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Picture the scene – it’s 1992 and Yorkshire County Cricket Club have finally decided to abandon their rule which allowed them to only select players born in Yorkshire.
They were in the market for – whisper it quietly – an overseas player.
“By ‘eck…’ow does thee go abart findin’ one o’t theez overseas thingumajigs?”
“You mean one o’ them foreign wotsits?”
“Simple…thee looks ont ‘tinterweb and thee picks a good un.”
“But ‘ow does thee know which is a good un’ ?”
“Thee doesn’t…thee just crosses tha’ fingers and ‘opes fot best.”
In the end, Yorkshire don’t get Sachin Tendulkar over for the summer, they end up with his cousin Sichan Tednaklur.
He made ten ducks in a row and Yorkshire never hired an overseas player again.
Sound familiar? It’s a similar ritual to that which many clubs go through once the winter arrives and thoughts start turning to the plans for the season ahead.
Maybe it’s the onset of the Christmas festivities that makes people excited to be unwrapping presents and getting their own piece of something shiny and new.
Or maybe it’s the realisation that the current first XI has five blokes over the age of 40 propping it up and the largest dose of firepower comes from Tommy who chain smokes his way through the tea break.
If you’re lucky, your club will have hired a good overseas pro previously, and they’ll be a decent source of referrals for years to come, whether it’s players from their own club, or others in the same area.
But what do clubs do when they haven’t got that trusted source of info?
This is where the luck comes into play. There are lots of ‘agents’ out there all trying to hook your club up with an overseas pro for the forthcoming season.
Indeed, if you’re the person that runs the club’s Facebook account, you’ll find your inbox inundated with people selling themselves and their statistics in the bid to be your next exotic acquisition from a far-off land.
Surely the one thing we can all rely on though are the stats websites which show how well a player has been doing over the last couple of years?
Well, yes and no. Because unless you’re dealing with first-class cricketers, it’s often hard to tell whether somebody’s averaging 50 against top-class attacks or smashing back-of-beyond XIs all-round the park.
So, once you’ve negotiated the minefield of agents, spin (in the Alastair Campbell, rather than Shane Warne, sense) and statistics and plumped for ‘the one’, what else do you need to think about?
Well, the next question which comes up is where are they going to live?
My club were lucky for a few years that the local rugby club owned a terraced house in which they housed three Kiwis every year, and we were able to slip them a few quid in rent to house our overseas for the summer.
But if you haven’t got either the money or the access to an arrangement like that…what next?
This is where the club SOS usually comes into play – “wanted – spare bedroom to house our overseas player for the season.”
Some overseas players come over and have the funds to see themselves through the summer. But others need to earn some cash to pay their way through the summer.
If the club themselves can’t afford to pay them, they need to get a job in the local vicinity.
Again, the SOS goes out to club members, particularly those that own their own business and have the ability to shoe-horn the new guy with the funny twang into some menial job which they probably aren’t entirely suitable for, but for which it’s possible to complete with a slight hangover without causing too much chaos.
Assuming those issues can be overcome, it’s then getting all of the paperwork sorted. Visas are always fun to deal with, and then the relevant paperwork needs to be squared-off with the league.
In the Aire Wharfe league this season, three clubs have suffered points deductions because, whilst they’ve registered their overseas players, they hadn’t realised their players had been playing elsewhere in Yorkshire last season and therefore further transfer forms were needed.
In addition, watch out for the taxman in all of this; if the club is paying for flights (or anything else for that matter, such as accommodation), HMRC are becoming increasingly interested in a cricket club’s affairs and looking at whether any PAYE is due.
So, now the winter is done and it’s nearing the start of the season. All of the admin is done, the league have their paperwork, you’ve managed to put a roof over your new star’s head and you’ve even managed to organise him work for 20 hours a week in Bob the 2nd XI stumper’s chippy.
And then he arrives…
The first net session with the new recruit is always a nervous time. Is he going to be the new Brett Lee?
Great for putting the fear of god into opposition batsmen throughout the season (and your own slip cordon too in all likelihood), but not so clever for your own team’s batsmen when he’s hitting that ridge in your nets right where the concrete underlay ends and the outfield begins.
Or is he the new Murali, ragging the ball square on any given surface to bamboozle club cricketers the length and breadth of the league?
You nervously hold your breath, praying he isn’t just another slow-medium trundler like the rest of the 2nd XI….
But even if he is, you accept him for all his foibles, and treat him as one of your own. The juniors in the club love being around the overseas pro as it’s a taste of the exotic, the big shot foreign pro, coming all the way to England to grace their small patch of grass in Yorkshire.
If he turns out to be a star, well, promotion beckons and your club has a genuine match-winner that means you can start mixing it with the big-boys in the division.
My own team have had a few interesting overseas players over the years. Back in 1991, (and you’ll probably be able to work my club out now with a bit of internet searching…) we had Winston Davis, albeit sadly a few years before my time.
Yes, by the way, I am talking about the West Indian fast bowler who held the world record for the best figures in a World Cup match for many years.
It’s only really in cricket that this can happen. You don’t get Lionel Messi rocking up in his off-season to play for The Dog and Gun, and neither does Richie McCaw swap a summer in New Zealand for a winter in England slogging it around Yorkshire Div 3.
What a sight that must have been to see Winston tearing in and causing havoc amongst opposition batsmen.
There’s a rumour that it wasn’t entirely a coincidence that the league introduced a rule for the 1992 season that an overseas player couldn’t have played first-class cricket in the last five years in order to be eligible to play in the league.
In 2003, we had young Australian who’d played a bit with Tasmanian’s 2nd XI. He looked like your typical Aussie with blonde hair and an easy smile. 1,300 runs and 50 wickets later and we were all smiling that season.
The beauty of it was that his exploits also brought the best out of the local lads as well, with a number of the local players made big contributions in a title-winning season.
In 2007 and 2008, we had an Indian spinner over who really could turn the ball square. The problem was, he had a tendency to start the ball on middle stump which meant a lot of glove-thrusting down the leg-side for our poor keeper as the ball kept fizzing past the batsmen’s pads right in his blind spot.
But when he got it right…oh boy, did he rip through some batting line-ups.
In amongst all this, there were of course some who were great blokes that didn’t lead us to glory.
There was even one in the late nineties that actually struggled to get into the first team and played quite a few games with the seconds.
Whatever the end result in terms of on-field performances though, come the conclusion of the season, it’s usually the case that the club have made another friend, there are many tales to be told, and cricket has brought people from the far corners of the globe together again.
And you know what, the excitement of finding the next great overseas player gives a few people at each club their fix of cricket excitement over the winter until the new season begins the following year…
By Kevin Owens – @kevbob1982
Skipton Cricket Club – http://www.skipton.play-cricket.com