PCA Report Into Overseas Players In Domestic Professional Cricket — 02/10/2003
The PCA AGM of 14th April this year was marked by an overwhelming majority vote taken by our members to the effect that the current regulations allowing two overseas players per county for the 2003 season and beyond was, for a number of reasons, unacceptable.
At the meeting, the PCA voted to begin a course of action aimed at persuading the First Class Forum (FCF) to reverse its decision to allow two overseas players, and to replace it with a new regulation limiting counties to one overseas player with substitutions only in the case of long-term (season ending) injury, or unexpected international call up.
We felt, though, that a comprehensive review of the arguments for and against overseas players, and limits imposed on their numbers, should be undertaken, and so delegated various personnel to this task throughout the summer.
Now that the season has ended, and with the FCF shortly to vote on whether to retain the present rule allowing two overseas players per county for the 2005 season, we now set out the results of our review, and, on behalf of our members - who are, let us not forget, the game's principal stakeholders - make a renewed call to bring an end to the current regulations.
The PCA's Aims
Before setting out the PCA's view on numbers of overseas players, we would like to make clear our underlying objectives.
It is unarguable that cricket is going through difficult times. The England team ultimately acquitted itself well this summer, but is still some way behind world leaders Australia. All manner of arguments continue about the structure of county cricket. It is common ground that the Academies are under threat, so too 2nd XI cricket, while Premier League and Minor County Cricket have not escaped the funding problems endemic in the game. If football appears largely to have weathered the sports rights storm - with its televisual value seemingly intact and rights fees as close to guaranteed as the market allows - this is far from the case with cricket, which faces the renegotiation of television rights, decreased revenue across the board as lottery funding slips and increased competition not merely from other sports but from the arts and entertainment industries.
In this context, the success of the England team is crucial. The national team is the source from which the well-being of the rest of cricket is derived. It is of paramount importance, therefore, that the England team does as well as it can, and that it is in a position to do as well as it can. The PCA recognises this and wants to act collectively with all the game's stakeholders for the benefit of the game as a whole.
If the future of cricket is uncertain, one thing is clear. The views of the PCA's members and the nation's desire for a successful England team coincide exactly on the issue of overseas players.
Overseas Players - Some Background
The debate over overseas players perennially raises its controversial head. As long ago as 1968, the counties allowed two overseas players to play, with one instantly registered while the other had to qualify by residence over two years. This was, of course, back in the days before EU law took much in its stride. But if the legal landscape of the late 1960s was different than it is now, the primary complaint about the presence of overseas players was the same.
Soon enough, there were rumblings in the game to the effect that having two overseas players meant an inevitable loss of opportunity for home-grown players, which could not but affect the well-being of the national team. The debate continued and, for a long time, so did the rule allowing two overseas players. No one at the PCA would contend that the likes of Viv Richards, Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan and Malcolm Marshall did not have a positive effect on the game, but, eventually, allowing two overseas players was recognised as being undesirable (for much the same reasons as it is now).
And so, towards the end of the 1980s, after sustained pressure from the media and former professionals, the regulations were changed to restrict the counties to one overseas player. Indeed, the rule was relatively draconian in that if the overseas player was unable to get to England, special consent was required to register a player in his place.
By the time of the 2003 season, yet another sea change had taken place, with the rule changed to allow two overseas players to be registered, with a maximum of four players allowed per county, in case of injury or international selection.
Many people prominent in the game have voiced their criticism of current situation, including, most recently, former England bowler Devon Malcolm, who said:
"All we are doing is feathering the nests of Australia and South Africa and others by acting as a finishing school for their Test candidates. You have to pay their wages, give them a car, rent them a flat, look after their families - where is all that money coming from? Instead of giving our best prospects experience in the County Championship, we are preparing these guys to come back one day and bite the hand that once fed them."
Malcolm's views are representative of a great many people in cricket today. Allowing two overseas players is a drain on resources for an already financially starved game, and is of a highly debatable benefit to the England team.
The EU Issue
The problem of two overseas players is compounded by the number of cricketers playing first class cricket who, because of their nationality, come under EU law - despite places of birth and homelands such as South Africa, Australia and Zimbabwe. It is not that countries such as Italy and Germany have suddenly started producing first class cricket-level cricketers, but rather that EU law - with its insistence on freedom of labour movement among member states - means that a number of players holding dual British and, for example, Australian nationality can exempt themselves from the overseas players category, by virtue of technical EU nationality. Phil Jacques is, of course, a case in point.
While there is nothing that can be done about EU law, without some fetter on numbers of overseas players it is conceivable that a situation could arise in which there are some 30 to 40 EU qualified players, and up to 70 overseas players. This would take more money out of the game than is currently being spent on the Academies. As this season finishes, some 22 cricketers with EU nationality have played for the first class cricket counties - none of whom were qualified for England. There were 55 overseas players contracted for the 2003 season.
Overseas Players - Representative Comments
The PCA canvassed the views not merely of the players but a number of other people within the game on the overseas player issue. The overwhelming majority of people spoken to, or who responded to the PCA's survey on the matter, were completely opposed to the idea of there being two overseas players. Most felt that only one player should be allowed and there was a not insignificant number who felt that enough was enough: we should impose a rule stating that no overseas players were allowed.
For example, England selector Geoff Miller:
"From a selection point of view, I end up watching a lot of our peripheral players. I can arrive at a ground and see two overseas batsmen on the field, being bowled at by an overseas bowler. While overseas players can improve domestic standards, I don't think in the mid to long term that this is the effect they're having. We need to identify our own fringe players and find a way to bring them on, and give them a larger role."
Similar disquiet was voiced by another England selector, David Graveney:
"The combination of overseas players and the growing number of domestic players who are able to play domestic cricket but not qualified to play for England means that the pool of players available for the national team is shrinking. The limit on overseas players should be reduced to one and greater control over substitutions should be introduced. What message is conveyed to younger players by allowing someone to flit in and out? The current trend of multiple choices within a season, and allowing a player to play for several clubs over a short period of time, is not an advantage to the game."
England coach Duncan Fletcher expressed the view that while overseas players can help to raise the standard of domestic cricket, those playing here "should not be captains, spin bowlers or wicket keepers" [i.e. playing in unique positions within a side].
Likewise, Rod Marsh, who felt that the current position was unsatisfactory from an England selectors' point of view, and hypothesised that perhaps only one overseas player should be allowed for Division 1 counties, with two permissible in Division 2.
These views were echoed, often with more vigour, from fans and county members - those in the grass roots of the game. Comments such as the following were common:
"Overseas players have helped English cricket, but allowing two per side has a negative impact. English places are being taken and as overseas players tend to be opening batsmen or bowlers, this will have a drastic impact on our potential to produce front-line players of our own."
"If we allow two overseas players, then only one should be allowed to play at any one time. Genuine internationals may not want to play 2nd XI cricket but asking them to battle for their place is not unreasonable."
"Coaches are so keen on results that they bring in so-called 'dual nationality' players, for example Craig Spearman [New Zealand and Gloucestershire]. The rules should state that a dual nationality player has to be eligible to play for England. The counties should not be developing talent for foreign countries. If the case for overseas players is that more fans turn up, that is only true for stars like Kallis and Mushtaq. Top quality overseas players should be used to help the development of youth players in England."
"While overseas players may enhance the attractiveness of the county game, this limits the opportunities for young English players, and this in turn can only have a negative impact on the number of quality players available for a Test side. A balance needs to be struck between providing quality entertainment for county spectators and giving opportunities to young England-qualified players. Perhaps a solution is in matching the allowance for overseas players with a minimum number of England-qualified players in the team for any one match."
Mike Smith, a former England and Warwickshire captain and a chairman at Warwickshire for 10 years, made some particularly telling comments. Smith cited the example of Dennis Amiss, who made his debut for Warwickshire Aged 17 in 1960. Five years later, he was still not an ever-present in the side, and was averaging 18. Warwickshire kept faith with Amiss and eight seasons after his debut he made his first championship 100. Subsequently, of course, Amiss went on to play for England.
Smith doubts that the counties would show similar commitment today:
"We are trying to produce an England test side but how can we, with the number of not-qualified for England players increasing all the time? We spend millions developing young players through the Academies and youth squads, but when they're 18 where are they going to play? How they can compete against an experienced overseas player?"
Smith calls for the number of overseas players to be reduced to one, with more stringent rules introduced on replacements and substitutions.
As he says: "The present situation is crazy, all the more so when finances are dependent on central funding and the success of the England team."
Overseas Players - The Arguments
In our review this summer, the PCA encountered no more than a handful of people who said that the fact that a county had overseas players persuaded them to attend a game. There is no proof that allowing two overseas players increases revenue, and, to endorse Devon Malcolm's comments, all the signs are that they cost more than they can ever hope to yield by way of sponsorship or greater spectator attendance.
The irony is that as cricket spends more money on the Academies - for now, at least - those who graduate from them are likely to find it difficult if not impossible to break into first-class cricket. If it is the case that the FCF can demonstrate - with concrete figures - that attendance is up because of overseas players, stars and otherwise, we at the PCA would like to see the evidence. Moreover, we would be very interested in seeing just how much is paid to overseas players, at a time when the game is facing all manner of financial problems.
To return to the PCA's ultimate agenda - to serve the good of English cricket, with particular emphasis on the national side - it is unarguable that having two overseas players reduces opportunity for domestic players, to the detriment of the England team. How can the England selectors hope to pick the best available English players, when there are so many overseas (not to mention dual nationality) cricketers on the field? How can it be helpful that so many overseas players take up specialist positions?
Another point made frequently this summer was the danger of overseas players'working out' against our own players, again to the detriment of our national side. It quite possible that the England selectors have witnessed games this season in which up to 60% of the players are not qualified to play for England.
Overseas Players - Conclusion
The PCA is not a reactionary, blinkered voice in the game. We are a modern, commercial entity that blends a belief in acting for the good of our members with a fundamental commitment to the good of cricket. The two things are one and the same - especially with regard to the overseas players issue.
Our review of this issue took on board the views not merely of the players but also of fans, county members and England selectors. Our own review of the merits and demerits of the current situation showed clearly that the rule should be changed, to allow for a maximum of one overseas player per county to be signed, with a replacement only once in a season owing to injury or international call up. It is nothing short of madness to continue with the present regulations because:
- Cricket is facing serious financial challenges with a need to generate new revenue streams. Overseas players under the current regulations are too great a drain on resources; and
- Overseas players deprive home-grown players of opportunities, therefore limiting choice for the England selectors; this ultimately has a detrimental effect on the national side.
The FCF will be shortly be voting on the issue of whether two overseas players should be allowed for the 2005 season. On behalf of our members, the players, and on behalf of all of cricket's stakeholders, the PCA urges the counties to vote in line with the views of the vast majority of people within cricket, and to abandon the present regulations. There may be much that is unclear about English cricket's future, but one thing is clear: its future is only safe if we foster home-grown talent.