Home > Features > Facts and figures >

India tour of England 2014: Is county cricket really the answer for Indian batsmen?

(From top-left) Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly all went through county stints without definitive results © Getty Images
(Clockwise) Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly all went through county stints without a huge impact on their eventual abilities © Getty Images

Among the many corrective actions prescribed for the floundering Indian team, one major advice is for batsmen to play county cricket. In fact Cheteshwar Pujara has already got the nod of the BCCI for spending the rest of the summer in England turning out for a county outfit. Arunabha Sengupta looks at the data to find out whether that guarantees a better performance in England and elsewhere.

There have understandably been plenty of doubts about the performance and future of the Indian cricket team in the wake of their hat-trick of tame surrenders. And suggestions have come thick and fast, both from past cricketers and from followers of the game.

As can be expected, some of the voices have recommended reasonable corrective actions, while a handful of reactions have been predictably driven by panic and echo effect.

One recurrent advice — perhaps ranking only behind the demand for the head of MS Dhoni, and at par with the calls for dismantling of the Indian Premier League — has been to make the batsmen experience the English conditions through stints in  county cricket. Experts have harped on this and fans have echoed with gusto. In fact, Cheteshwar Pujara has already been given the green signal to spend the remainder of the English summer playing in the county fields.

As is often the case, the wisdom of turning out in the county seems so obvious that one has seldom paused to find out whether it is indeed the solution. We tend to look back at the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s when cricketers travelled to England in hordes and took part in high-quality matches. Nothing could be a better education than facing Malcolm Marshall while playing Hampshire and Joel Garner when doing battle with Somerset, while Clive Rice and Richard Hadlee bowled in tandem when your side went to Trent Bridge.

Sadly, the quality of the championship matches is not the same today. But we still tend to look at Sachin Tendulkar spending a year for Yorkshire, Rahul Dravid for Kent, VVS Laxman several for Lancashire. The assumption is that players flocked to the county circuit because it benefitted their games and it was a rich learning experience, and the new clutch of batsmen can only gain from following such exemplary footsteps. After all, can we ignore that lack of experience in the English conditions led to the batting disasters in the last three Tests?

In saying so we make some assumptions. We take it as given that after time spent playing for a county outfit, one gets sufficiently used to the English conditions to face the England Test bowlers in their country. Additionally, the summers spent there will also bring in enough skill and knowhow to stand in good stead when playing around the world.

The gift of timing

Cricketers from the world over used to flock to England for a very understandable reason. Cricket in the island is played from May to September, while the rest of the world used to enjoy their seasons between October and March. Only in West Indies did we see the game played well into late April.

England was further north than any other cricketing nation, and this made their playing season disjoint from the others. For professional cricketers, it was an excellent opportunity to remain in touch with the game while making some money. That is why we used to witness such an exodus of talent to England in the summer, while instances of overseas cricketers playing the Sheffield Shield or Currie Cup or Ranji Trophy were much less common. Obviously with so many very good to great cricketers in the same land, any youngster could use this as an excellent learning opportunity and for sharing notes.

However, with cricket calendars getting stretched and overlapping, the urge to travel to England to keep oneself occupied has grown increasingly less frequent. And there are of course the additional factors of IPL and other private leagues which tend to clash and coincide with much of the English season. With huge opportunities for earning, as well as learning — can one point out a greater galaxy of cricketers in any event other than the IPL? — the county circuit has indeed lost much of its appeal.

Does it really improve the batting?

Now, let us consider the question of cricketing benefits. Does county experience really benefit the batsmen, or more specifically, the Indian batsmen? What do the numbers say?

It is not very difficult to test the veracity of this belief. It turns out that we have a rather small number of distinguished batsmen who have unfurled their willows for county sides during the summer. And their career trends cannot tell us with any degree of certainty that the experiences have had a significant effect.

We do have the recent example of Gautam Gambhir, whose five match stint with Essex in 2013 was followed by his 25 runs from the four outings at Manchester and Oval. However, we will ignore him and such other small samples and consider only men who have played a decent number of games in the English summer.

The first name on the list is that of the Nawab of Pataudi junior, who played  for Oxford University and then Sussex from the late 1950s till 1970. Most of his Test career panned out while he was a regular county player. During this time he appeared in only three Tests in England and did reasonably well. And after his county days, he played seven more Tests in India and hardly did anything of note with the bat. His average, nearly 37 in Tests during his county days, was a mere 22 in the latter period. Did county cricket help him? There is no way to make out.

