Read Rob Keyís latest thoughts in issue 62 of All Out Cricket magazine

Wednesday 4th November 2009

As a respected county captain, international batsman and cricket thinker, Kent captain Rob Key is a man of strong opinions. Read his thoughts on why he thinks less is more, on the domestic front. And why playing without fear has proven to be the x-factor in the inaugural Champions League Twenty20.

With the Champions League having now drawn to a close it gives us our first real look at the top domestic teams in each country fighting it out in direct competition. It is the first time we get to see just how evenly-matched or far away the teams are, in terms of ability.

Arguably, the two dominant countries in international one-day cricket at present – Australia and South Africa – seem to have the strongest domestic teams overall as well. This might be of no surprise to many of you, but interestingly these teams are also the only ones that haven“t fielded an overseas player. In fact there are very few overseas or Kolpak players playing in the set-up of any of the sides on show.

On the home front, Somerset had Justin Langer and Kolpak players in Charl Willoughby and Zander De Bruyn, with Sussex taking the field with Murray Goodwin, Piyush Chawla, Dwayne Smith and Yasir Arafat, yet neither team made it to the semi-final stage.

By me pointing this out, do not think I am trying to argue the case for having no overseas players in the English game, because actually, I think our system is stronger for it. It is just interesting to me that New South Wales Blues – who probably looked the strongest all-round side throughout the competition, along with the Victorian Bushrangers (who NSW knocked out in the semis) – and the Cape Cobras are comprised of home grown talent alone.

Their ‘lack“ of overseas cricketers, once again in my opinion, is not the reason that these teams are the strongest. I feel it is because they all play in a domestic competition that only has six teams to start with. If you think about it, how many overseas players would you need in our game if you cut the County Championship down to just six teams? Not one I“d wager.

The competition for places would be intense and only the toughest, most skilful and absolute best would survive. With six teams, no one would have to trawl other countries searching for ‘back-door Poms“ to flesh out their squads. There would be more than enough quality right under our noses.

The knock-on effect would be that straight away domestic club cricket would improve. Imagine just how many more cricketers would have to go back to play for their local premiership club sides and churn out the runs and wickets just to try and force their way back into the reckoning for first-class opportunities?

I will say though, that while we do have 18 counties playing professional-level cricket in this country there is a necessity for overseas players. There is no doubt they raise the standard of our game dramatically. Without them the quality of play would certainly drop.

Having said all that I have about South African and Australian sides, the obvious spanner in the works in all this is Trinidad & Tobago (I have not forgotten the ‘explosive“ TNT). They have been the surprise package of the tournament – upsetting many of the big teams along the way. Kieron “The Real KP“ Pollard“s hitting at the end of their game against the Blues was extraordinary. I don“t think I can remember seeing anyone dominate the latter stages of an innings like Pollard did then.

If you saw that display and have heard me say in the past that the problem with Twenty20 cricket – from a captain“s perspective – is that one person on the opposition can ruin your whole day, then Pollard“s innings was the greatest illustration of that sentiment you could hope to see. Yet as phenomenal as his 54 off 18 balls was, it is something I think we will only see more players doing in years to come.

Trinidad & Tobago are a whole different entity. They just seemed to be able to completely undo the mental shackles and give it absolutely everything. How many times have we all heard captains giving their pre-match press conference, saying, ‘We want to play without fear“, only for the team to take the field and never seem to? Well, Trinidad & Tobago have found the secret to fearless cricket. And that“s exactly why they have done as well as they have.

Issue 62 of All Out Cricket is available now and can be purchased from the Eleventh Wicket club shop at the St Lawrence Ground.