technique on the type of green pitches and overcast seaming conditions they won’t get back home. Time and time again our senior side get undone by a hint of late swing which all of a sudden goes missing when it is our turn to bowl. Apparently to be eligible to join this program you would have to have at least been capped for your country at U-19 level. And a lot of Sri Lanka’s (and India’s) U-19 players would not be able to afford to go play cricket over 6,000 miles away in a foreign country. In the deal with Cricket Australia the six players chosen will be funded by the Kerry Packer Association but it remains to be seen how players from India and Sri Lanka will be funded and how the UK’s work permit regulations would be negated should Hampshire strike up a deal with the BCCI and SLC.
Overseas cricketing placements are not new. The widely respected Darren Lehman Cricket Academy based in Adelaide has coached some promising youngsters including English ones which makes the notion of Hampshire ‘helping the enemy’ simply bizarre and childish. Players like Monty Panesar, Alex Hales and Joe Root have all gone there and benefited. The current crop of players include Joe Gatting, Rory Burns and Dan Redfern. A few Indian, Zimbabwean, West Indian, Irish, Dutch and Scottish prospects have gone over too but as far as I can tell no Sri Lankan has taken part. Which is why I do hope that Hampshire and the SLC see eye to eye. It is hard to see our board making a decision that could be described as beneficial to cricket on the island at the moment but you never know.