Abbas Ali Baig was another Oxford University man who later turned out for Somerset. During his brief career, he had a great start to his Test career before he signed his county contract. And then his performance spiralled downhill. During and after his county days, his performance for India was well-nigh abysmal. And he played his only matches in England before west county summers. Hence, once again we cannot say that the experience made him a better player. All the evidence, in fact, is to the contrary.

The following example is one of the most striking. Sunil Gavaskar played for Somerset during the summer of 1980, turning out for them on 15 occasions. Before that he had already been a great name, with his 63 Tests bringing him runs at 56.35, the 10 in England at 47.52. If the days with Somerset helped him, it is extremely difficult to prove with numbers. His 62 remaining Test matches after the summer saw his average drop to 45.08 and the six Tests in Ole Blighty witnessed a painful struggle and runs scored at a paltry 27.66.

The man who delighted the English crowd the most during his days under the sun was Mohammad Azharuddin. He spent four seasons for Derby, played 30 matches and scored over 2000 runs at an average over 50. It was also the manner of his scoring that regaled the spectators more than the amount of runs. Strangely Azhar, who had enjoyed himself in the six Tests in England before his county stint, scoring at 58.30, managed a pathetic 8.40 in the Tests of 1996. His overall Test batting average, which had been 51.31 before the Derby experience, also went down through his county days, and thereafter. There were a number of exceptional innings after the 1996 tour, but his consistency never quite matched the early years. Once again, here was a batsman whose English experience could in no way be said to have helped his career – in England or elsewhere.

Finally we come to the ‘fab four.’

Sachin Tendulkar famously became the first overseas professional for Yorkshire and played 16 matches for them in 1992. Before the stint he had played just 16 Tests and had just edged his batting average past 40, with memorable heroics in Australia. After the summer he went on scoring runs with appetite and brilliance rarely matched in the history of the game, his next 184  Tests bringing him runs at 54.81 in a startling signature of greatness. However, this can hardly be attributed to a summer in Yorkshire. It could have been one of the many, many reasons, but  the chief among them was his genius. In England he had already played three Tests in 1990 scoring at 61.25 including his first ever Test century. Over the years he played 14 more, and maintained an average of 54.81. As in the case of Sourav Ganguly and Dravid, we notice that he had always enjoyed his stint in England to almost the same degree. There is too little evidence to say that his Yorkshire experience altered his numbers in England.

Ganguly is one of the most interesting examples in this study. He first turned out for Lancashire in 2000, playing 14 matches for them. Before that he had played 35 Tests and scored at an impressive 45.54, while his two Tests in England had seen him notch two hundreds – including one on debut – and enjoy an average of over 100 in the country. After that he turned out for Glamorgan in 2005 and Northamptonshire in 2006, in his second, although broken, tenure in county cricket. In between the two stints, he played 47 Tests in which he scored at a mediocre 37.03, including an extended barren patch over multiple seasons. In England, however, there were four Test matches between these two periods and  he made runs freely at 58.50.

The second two-summer stint coincided with some ordinary Test matches at 38 per innings before he came back to score at 46.30 in the final 25 Tests of the post-2006 period. The three Tests in England during this period also got him runs at 49.80.

The two county phases of Ganguly demonstrate little evidence of any consistent effect of the English experience — the former witnessed a downswing of fortunes and the latter an upswing. As far as performances in England are concerned, we are hampered by small samples, but just like Tendulkar he scored with fluent  regularity before and after his county days.

Dravid played a season for Kent in 2000, which was pivotal for the Indian fortunes, because the maestro came in contact with future coach John Wright. Dravid, had already established himself in the side with 37 Tests, scoring at 47. The two Tests he had played in England had also seen him score a couple of superb knocks that ended just short of centuries. After the summer, he scored at 53.95 during the remaining 127 matches of his career. Like Tendulkar, it was natural improvement with maturity, and one can perhaps correlate just a tiny portion of his progress the county experience. As far as England is concerned, Dravid made runs there with the same felicity right through to the end of his career. There is no concrete evidence to suggest that his later English runs were because of the Kent days.

