Indian players in England’s County Championship has a bigger picture

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Cheteshwar Pujara scored his third double century for Sussex this summer. Washington Sundar returned with figures of 5/76 on his county debut for Lancashire. Navdeep Saini sizzled with a 5fer of his own on his debut for Kent. Umesh Yadav lighted up the County Championship with a ripper of a delivery to get his first wicket for Middlesex. It’s an English summer, and Indian cricket’s shining bright, innit?

The four Indian players featuring in the English red ball domestic season currently have earned headlines for not just being involved but being at the centre of all the action. India may have lost the one-off Test to England in Edgbaston and their chance to win a fourth Test series in the country but their representatives are making a strong case of how far off Indian cricket has come in the oldest format of the game. It seems like the conditions have really been thrown out of the game, just as former India coach Ravi Shastri had asked for. And it isn’t just about an Indian team, but the players doing it on their own as well.

Let’s start with the star profile, Cheteshwar Pujara this County Championship. The 34-year old has scored 997 runs across 10 innings at an average of 126.62. Sir Don Bradmon is sure to have a smile watching this lad from the cricketing heavens up above. Every time Pujara has crossed the 50 run mark, he has went on to score runs in triple figures. An occurrence that has happened five times, three of which have been converted into double hundreds. He has scored the most runs for his team, and is third in the tally for most runs in division two of the Championship this season.

Pujara worked his way out into India’s XI for a series deciding Test match following a superb start to the county cricket season with Sussex, and was the highest run scorer in the second innings of the Edgbaston Test. With his 66 off 242 deliveries while opening the batting for India, Pujara looked at his comfortable best in the middle, as he has for most parts of this county season. He isn’t the only one though.

Two Indian bowlers made their debut in the County Championship this week, both of them picking a 5fer. Washington Sundar was one of the darlings of India’s historic win in the Gabba Test, following which he had prominent outings with the bat in the home series against England. Injury hasn’t been kind to the player who was seen as a promising addition in India’s Test team. But who knows, maybe Sundar has begun a Pujara-esque comeback of his own from red ball cricket in England. The start of which was with a five-wicket haul for Lancashire on day 1 at office. Sundar was playing for a team that he chose for playstation cricket, and it was almost as if he was doing the same on field, picking wickets at will.

Navdeep Saini was also part of India’s XI in the Gabba Test, and was not so long ago seen as the next big thing in Indian cricket. Maybe he will earn that reputation back from this English summer, having started with a 5fer as well. Bowling in his maiden innings for Kent, Saini registered figures of 5/72 against Warwickshire, showcasing a combination of his bowling ammo from pace, bounce, movement and accuracy.

Umesh Yadav is the eldest in the boy band called the Indian pace attack. The 34-year old hasn’t been in the middle of the action as much as he’d want to be, but is still very much a bowler India can turn up to anytime. Just like they did in the fourth Test against England last year at The Oval. As a result of which they got six wickets. Yadav, who hadn’t played in the first three Tests, looked as in rhythm as any of the pacers who had. And so when he sent Taylor Cornall’s off stump flying to grab his first county wicket for Middlesex, it wouldn’t have come as much of a surprise for anyone watching. His involvement though, goes beyond just making impact with the ball.

“He comes to us with a wealth of experience, he is a proven world-class performer, and can not only make a huge difference himself for the remainder of our Championship campaign and to our prospects in the Royal London Cup but will also be a fantastic role model for our younger bowlers to work alongside,” Middlesex’s Head of Men’s Performance Cricket, Alan Coleman had said about the Indian speedster.

The new normal in red ball cricket?

The next few months are going to be glittery in the eyes with white ball cricket. The ODI World Cup is less than a year away. The T20 World Cup, closer. India just got the better of England in a three-match T20I and as many ODIs series, and have now moved to play three ODIs and five T20Is. That series leads to a three-match ODI tour of Zimbabwe, which will be followed by a T20 Asia Cup and eventually the World Cup. There are slots for the taking in both formats and a scramble is underway.

In parallel, are the outings that we’ve seen from Indian players in England’s red ball domestic season. Performances that may or may not end up earning them a place in the Indian Test team but more importantly, do open up a space for more players looking to focus on the five-day format. It isn’t the first English County Championship season that has hosted Indian players. It sure won’t be the last. Multi-format players are reducing by the day and for those seeking India’s whites more than blues, a serious thought can be given on playing in multiple domestic tournaments around the world.

Conditions in cricket matter even more with the red ball and five days of play. It would only make sense for a team that wants to compete in Tests across the globe in differing conditions, to have its players play more in them. With where cricket is headed, that should be the new normal.





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