IF PROOF were needed that the traditional game of cricket is being systematically eroded before our eyes, it surely arrived yesterday with the announcement that Yorkshire and England leg-spinner Adil Rashid has decided to turn his back on County Championship cricket to focus instead on the white-ball game.
Rashid will play only one-day and T20 matches for Yorkshire this season having opted, effectively, to pursue the money-spinning route of T20 franchise cricket during the winter months as opposed to fighting to resurrect his Test career.
Although that career has been confined to a flimsy 10 appearances, with England having handled him dubiously over the years and, some would say, wasted his talent, there has been fault on both sides, with Rashid not having always done himself justice amid suggestions that he has possibly been slow on the uptake and swift to lose heart.
But, barring a bizarre and embarrassing volte face, Rashid has effectively quit the red-ball game in the week of his 30th birthday, having taken 490 first-class wickets at 35 to go with 6,577 runs at 33 – statistics that highlight a special talent.
In days of yore, Brian Sellers, the famously autocratic Yorkshire cricket chairman, would surely have responded to Rashid’s white-ball demands by saying that he could ruddy well sling his hook and “take any other bugger who feels t’same way”, as Sellers famously did after Ray Illingworth’s “contract or I’ll leave” ultimatum in 1968.
But the balance of power these days rests increasingly with players, with counties at the bottom of the pecking order and Rashid now in the process of negotiating an altered deal with Yorkshire, for whom he is an important performer in white-ball cricket.
The club are not beholden to the situation, however, and insist that they will review matters at the end of the season, with Headingley officials reacting a good deal more diplomatically than the player perhaps deserved after effectively confirming that he is only partially committed to the White Rose cause.
Martyn Moxon, the Yorkshire director of cricket, and a big supporter of Rashid down the years, told The Yorkshire Post: “Personally, I’m disappointed because I feel that Rash has got the ability to play in all three formats of the game, both domestically and internationally.
“However, we respect his decision, and the bottom line is that we don’t want to play a player who is not fully committed to us, and we’re in the process of renegotiating his contract accordingly and will review it at the end of the season.
“I’m not surprised, as I think it’s been coming for a little while, to be honest, and the good thing is that he has come out and let us know,” he said. “At least we know where we stand, and I’m pleased that he’s been honest with us rather than just muddling through and then not performing well, as that’s no good for anybody.
“Rash is a valuable asset to us in one-day cricket, and we don’t want to not have him available at the moment.
“But, at the same time, we’ll have to review it to see how it’s working.
“It’s very much new ground, this situation, and I think it’s something that inevitably will come in more and more to the domestic game (due to the increase of T20 franchise cricket).
“It’s kind of ground-breaking for county cricket, and, with anything that’s new, we’ll just have to see how it works.”
Moxon said that Yorkshire would not look to sign anyone to replace Rashid, meaning the likes of fellow spinners Azeem Rafiq and Karl Carver will now have the opportunity to further their claims.
The club also have useful back-up spin in the form of Adam Lyth and Jack Leaning as well as a couple of talented youngsters coming through the ranks.
Yorkshire’s members and supporters are unlikely to be happy with Rashid’s decision, although Moxon is confident that it will not cause friction in a dressing room rumoured to have been discombobulated when Rashid pulled out of the Championship decider against Middlesex at Lord’s two years ago due to a family situation – a match that Middlesex won to deny Yorkshire a hat-trick of titles.
If that is largely water under the bridge, this is seemingly an irrevocable step by Rashid, who is also taking something of a chance on forthcoming white-ball deals given that he did not get picked up in the recent Indian Premier League auction or Pakistan Super League draft.
Explaining his decision yesterday from New Zealand, where he is playing for England in the T20 tri-series, the player said: “At this moment in time in my career, I just feel that white-ball cricket is where I am best and where I feel I can develop and offer a lot more.
“That was my main thought process; it’s not me saying I’m finished from red-ball, it’s just me saying that this summer I’m going to concentrate on white-ball and see where that takes me.
“England and Trevor Bayliss (the coach) were happy with the decision I made and are backing me fully. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it’s something I felt I had to do.
“If I was to go back to playing red-ball early in the season, a bit inside me would have said, ‘I’m just playing because I have to’, but I had to make that decision and say, ‘No, I can’t just go through the motions.’”