The original trend of playing county cricket in England was started by Nawab of Pataudi who would often go to England in his free time to play there. However, it was Farokh Engineer who showed the way forward for Indians who wanted to gain experience and work on their technique by playing rigorously in England. The legendary Indian wicket-keeper batsman played 164 matches for Lancashire in between 1968 and 1976 amassing over 5000 runs while also taking 406 catches and effecting 31 stumpings. Farokh Engineer also went on to become a permanent fixture for the Indian side for almost 7-8years. What’s more he even became the first-choice wicket-keeper for the Rest of the World XI.
Remember your mom-dad shouting at you and warning you to send you to hostel for a few years to make you alright? Remember your friends or parents forcing you to join a particular school/college so that you can hone your skills properly. County Cricket is just like that to cricketers. Playing county cricket is like ideal school for aspiring as well as international cricketers where players hone their skills and bring their form back by grinding under pure test conditions on hostile foreign wickets of England against quality bowlers around the world on difficult tracks.
Out of over 331 players who have represented the Indian National Team in Cricket, only 35players have played county cricket and 80% of them are the ones who went on to become great test cricketers of all time. County Cricket is an old world quintessential english platform where you can become a better cricketer, practice hard by playing long tests, T20’s and One Dayer’s representing state level teams of England against a variety of bowlers under hard pitch conditions which are most of the times testing for a batsman.
1. Farokh Engineer- Lancashire from 1968 to 76
One of the finest players of Indian Cricket who is still missed today by the cricket lovers scored over 5000runs with 406catches and 31stumpings in 164 County Games. It was his stint abroad in county cricket which helped him perform confidently against the powerful bowling attacks of England, West Indies and Australia. Farokh himself admitted many a times a major reason for his improvement all the time has been the sheer practice he did in county cricket.
2. Mohamad Azharuddin-Derbyshire in 1991 to 1993
Azharuddin was regarded as one of the most stylish, wristy and classy batsman India has ever produced. During the early phase of his career, he decided it’s time for him to make himself prepared for the overseas tours and as a result he almost played for 4months at a stretch for Derbyshire smashing 10fifties and 8 hundreds in 29 County Matches. Post his stint with county cricket, Azhar played another 79Tests for India at a batting average of 51.02 smashing 19hundreds.
3. VVS Laxman- Lancashire in 2007
VVS Laxman, the ideal successor of Azharuddin had a rough patch in 2006 and he immediately went to Lancashire and worked on his flaws, played rigorous cricket and got his form back. Laxman smashed 6hundreds in 18matches at an average of 61.79 and from then on he became a permanent fixture in the Indian side for almost 8 years playing at a batting average of 54.00 post county cricket. His prior county cricket batting average for India was 45.98.
4. Rahul Dravid-Kent in the summer of 2000
Rahul who debuted in 1999 knew that he is going to play for almost 2decades in different batting conditions abroad against the toughest of bowlers in the world. It was quite evident that he was fully prepared for a thumping International career and as a result he chose to go to Kent and score over a thousand runs in 16 County Matches while also got that much needed confidence in him to face the powerful Australia in Tests in the same year where he piled on runs at an average of 61.83 in 13 Tests in the year of 2000/01.
5. Kapil Dev- Lancastshire before the 1983 World Cup,
Kapil Dev was a regular County Player and whenever he got time he would not think twice before heading to Lanacashire. The Indian legend scored over 2000+ runs and took 100wkts in 40 County Matches. It was also his rigorous cricket just before the world cup of 1983 that he performed brilliantly in the World Cup Matches while also brought home the 1st ever World Cup Trophy for India.
6. Bishan Singh Bedi- Northamptonshire between 1972 to 76
Bishan Singh Bedi was a genuine lover of county cricket. Whenever he had a gap of atleast 30-35 spare days, he would not waste a single day without playing competitive county cricket when he was at the peak of his career. One of the most loved spinners of India also took 394 County Wickets at an average of 21.16 and it was his constant practice day in and day out which made him a fantastic spinner for India. Once in an interview-Bishan Singh Bedi’s wife said- when Bishan Singh was at the peak of his career, a phase which lasted for almost 7years, he played cricket 31days in a month, just travelling everywhere.
7. Saurav Ganguly- Surrey, Glamorgan, Lancashire and Northamptonshire
Dada played for 4teams between 2000 and 2006 and he was one of the main beneficiors after Zaheer Khan which helped him revive his career. Post his stint with county cricket, he was in poor form and had an overall batting average of 39.00 in Test Cricket. In the year of 2005, he averaged only 27.59 with the bat which eventually made him drop from the national side. However, post his stint with the county cricket, it had a major impact when he made his return to the Indian side. Ganguly signed off from Test cricket with averages of 61.13, 62.59 and 54.79 in 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively which also included his 1st ever double century in Tests.
8. Zaheer Khan- Surrey and Worcestshire
Amongst everyone in the list, no player has benefited more from a county stint than Zaheer Khan. The left-arm pacer’s bowling average was often fluctuating in the late 30’s & mid-forties before he decided to play in England. Zak played for Surrey and Worcestershire taking a stuning 79 wickets in 17 matches. And, when he came back to play for India, he soon proclaimed himself into the top of the bowling list as the pace spearhead. ‘Zak’ played 92 matches for India, taking 311 wickets, but off these, 151 scalps came in the 5 years that followed his county stint in 2006. 151 wickets in 36 Tests matches at an average of 27.47…Yes! that’s hard to believe but let that sink in!!
9. Virender Sehwag- Leiceistershire in 2003
One of the most destructive openers of Indian Cricket also joined the bandwagon as he played 6games with 2hundreds and a fifty in Leicestershire. He only went once and never played again but that hardly made a difference to his successful Test Career and he hardly changed his game. Sehwag went on the play 100+ tests with 23tons at an average of 50 and a strike rate of 83 with two triple test tons and 7double tons. Indeed a staggering Test career and one of the revo!
10. Javagal Srinath-Gloucestershire and Leicestershire
The Karntaka express went there at the peak of his career and took a magical 123wkts at an average of 19.9 in mere 23games. That great perfomance eventually developed a rich vein of form and instilled confidence in him which resulted in his performances for India. Between 1995 to 2003, Srinath’s bowling average which was in the 30’s came below 30.00 eight times and he was far more consistent and ended his career on a positive note.
11. Sachin Tendulkar- Yorkshire at the age of 19
Sachin even though did not amass great numbers for Yorkshire but playing at the age of 19 under hostile foreign conditions against unknown yet quality bowlers gave him much needed confidence to play against the foreign countries in as well as outside India. And now as we all know, the rest is history and he went on to play 200 Tests and became the highest run getter ever in the world. Sachin made 7fifties and a hundred in 16 games he played at Yorkshire. It was also on the back of his county experience, he averaged a staggering 91.00 in the following year across all the formats.
Other Indian Cricketers who have played county games- RP Singh, Mohamad Kaif, Pragyan Ojha, Cheteshwar Pujara, Murali Kartik, Yuvraj Singh
Editor Haineel Shah