Overseas associate players

The news this week that Nepali star leg-spinner Sandeep Lamichhane had signed with Worcestershire for the T20 Blast has been very well received, particularly amongst followers of associate cricket. With associate players previously essentially banned from county cricket due to the ECB's rules on which players they will give a visa endorsement to, this appeared on the surface to be a change that could give associate players more opportunities in professional cricket.

However as is often the case, the truth is a little more complicated. The previous rule was that only players who had played one Test match or 15 ODIs/T20Is (12 for women's players) for a full member nation in the previous 36 months could play as overseas players in county cricket. This rule hasn't been changed to allow associate players to have played the required amount of ODIs or T20Is to play.

Instead, in order to allow the top talent from franchise T20 competitions around the world to play in the Hundred and the T20 Blast, an additional criterion has been added stating that players who have played 20 List A T20 games in a full member can now be registered as overseas players.

So rather than opening the doors for associate cricketers, this instead allows just a handful who already play on the global franchise circuit to play. USA's Ali Khan and Singapore's Tim David would be the most notable players this change impacts, other than Lamichhane.

Whilst the rule is meant to ensure that only the best players play as overseas players, this is not always the effect. Counties were trying to sign Mohammad Nabi for years before Afghanistan became a full member only to be prevented by the ECB's rules. They were trying to sign him because they new he was one of the best T20 players in the world, irrespective of where he came from. There is no guarantee that any player from a full member is better than the best associate players.

Other domestic competitions, particularly the franchise T20 circuit, are slowly beginning to recognise the talent that exists in associate cricket. It's time for the ECB to catch up.

Continuing Covid Cancellations

As I predicted in this very column earlier this month, there have been more cancellations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The European Cricket League for 2021 has been cancelled, whilst the German Cricket Federation on Friday announced the postponement of a quadrangular series against Spain, France and Norway that had been planned for May.

More worryingly, qualifiers for men, women and Under-19s in Asia and Africa have been postponed - even cancelled in one case. With new variants seemingly emerging faster than the vaccine programme in some countries, these likely won't be the last events to be delayed.

The last thing anyone will want is for the ICC to use their ranking system to decide any qualifiers. But they're fast running out of time, and it seems unlikely that they'll postpone the final tournaments again. It's going to take an almighty logistical effort.

Baseball and cricket

Earlier this week I enjoyed reading Edward Liddle's piece on the match between Ireland and a group of American baseball players in 1874.

The intersection between cricket and baseball has always been a fascination of mine, with the fact that George Wright (who played in the Ireland match) is the only man to have played first-class cricket and Major League Baseball being one of my favourite pieces of sporting trivia.

There was a lot of overlap between the two sports in the latter decades of the 19th century but interactions involving players at the highest level such as the 1874 tour are largely a thing of the past. There's the odd moment where a player may try out the other sport, the most notable of which was was a brief net session by Babe Ruth on a visit to London in 1935 where he impressed onlookers but balked at taking cricket further when he discovered that the pay for the top professionals was much lower than in baseball.

More recently in 2008, the Great Britain national baseball team - who are very much not the equivalent of the US cricket team in terms of skill level, no offence intended - took on a team of cricket players as part of Marcus Trescothick's benefit year. As well as Trescothick, "Banger's All-Stars" featured England players Geraint Jones, Ashley Giles and Craig Kieswetter.

Kieswetter impressed the GB baseball coach the most, saying that he would be a prospect had he been a couple of years younger. However, the rest of the team didn't exactly cause MLB scouts to pay attention. Unable to overcome their cricketing instincts, they played cover drives - which end up as foul balls in baseball - and Arul Suppiah played some wonderful backfoot defensive strokes, which are essentially useless in baseball. Amusingly, one player threw the ball in the air after taking a catch - catching was surprisingly poor from players used to fielding without a glove - failing to realise that the ball remains live after a catch in baseball and players can score.

How did the cricketers do? They lost 21-1. So much for the argument that cricketers could easily make the transition.