A sign of desperation or an inspired selection? Only time will tell but Worcestershire’s decision to call-up an uncapped bowler to their championship side against Glamorgan is certainly a surprise.
Imran Arif, a 24-year-old seamer without first-class experience, has impressed in the second XI and will make his debut. Though he remains unsigned, he has pushed his way into the team ahead of the likes of Chris Whelan, Gareth Andrew, Richard Jones and Mehraj Ahmed. That fact perhaps says as much about their performances as it does his.
It also shows how acute is Worcestershire’s need for an overseas player. Though the club are still hopeful of securing someone for the start of August, the bowling performance in the NatWest Pro40 match against Nottinghamshire on Tuesday night suggested that the need for reinforcement is urgent.
Certainly this game offers a remarkable opportunity for Imran. After a period in the Yorkshire Academy, he has played second XI cricket for Sussex and Hampshire before winning this long-awaited chance.
“We’ve been looking at Imran for a couple of years,” Steve Rhodes, Worcestershire’s director of cricket, said. “He’s been playing in the Bradford League and we’ve given him an extended trail. He is a registered player but he is not contracted. He’ll replace Gareth Andrew who needs to do a little bit of technical work. I’ve no doubt he’ll come back stronger.”
Matt Mason, meanwhile, keeps his place in the team. The 34-year-old experienced a chastening evening in the Pro40 match against Nottinghamshire but retains the faith of his coach.
“He had a bad day,” Rhodes said. “There was no snap in his action. But the performance against Northants was more a reflection of how he’s bowling and, if he keeps working hard, he’ll be alright.”
Perhaps the role of the support bowlers will not be so important anyway. In their opening pair of Simon Jones and Kabir Ali, Worcestershire possess the two most potent bowlers in the division. They have the best strike-rates (balls per wicket) in division two this season and take a wicket every 24 and 33 balls respectively.
While Jones, who faces his old county today, has gained most of the media attention, it is Kabir who is regularly dismissing top-order batsman and has developed into, arguably, the finest new ball bowler in the county game. He has the best first-class career strike-rate (45.3) of any regular bowler playing the game and is making a compelling case for international consideration.
“I haven’t given up on England,” Kabir said. “I don’t feel the selectors are monitoring me at all, but I know that if I keep bowling like this they’ll have to take notice. I’m a much better bowler than when I last played for England. I was 22 when I played my only Test and I’m 27 now. I’m fitter and stronger and I’ve definitely put on some pace in the last couple of years.
“Not to be in that 30-man [Champions Trophy] squad was a bit disappointing, but things like that can easily change.
“Hopefully bowling well on television [in the Pro40 game] will have helped. I’d like to think the selectors may have seen it and remember what I can do. I think I’m very similar to Ryan Sidebottom; just a right-hand version and a bit quicker.”
“Kabir has been unfortunate,” Rhodes said. “He seems to have been forgotten, but he’s a very fine bowler. It’s disappointing he didn’t make the 30-man squad, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was picked one of these days He was magic the other night, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. He’s bowled like that all season and he did it all last season. He’s the model of consistency, which suggests he knows his game really well.”
Meanwhile, Glamorgan will be without Robert Croft, who has a calf strain. His place is likely to be taken by Alex Wharf, though former Warwickshire left-arm swing bowler, Adam Shantry, is in a 12-man squad.