Cricket: On import duty

John Collis looks at the network and the leg-work of foreign recruitment
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The Independent Online
As the roundabout of overseas players halted, Brendon Julian hopped aboard. Surrey already had the bunting out for Brian McMillan, until the South African authorities decided that the world's best all-rounder was also a heavyweight 32-year-old with dodgy knees, and that pounding in at the Oval would do little for his Test career.

"In fact Brendon was our first choice," the Surrey chief executive, Paul Sheldon, revealed. "We approached him in Australia in November, when we were signing our coach Dave Gilbert, but it didn't happen. When we heard from South Africa we went back to Brendon, who was now available. We need a strike bowler, and the wickets in Perth are similar to the Oval, fast and bouncy, so we are delighted with the outcome."

All the counties use an informal network of world-wide contacts. The least-known name in this year's list is Steve Elworthy, Wasim Akram's understudy at Old Trafford. The connection with his Northern Transvaal team is Neil Fairbrother, who was impressed by this quick right-armer when playing there.

It was that distinguished alumnus of Somerset 2nd XI, Steve Waugh, who gave the nod to Shane Lee. The Lancashire-League contacts of the Somerset coach, Bob Cottam, were making noises about the New South Wales all-rounder, and with Waugh's endorsement Cottam flew to Australia to sign Mushtaq Ahmed's stand-in. And with Allan Donald taking a breather as bowling coach for Warwickshire his countryman Shaun Pollock becomes another personal- contact signing, replacing Brian Lara.

It is surely a comment on domestic standards that this year there will be three overseas captains on the circuit, while a fourth, the Australian Michael Bevan, is deputy at Yorkshire.

Courtney Walsh has transformed Gloucestershire and revived his own career, and one suspects that the captaincy was the price for his contract. Dean Jones arrives at Derby after Kim Barnett's 13-year tenure. "We've known of Kim's wish to stand down for a year," said the Derby chief executive, Reg Taylor, "and we thought we could combine the captaincy with the overseas job. Dean is still a top-class player, but he's getting on a bit so there was less likelihood of him being whisked away for Test duty." The other foreign leader is the Western Australia skipper Tom Moody at Worcester.

Winston Benjamin, sent home from the 1995 tour of England in disgrace, gets a chance to revive his career with Hampshire; Carl Hooper will be aware of Aravinda de Silva's heroic deeds for Kent last year; Phil Simmons returns to Leicester, Ottis Gibson to Glamorgan and Curtly Ambrose to Northampton. The other familiar names are the Kiwis Dion Nash, back at Middlesex, and Chris Cairns at Nottingham, both ruled out of the Barbados Test with injury.

The roster is completed by the West Indian opener Sherwin Campbell (Durham), Australian all-rounder Stuart Law (Essex) and Barbadian fast bowler Vasbert Drakes (Sussex).

Eighteen stars are now arriving in the only cricketing country where three sweaters are the basis of a gentleman's early-season wardrobe. Come September, they'll all know more about how to beat England.