Nixon column: Strict criteria to sign overseas players needs to be relaxed

By Paul Nixon

HAVING been head coach of Leicestershire for a month now, the planning for the 2018 season is well underway. One of the first things we have been looking at is getting an overseas pro in for the year, but it’s proving to be quite difficult.

The criteria for an overseas player is very strict. The pro must have played a single Test match in the preceding year, or five in the previous five, or won a combination of 15 Twenty20 and ODI caps over the previous two years to qualify as a county import.

This inevitably means they’re at least on the radar of their country, and therefore unlikely to be available for an extended period of time. These players are all world class, and we’d love to have them on board at Grace Road. It’s also important to build for the future.

It used to be a case of being able to have young, inexperienced players come over and almost use county cricket as a finishing school. As a county, you could give them somewhere to learn a new dimension to their game, and they’d give you something you haven’t got yet.

I remember Bobby Simpson brought Damien Martyn over before the criteria was brought in, to be based with Leicestershire and play with the second team. This was before the rules changed, and the impact it had on the second XI was like no other. It was a breath of fresh air and it’s exactly what I want as a coach.

We won’t be able to have a young bowler who’s unproven in international cricket, partly because it’s a results business, but mainly because of the rules. Players have international aspirations and therefore can’t come over and play.

Ultimately, as a coach, the idea is to have players that you can build relationships with and have year in, year out. You want continuity in the squad and the club. We want to have someone we can have a few seasons with before they go on and play Test cricket.

You want to grow with the player, and constantly having someone different in the changing room can make things unsettled. It would be great to pick up a young Australian or young Pakistan bowler or young South African opening batsman, but you can’t do it.

It’s not helpful for the players, and the Associate nations are struggling too because of this. I’ve seen an Irish lad, he’s not even 20 yet, and he’s got the potential to be world class. But I can’t go near him because he doesn’t want to go Kolpak and wants to play for Ireland.

He’s suffering because Irish first-class cricket isn’t at a standard as high as county cricket, and in turn, Ireland will suffer. He has a brilliant future, but this law is stunting the development of these players and they’re trapped really.

It’s the same with Afghanistan leg-spinner Rashid Khan. He picked up 12 wickets in a first-class match against the England Lions last winter, but can’t be signed. I can guarantee most counties would be chomping at the bit to get him to join them. But unfortunately, only cricketers who are established at elite level internationally, and are seen to be making a contribution to sport in this country, are eligible for a visa. As Afghanistan did not hold Test status before this summer, they weren’t deemed to be competing at the elite level.

Wanted: Afghanistan spinner Rashid Khan in action against England Lions last year (photo: Getty Images)

Then you look at someone like Yasir Shah at Kent last year. He was signed for a short time and was available to play four County Championship games, but in the end only played three. He took 14 wickets, which was great for Kent, but how much better for them would it have been if they had someone of Shah’s ilk available for the whole season.

Kent had a number of overseas pros last season. You don’t get the best out of an international player who has just come off the back of a two-month tour. He’s knackered, and the mentality isn’t always right – it’s like a first team player going into the second XI.

It’s not cheap for counties either. You have to pay the flights to get these players over, then they tend to want a decent pay packet and you need to find them accommodation. It can be a big risk, and it’s why we are taking our time to pick the right players.

Of course, we don’t want it being a case of a bunch of young overseas players taking the spot of young Englishmen. There can still be a limit in the number, but the criteria just needs to be widened a little bit to allow that flexibility.

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