English cricketers are desperately seeking ways to limit the influx of overseas players into the domestic game. If nobody has quite yet said, "They're coming over here scoring our runs, taking our wickets and stealing our jobs", that day may not be too far off.
There are profound concerns about the hiring of too many moderate county professionals who are ineligible to represent England. These embrace two categories: the traditional overseas player, whose number will double from one to two per county next summer; and the sudden growth to 19 of European Union passport holders - British or otherwise - who were born elsewhere and have been awarded county contracts this season.
Members of the Professional Cricketers' Asssociation (all England qualified professionals) are being polled on the issue but the reaction is predictable. At the well-attended PCA annual meeting a few days ago 69 per cent of members voted against increasing the number of overseas players and will urge the counties to overturn their previous decision at the next meeing of the First Class Forum. More pertinently, 87 per cent wanted restrictions on those who are eligible to play county cricket because of their passport, but are not yet qualified to play for England because of their country of birth. This could not be enshrined in any cricketing regulation because it would be against European Law, but it could be enacted by stealthy consensus.
At the heart of the matter is the comparative wealth of the English game. It might plead proverty, frequently and with justification, but it still represents a financial nirvana for players from other countries. In their way they are seen as political and economic asylum seekers.
For instance, nine of the 19 passport-qualified players were born and learned their cricket in South Africa but have parents born in the EU. They may have come to play in England for various reasons - political uncertainty in the country and its sports being among them - but the economic advantages are plain. There are 15 rand to the pound, so pounds 30,000 for a summer's work goes a long way in Durban and Cape Town.
With such contracts on offer it is fully expected that many other players who can hold a bat and have a parent born in the EU may shortly express an interest.
It is also an open secret that many of the South African national side are seriously thinking of decamping to English counties after the World Cup next year. They would have to do so as conventional overseas professionals, but with two per team they would be eagerly seized upon. No doubt they have estimated that they can earn more in pounds as county cricketers than in rands as internationals.
Adrian Rollins, the North-amptonshire batsman, embodied the feelings of the majority of English players. "I agree with the increase of overseas players in the game but only if they are of international quality," he told the PCA annual meeting. "The EU qualified player situation is getting out of hand. What benefit is there overall for English cricket?"
The PCA's lawyer, Ian Smith, confirmed that nothing could be done to limit, let alone halt, the number of EU passport holders. It is possible in theory for a county team to consist of players not qualified for England.
"There are loosely two strands to their thinking," said Smith, himself a South African who has lived in England for 12 …