Second import the answer to lifting county standards

The Wisden Trophy has been home for only nine days, the weather is stuck in mid-summer, the county championship is still technically undecided, but after its day in the sun last week, cricket has already slipped back into the autumn shadows.

The Wisden Trophy has been home for only nine days, the weather is stuck in mid-summer, the county championship is still technically undecided, but after its day in the sun last week, cricket has already slipped back into the autumn shadows.

The nearest it has come to producing a news story this week was when Brian Close gave his views on the new system of central contracts - "it's crackers". I reckon he was misheard - what he actually said was "it's a cracker". Either that or Close, once an independent-minded England captain, has become the worst kind of one-eyed old pro, too blinded by Yorkshire pride and prejudice to see any connection between England's victory over the West Indies and the fact that their main strike bowler stayed fit all summer for the first time. And anyway, Yorkshire won't miss Darren Gough until they prepare decent batting pitches. Any old Hamilton, Hoggard or Hutchison can take a hatful at Headingley.

Close's line is that the young players on the circuit won't learn unless they are playing against the best. It seems to have escaped his notice that many of the current England team are not big achievers at county level.

Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick, the batting finds of the moment, started the summer with career averages of 33 and 29 respectively. Mike Atherton hasn't made 1,000 runs in a season since 1995. Alec Stewart's loyalty to Surrey is undoubted, but he only turns it on for them about twice a season. Dominic Cork and Craig White were not picked on the strength of their county stats. Out of the 11 heroes of The Oval, only Graeme Hick and Andy Caddick are big fish in the small pool of county cricket.

It's true that the county game needs more players of the highest class, but the answer is not to rush them in from a Test match, like in the bad old days. The answer is to allow each county to sign a second overseas player.

They are liable to miss a chunk of the season, to play in Sri Lanka or Singapore, but not half as much of it as the England players. And the fashion for Australian second XI-ers has meant that some big stars from elsewhere have yet to be snapped up. Among the international stars not currently attached to a county, and not necessarily unavailable, are Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Abdur Razzaq, Shahid Afridi, Courtney Walsh, Jonty Rhodes, Shaun Pollock, Nantie Hayward, Ricky Ponting, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee, Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Carl Hooper (reported to be returning to the West Indies side for the winter), Chris Cairns, Stephen Fleming, Daniel Vettori, Heath Streak, Andy Flower, Javagal Srinath - that's one per county and a couple to spare.

A few may disappoint, as Sourav Ganguly has at Lancashire. But most will pay for themselves - and if each team has two, more of their time could be spent coaching and mixing with the kids.

The standard argument against more imports is that they take the place of young English players - debatable as counties are just as likely to give fringe places to ageing time-servers - but it's a view that can be dismissed altogether now that places are being vacated by England players - 15 or 16 of them next year, if Duncan Fletcher has his way, rather than 12.

Young players learn fastest when they are exposed to new ideas and sustained excellence. Overseas stars bring rather more of these commodities than solid English journeymen.

The moment that Hampshire's young batsmen will remember most vividly from their difficult summer will be the duel that Warne fought with Rahul Dravid when they played Kent.

It's too early to pass judgment on the two-division championship, but one thing has become clear in its first year: bonus points, never a great idea, are now an even worse one. Among the six teams jostling for promotion from the Second Division are two that have won only two of their 15 matches, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire. They haven't lost much either (Warwickshire twice, Notts three times) but they are essentially being rewarded for collecting draws and bonus points. The first rule of sporting leagues is that they should be simple; the second is that they should be an accurate reflection of quality. Bonus points are neither. If cricket had a dead-simple football-style system, three points for a win and one for a draw, there would only be four teams fighting for those last two promotion slots, and Warwickshire and Notts would not be among them.

That's it from me for another season. To end with, a useless fact. When Mike Atherton made that great 108 at The Oval, it was the first time he had ever reached a hundred in the third innings of a Test match. Strange but true.

Tim de Lisle is editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com.

News
Courtney Love has admitted using heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean Cobain, her daughter with Kurt Cobain
people
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness