Two of England’s most important one-day players have made the decision to turn their back on red-ball cricket and sign a contract with their counties purely to play in the shorter form of the game.
Nottinghamshire announced that Alex Hales had signed such a deal yesterday, following on from Adil Rashid taking the same path with Yorkshire last week.
It is a move that has sparked much debate around cricket circles about the future of the game and, in particular, what this means for the longer format.
Focusing particularly on Rashid, it seems a strange time to take a break from first-class cricket in order to focus on white ball cricket for the 2018 season and perhaps beyond.
Firstly, if Rashid has completely lost the passion and interest for the longer game then there is clearly no point, from a Yorkshire perspective, to continue selecting him for the Championship and making him play if his heart is clearly not in it. Only Rashid will know if this is the case and it’s difficult therefore to say he’s making a mistake. It is however still a huge surprise to me that he’s made this decision.
He has failed to be signed by an IPL franchise, which would have clashed with the start of the Championship, nor has he been picked up by a Pakistan Super League side for another T20 tournament that concludes on 25th March. So he will effectively be twiddling his thumbs (he’s been on enough England tours to realise how frustrating that can be) following the one-day leg of the tour in New Zealand, until the start of June when the domestic 50-over competition gets underway.
It’s hard to see what he hopes to gain by not playing four-day cricket, or any competitive cricket at the start of the season. Surely he can only develop so much in the nets or on the practice wickets and even though the Championship schedule is hectic he could have made time for some specific one-day cricket training if he wanted that to be his primary focus. Yorkshire would probably have preferred a compromise rather than completely rule him out as a viable option for the County Championship.
It is a shame for the Championship as a spectacle to lose a player of this obvious talent with both bat and ball. It is a shame for Yorkshire to lose an important player who will have been integral to their plans in four-day cricket this season. It is even a shame for batsmen looking to develop their skills against quality spin bowling and they would certainly have been tested by the Yorkshire twirler.
It may be that Rashid feels hard done by with his inconsistent selection for England in the Test match arena, never really feeling like the main spin bowler in the team and that uncertainty and lack of trust placed in him has festered into his performances. He was England’s top wicket-taker during his last series in India back in 2016 when he took 23 wickets but couldn’t stop England slipping to a convincing 4-0 defeat.
He hasn’t been seen in a Test shirt since and has now watched as Mason Crane has nudged ahead of him in the pecking order. But with Crane still very much developing as a bowler and Moeen Ali coming under pressure following his dip in form during the Ashes, with the right attitude and level of performance Adil Rashid could certainly have put himself back in the mix. He is still only 29 years of age after all!
Perhaps the England selectors and skipper and club team mate Joe Root just do not see Rashid as a first-choice Test cricketer. They may have detected this lack of interest in the longer-form developing recently and have opted for alternatives to take the side forward in the future. The bizarre decision to select Liam Dawson ahead of him at the start of last summer was an unnecessary kick in the guts for Rashid. While you can understand any annoyance Rashid may have felt from that selection it should surely serve as a motivation to work harder, find that consistency in the longer form and prove the selectors wrong.
The leg-spinner’s Test record of 38 wickets at 42.78 does not demand selection. Even a first-class bowling average of over 35 does not do justice to a player that has his ability, but the fact he averages 33 with the bat in first-class cricket means he is a very useful multi-dimensional cricketer.
It is sometimes difficult to compute for the more traditional cricket follower that a player ever selects 50-over cricket and T20 cricket ahead of first-class cricket and the golden ticket that is Test cricket but Rashid clearly doesn’t share the same sentiment.
In some countries the disparity in pay can dictate a focus on short-form cricket but in England the players are generally very well recompensed. There will be a fear that the decision taken by Rashid and Hales may prompt the likes of Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan to consider following a similar path.
The other question is whether Yorkshire should have accommodated his request to be considered solely for one-day cricket. Loyalty to his years of service for the club may have been a consideration and the hope he will soon change his mind and return back to the four-day fray could also be behind their thinking.
He is also a key player in Yorkshire’s white-ball teams and has found consistency in these formats much easier to come by. Yorkshire will be exceptionally keen to retain his services for their attack on the one-day competitions.
Time will tell if this sets a precedent for further players to follow suit and sign one-day contracts with their counties. Many will hope this is very much an exception rather than becoming the rule.