English County Cricket - breeding mediocrity or excellence?

I am an Australian who loves his cricket. As an Australian, I am happy at Australia's consistently high quality of play which has led them to be the top team for the past 12 years.

But as a lover of cricket, I know that unless other cricket playing nations develop high levels of excellence, the game will not survive.

Which is why I present to you Alan Ormrod. This stalwart of English county cricket played 500 (!) games of first class cricket between 1962 and 1985 for Lancashire and Worcestershire. During that time he took 400 catches and scored 23206 runs.

I think it's very important for younger and older cricketers to play with and against one another at first class level. It's all part of the learning and teaching process - the younger ones being taught by the attitudes and skills of the older ones.

But, in Alan Ormrod's case, what he unwittingly taught was mediocrity.

You see, Ormrod scored his runs at the unflattering average of 30.90, and he managed to do this for 23 years. In those years, English cricket moved from arguably the best team in the world into one of the worst. This, of course, was not Ormrod's fault (he never had the opportunity to play Test cricket), but his presence in the county cricket structure allowed him to play with and against future English Test players.

Ormrod, in my opinion, should have played no more than 100 first class games. He just wasn't good enough. I have no idea what the guy is doing these days but he really should never have been able to work as a professional cricketer.

Of course, I need to point out that, if I had played 500 first class games in that period, I would have scored not nearly as many runs as Ormrod did. That, however, is not the point. Yes Alan Ormrod was 14.3 times the cricketer that I could have been, but that does not mean that his 23 year career was somehow brilliant. It was actually worse than mediocre. Batsmen often get dropped for averaging in the 30s for too long.. but Ormrod managed to do it for over two decades.

Ormrod was, of course, not the only less than mediocre player who managed to forge a first class cricketing career in England. Harry Pilling is another one, as is David Smith. Modern players include Mark Hardinges (Gloucestershire) and Steffan Jones (Somerset), bowlers who have hardly set the world on fire.

The point that I am making is that English cricket does itself no favours by employing the services of the mediocre. These players will never play Test cricket and struggle to even make an impact on the first class game. They are, sadly, cannon fodder for the opposition, who are not forced to work hard to resist the lack of talent these players have. Their presence in English county cricket lowers its standard and hinders the development of top class players.

Many English commentators, including former players, are unhappy with the amount of foreign-born players who are now in English county cricket. They are unhappy because these players have taken a place in the team that could have been given to younger English players. Thus English cricket is hindered by the presence of foreigners.

Well, that's a load of garbage.

The fact is that for many decades, mediocre English players have been able to forge a career in cricket despite their lack of talent. Their presence in English county cricket has both kept out younger English players and talented foreigners. Their presence has lowered the standard of county cricket. By contrast, talented foreigners, who would replace these mediocre English players, raise the standard of the first class competition and allow a much better atmosphere for talented young English players to develop in.

At this present moment in time the English cricket team is arguably the second best international team. Also, at this present moment in time, English county cricket has filled up with foreign born players who are increasing the standard of play - some counties boast four non-England qualified players at a time. I think there is a relationship between the increase in foreign players and the better results of the English test team.

When younger players (whether English or foreign) are exposed to regular, high class, cricket, then they are more likely to succeed at the highest level - Test and One Day cricket. Moreover, if the rules were relaxed even further, and county teams were allowed to hire the services of any cricketer without restriction (even to the theoretical point of having an entirely foreign-born county team), then it would benefit English cricket even further.

© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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David Castor said...

Hmm, interesting. I suspect that this is what has helped keep European soccer so dominant for so many years.

One Salient Oversight said...

You're probably right. High class international players flock to Europe, thus making the competition there much tighter... and producing reasonably good national teams as a result.

The advantage with English County Cricket is that only one another Test playing nation has its domestic season at the same time (West Indies is the other one I think). This means that it can attract the best cricketers in the world.