At Vitality Blast Finals Day last weekend, there were numerous world superstars on show: Jos Buttler, Tymal Mills, Jerome Taylor and Moeen Ali to name but a few.
Surprisingly, there was one side without an overseas player in their squad. Sussex had used the same two international players in their group-stage campaign – Tom Bruce and Rashid Khan.
Khan was an unprecedented success, but Bruce was far from it. When he signed to play for Sussex in early June, head coach Jason Gillespie said: “We’ve decided that we need to bring in a quality overseas batsman for the duration of the tournament.”
Gillespie’s sentiments sum up the dilemma for counties in a nutshell. They can either choose an overseas player of genuine international quality who will win games on his own but only be present for parts of the tournament, or go for stability in the hope that it will help their team build momentum.
Bruce seemed to be the benefactor of Sussex’s wish for continuity. The Kiwi endured a torrid spell in the Blast, scoring only 62 runs at an average of 10.33.
Khan, on the other hand, played the majority of the group stage for Sussex, but missed out on Finals Day after playing for Afghanistan in the Asia Cup. Had his replacement Will Beer played the majority of the tournament for Sussex, his effect on Finals Day might’ve been far greater.
In the Vitality Blast, teams are allowed two overseas players in any matchday 11, but often a combination of poor planning, changes in circumstances and the frustrating rotation between formats leaves counties in turmoil. It’s a common dilemma for teams to either have three foreign talents in their squad, or only one.
In Somerset’s case, they have spent the majority of this summer with a paid overseas player, who is deemed surplus to requirements in one format of the game. Azhar Ali – an esteemed four-day player – arrived in Taunton in mid-July, and will only return to Pakistan after the conclusion of the County Championship later this month.
In the 61 days that Ali has been in England, he has played only 5 games. In the T20 Blast, Somerset had an entirely settled squad, with two overseas players who made their name in the shorter form – Corey Anderson and Jerome Taylor.
The result of this is that for two months, Somerset have been paying Ali for very little work.
Other counties opt to fly in players on short-term deals: Lancashire played the majority of their Vitality Blast games with only one overseas player – Australian all-rounder James Faulkner – but chose to bring Zahir Khan in for T20 games.
Throughout their troublesome 2018 season, the Red Roses’ overseas player has been ever-changing, and Australian Joe Mennie eventually saw his contract cancelled as Glen Chapple opted for the extra spin option of Keshav Maharaj.
There is no foolproof way of setting up a squad, and the most successful teams are the ones who rely on their overseas players not to score runs or take wickets, but to develop their youngsters into marquee stars, as Surrey have done so effectively in recent seasons.
But when counties are presented with the option of a short-term star or a long-term player of lesser quality, they could do worse than assess Aaron Finch’s impact on Surrey. Finch played nine games, scored 589 runs, and was only overtaken as top runs scorer by Laurie Evans in the final.
Finch won games on his own, and that’s surely the skill that overseas players must have above all else.