Finally, we come to Laxman, who spent three years playing for Lancashire. In the case of this classy artist, the last few years saw him become way more prolific than he had been for the first decade of his career. Before his county days he had played 83 Tests scoring at 42.71, and hitched the average up to 52.66 during his stint, while after the experience went on scoring merrily, averaging 48.57 for the last 29 Tests. However, even if we can perhaps think of attributing his journey from a delectable artist to a splendid one to his county stint, his performance in England – 44.88 in seven Tests – reached a trough after his experience – 22.75 in four matches. Did the county experience help his performance in England? The evidence seems to be opposite. Yes, age was indeed catching up with him by then.

County experience: Does it really help batsmen?

Batsman details

Career Trend

Before Playing County

While Playing County

After Playing  County

Name

County

Period

Matches

 

T

Ave

T

Ave

T

Ave

MAK Pataudi

Sussex

1957-70

82

Overall

-

-

39

36.98

7

21.90

In  Eng

-

-

3

44.83

-

-

AA Baig

Somerset

1960-62

23

Overall

5

34.20

3

8.50

2

13.00

in Eng

2

41.25

Sunil Gavaskar

Somerset

1980

15

Overall

63

56.35

-

-

62

45.08

in Eng

10

47.52

-

-

6

27.66

M Azharuddin

Derbyshire

1991-94

30

Overall

41

51.31

21

39.30

37

41.41

In  Eng

6

58.30

-

-

3

8.40

SR Tendulkar

Yorkshire

1992

16

Overall

16

41.56

184

54.81

In  Eng

3

61.25

14

53.20

Sourav Ganguly

Lancashire

2000

14

Overall

35

45.54

-

-

47

37.03

In  Eng

2

105.00

4

58.50

Sourav Ganguly (contd.)

2nd stint

Glamorgan and Northamptonshire

2005-6

9

Overall

+

+

6

38.86

25

46.30

In  Eng

+

+

-

-

3

49.80

Rahul Dravid

Kent

2000

16

Overall

37

47.01

-

-

127

53.95

In  Eng

2

62.33

-

-

11

69.94

VVS Laxman

Lancashire

2007-9

18

Overall

83

42.71

22

52.66

29

48.57

In Eng

7

44.88

-

-

4

22.75

From the records of all these stalwarts, we glean very little reason to say either that county experience helps bolster batting performances in England or that it significantly influences a batsman’s record around the world. A spectacular rise was seen in Dravid’s career graph immediately after the county stint, but a much more reasonably attributable cause was the visit of Zimbabwe against whom he hit 200 not out, 70 not out and 162 in two Tests.

All-round view

In contrast, when we look at the all-rounders, we do notice at least some improvement of batting figures both overall and in England.

Farokh Engineer played county cricket for Lancashire for the second half of his career, and although there was just marginal improvement in his overall numbers, his figures in England did rise quite steeply. Kapil Dev also underwent a great deal of improvement as a batsman during his county stint for Northamptonshire and Worcestershire, and the momentum was sustained till the end of his career. Ravi Shastri, while not quite improving his batting numbers post county cricket, did perform much better in England.

The performances in England for each of these three gentlemen consist of too few Test matches to conclude anything of significance. However, we can probably infer that an all-rounder who is not expected to deliver with the bat that often in Test matches, is given far more responsibility as the overseas professional and that leads to a more focused approach to his batting.

County experience: Does it help the batting of all-rounders?

All rounder details

Career Trend

Before Playing County

While Playing  County

After Playing County

Name

County

Period

Matches

 

T

Ave

T

Ave

T

Ave

FM Engineer

Lancashire

1968-76

164

Overall

23

30.59

23

31.57

-

-

In  Eng

3

32.66

6

40.77

Kapil Dev

Northamptonshire,

Worcestershire

1981-85

40

Overall

32

26.74

36

33.42

63

31.94

In  Eng

4

7.50

3

73.00

6

37.62

Ravi Shastri

Glamorgan

1987-91

60

Overall

54

36.22

18

33.66

8

38.16

In  Eng

6

41.00

3

67.20

-

-

Manoj Prabhakar

Durham

1995

17

Overall

36

32.39

-

-

3

36.66

In Eng

3

33.00

-

-

-

-

Hence in conclusion, is it really prudent to send your batsmen to the county pastures in the aftermath of failure in England? Well, it can be worth trying and will definitely not be a negative experience. But there is absolutely no ground for saying with any degree of certainty that the result will be fruitful.

