As the cricket season rapidly approaches, talk turns to the XI that will begin in each competition. Naturally, this leads on to the overseas debate – who should the club be looking to sign, in the t20 Blast, in order to bolster the squad. Last year, it was Gayle (a disappointment), Jayawardene (better in the RLODC than the t20) and Yasir Arafat (let’s not go there). Somerset’s overseas players have not had a major impact on the side in recent years, with even Gayle’s 328 runs in three games being slightly overshadowed by the fact it was only three games – not long enough to make a significant impact on the side. Whilst Dean Elgar is available for all formats of the game, his recent South Africa form means he may be missing for at least the test matches against England in the summer. Looking at the squad for this season though, I have reason to believe that Somerset don’t actually need an overseas player…
There are many benefits with having overseas players – the boost they bring to ticket sales, the boost to the squad, and the simple impact of their performances.
Despite these strong points, I believe they do not apply to Somerset. The loyal supporters of the Cidermen pretty much sell out the Cooper Associates County Ground no matter what the form is or who’s playing. Also, I don’t believe it to be absolutely necessary to the sales that you have a figurehead of an overseas – surely a more effective campaign would be built around the fact the current Somerset squad has plenty of homegrown talent. Appeal to the locals who will come and watch, not Sky who may show up for the odd game.
Also, whilst the overseas player has a definite impact in the changing room, who’s to say it is a guaranteed positive one? All professional sportsmen have egos – it’s a necessary to achieve success. And we all know ego’s clash. What’s to say that the arrival of an overseas player doesn’t ruin the dressing room camaraderie, affecting all formats of the game. Whilst Maynard and the other coaches involved in the selection process will do character references, nothing is guaranteed. I don’t think it’s beneficial to have a situation like last year, where the club captain Chris Rogers had a public spat with Chris Gayle. Whilst the former did not play the shorter format, it’s not a great situation for the club to be in.
Finally, impact on the side. If an overseas is to sign, they need to be available for the whole campaign in order to have a significant impact on the side – and that is going to be hard to get. I think there are only two positions Somerset could benefit from an overseas in: number four in the batting line up (if Allenby and Steve Davies open as expected), and an experienced seam bowler who keeps it tight. But we all know how difficult these will be to sign, and even if we did, how difficult it would be to have them available throughout the campaign. So is it worth the financial outlay?
So, whilst I am not opposed to the signings of overseas, they need to conform to the factors above. Whilst Somerset are an extremely successful club financially, and sell out t20 games whatever, the decision needs to be a rational, tactical one rather than based simply on commercial value. Chris Gayle for 3 games, or George Bartlett for a season – short term or long term, “mercenary” or home-grown? I know which one I prefer.