There were times till recently, maybe 10 to 15 years back in cricket’s 100-year history, when players would unfailingly migrate to England every summer to play County cricket and learn how to play swing, fast, medium-fast bowling all through the three-month period. The weather would alternate between sunny to overcast conditions ideal for swing bowling. It was in those conditions one learnt to negotiate Freddie Truman, Brian Statham, John Snow and the likes.
The Hindu newspaper had space for County cricket scores every day on its Sports Page and so did Sports & Pastime once a week. You read about cricketers from all over the world who played for a County in England. You had Garfield Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishwanth, Eddie Barlow, Richie Benaud to name a few. Bobby Simpson played for Leicestershire and later for Lancashire. India’s Farooq Engineer played for Lancashire. The Nawab of Pataudi, both father and son, played for Somerset, West Indian Roy Marshall also played for Somerset and so on.
That’s where most batsmen learned to play swing bowling with climate most suitable for bowlers to move the ball in the air. Wasim Akram became the ‘Sultan of Swing’ playing for Lancashire. Zaheer Khan became a better bowler after playing for Worcestershire.
Even the 3 W’s – Everton Weeks, Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott – grew up playing for counties in their formative years. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar are among some of the Indian batsmen who played for Kent and Yorkshire respectively.
Over the last six years, after the start of Indian Premier League (IPL), fewer cricketers go to England to play County cricket. In fact, of late, no Test cricketer from India except Cheteshwar Pujara has gone to play County cricket. Although commercially there is nothing wrong with that, one has to see the damage it has done to Indian team visiting England on its last two tours.
India were washed out 4-0 in England in 201. In the first Test at Lord’s, Stuart Broad took 4 for 37 in first innings and James Anderson 5 for 65 to help England win the match.
In the 2nd Test, again pacers did the damage. In India’s first innings score of 288, Stuart Broad claimed 6 for 46 and India were skittled for 158 in less than 50 overs. This time Tim Bresnan took 5 for 48.
In Edgbaston, Birmingham, it was a repeat story with Broad 4 for 53 and James Anderson 4 for 85 completing the formalities in England’s win by an innings and 242 runs.
Only in the last Test at Oval, it was a spinner in offie Graeme Swann took 6 for 106 and hand over yet another innings defeat.
In 2014, India again lost the series in England, with fast bowlers keeping a tight leash on the visiting batsmen and spinner Moeen Ali emerging as the surprise wrecker.
Of late, Australians seemed to have a similar experience in England. They too have joined the bandwagon of those who forsake everything and play IPL except Michael Clarke, their ex-captain. Those who are a great success in IPL brand of cricket, Shane Watson, Steve Smith, Warner, Marsh brothers, etc, have all failed miserably to swing bowling in Test match cricket because they are not used to playing swing any more.
In 2015, England regained the Ashes beating Australia 3-2. Stuart Broad’s 8 for 15 in the 4th Test at Trent Bridge came off accurate swing bowling which put him at the top of Ashes best bowler ever. It was remarkable as England didn’t have the services of their main strike bowler James Anderson due to injury. It was one of the best spells of swing bowling that sealed Australia’s fate and the Ashes.
In Australia’s first innings score of 60, extras was 14 more than highest score of a batsman. Anderson, Broad, Steve Finn and Ben Stokes had remarkable bowling spells of fast and swing bowling to which the Australians had little or no reply. Run-machine David Warner looked totally out of sorts while negotiating Anderson, Broad and Stokes. It was Chris Rogers who saved the blushes for the Aussies many a time.
Current Australian coach Darren Lehman himself played for Yorkshire with distinction. He played seven seasons for the County and was a major contributor to the team’s success. He was mainly responsible for Yorkshire winning the County championship in 2001.
Much was expected of Glenn Maxwell after his great success in Australia especially in ODIs and T20Is, but he failed in England. Maxwell now has signed up with Yorkshire.
Whether more cricketers go to play County cricket or continue to play in the irresistible IPL remains to be seen, England seems to be the winner when it comes to playing Test cricket at home considering their recent performances.
India too seems to have rediscovered their strength in spin and have beaten South Africa in the first Test match at Mohali with Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra claiming 19 of the 20 wickets. It looked as if the famed spin trio of Erapalli Prasanna, Bishan Singh Bedi and Chandrasekhar was back on the field hunting together.
First Published: November 17, 2015, 12:53 PM IST