If we really think about it, why should county cricket have such a reputation as a finishing school? Would it not have made infinitely more sense for Dravid to spend more time in South Africa, a country where he never really came to terms with the bounce, pace and accuracy? Would it not have been far more practical for several Indian batsmen of the 70s and 80s to try and get into the Shell Shield sides in the Caribbean? Would the Australian board not have been better served trying to wheedle a slot for Ricky Ponting in the Ranji Trophy than seeing him pack off to Somerset and Surrey?

The cricket world does not operate that way. As stated earlier, the timing of the English season made it ideal for the professionals to play and earn there. And along with the talent there flowed a storehouse of wisdom in which to dip  one’s cricketing experience. But direct returns in mountains of runs? There are plenty of reasons to doubt anything like that will ever take place.

Catch all the coverage of India’s tour to England here

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

Bangladesh Tour of West Indies, 2014

Sep 13, 2014 (19:30 IST)   at Gros Islet, St Lucia

World T20 League 2014

Sep 16, 2014 (16:00 IST)   at Raipur

World T20 League 2014

Sep 16, 2014 (20:00 IST)   at Raipur

World T20 League 2014

Sep 17, 2014 (20:00 IST)   at Hyderabad

World T20 League 2014

Sep 18, 2014 (20:00 IST)   at Mohali

More

World T20 League 2014

Sep 14, 2014  at Raipur

Mumbai Indians won by 9 wkts

World T20 League 2014

Sep 14, 2014  at Raipur

Northern Knights won by 72 runs

World T20 League 2014

Sep 13, 2014  at Raipur

Lahore Lions won by 6 wkts

World T20 League 2014

Sep 13, 2014  at Raipur

Northern Knights won by 7 wkts

Scotland tour of Ireland, 2014

Sep 12, 2014  at Dublin

Scotland won by 8 wkts

Photos

India tour of England 2014: Highlights

Videos

Ryan Sidebottom credits the whole Yorkshire team

Lendl Simmons, Michael Hussey script comfortable win for Mumbai Indians over Southern Express in CLT20 2014 qualfiers

Northern Knights demolish hapless Lahore Lions by 73 runs in CLT20 qualifiers

West Indies vs Bangladesh, Live Cricket Score 2nd Test Day 2: Bangladesh reeling at 104/7 at Stumps

CLT20: A statistical overview

Rahul Dravid’s dismissal had infuriated Dilip Sardesai on his deathbed

Bangladesh Bangladesh vs West Indies 2014 Champions League T20 2014 CLT20 CLT20 2014 Lahore Lions vs Mumbai Indians Lahore vs MI MI vs Lahore Mumbai Indians Mumbai Indians vs Lahore Lions Mumbai Indians vs Southern Express Southern Express Southern Express vs Mumbai Indians West Indies West Indies vs Bangladesh 2014

Bangladesh A bowler takes nine wickets in an innings

Bangladesh left gasping at 104/7 at stumps on Day 2 of 2nd Test after Kemar Roach fifer ensures West Indies advantage

CLT20: Kieron Pollard expresses need to improve fielding

Mohammad Aamer ties the knot

Bangladesh 25/1 against West Indies at Tea on Day 2 of 2nd Test

Wasim Akram’s burgeoning voodoo continues to inspire left-arm pacers

PCB vows to put in own system to catch illegal actions at an early stage

Cape Cobras in CLT20 2014 Preview: South African unit high on quality

Northern Knights vs Lahore Lions in CLT20 qualifiers: Highlights

Men who have played over a quarter of the Tests for their teams

Fan of the Day

Suraj Gowda

Suraj Gowda

635 Posts | 7 Fans

Yuvraj Singh in Anupam Kher show

Kangana Ranaut all set to direct a chick flick based on her own life experiences!

Rekha wants her upcoming film Super Nani’s trailer to be attached to Sonam Kapoor’s Khoobsurat

Champions League T20 (CLT20) 2014: Mumbai Indians register 9-wicket win against Southern Express

Bangladesh A bowler takes nine wickets in an innings

Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon India to vie for Android One market

Everything you should know about Android One

Friends can influence your young child’s sexual habits

Latest Ebola News: Doctor dies at Sierra Leone due to delayed treatment

Manchester United vs QPR: Man United registers first win under Louis van Gaal in Barclays Premier League 2014-15

International programme in Animal Husbandry

Also on cricketcountry.com

Play Fantasy Cricket & Win

Cash Daily! Click here