England Lions offspinner Amar Virdi, whose fitness levels have come in for criticism at Surrey this season, was denied a first appearance of the campaign on Monday after the ECB overruled their own cricket liaison officer in the nick of time on a matter of Championship regulations.
Surrey and Kent agreed that Virdi could take the place of Gareth Batty on the second day of the Division One game at The Oval when Batty went down ill overnight. They had been given clearance at the ground by Steve Davis, the former ICC international umpire now employed by the ECB.
But as Surrey resumed their innings, Davis began to have second thoughts and contacted Alan Fordham, the ECB head of cricket operations for clarification. Fordham returned a voicemail and Surrey were eight wickets down, with Virdi padded up ready to bat as last man, when Davis was told to alter his decision.
Regulations say that players can only be changed in the event of concussion or a return from international duty. The game could have lost first-class status had Virdi taken the field, ultimately leading to a possible postponement and re-match.
News was relayed to Virdi and Surrey with only minutes to spare and the scoreboard operator even put up his name, unaware, when the ninth wicket fell. The crowd assumed that Surrey had declared and matters were cleared up only when they took the field with neither Batty nor Virdi among the XI, Jade Dernbach acting as twelfth man.
The switch represented another setback for Virdi, 21 this month. After missing the start of Surrey’s programme because of back trouble, appearances since have been restricted to the 2nd XI as he failed to convince head coach Michael di Venuto of being ready for a recall. Di Venuto even told members at a recent forum that Virdi might be lost to the game unless his fitness improved. Before play on Sunday, Virdi was conspicuously lapping the boundary rope after joining the team in morning drills.
His tally of 39 Championship wickets last season was the best for an English-born spinner and he has won praise for the purity of his action, control and flight. He has been tipped to follow county colleagues Sam Curran and Ollie Pope into the full England side.
Events on Monday morning might be mischievously placed in the context of conflict between Surrey and the ECB, not least over the new Hundred competition. Kent and Surrey acted in good faith, as did Davis, on the grounds that Batty had taken no part in the game. Furthermore, it represented a like-for-like replacement, one spinner for another. However, there is no doubt about it being outside the scope of regulations.
A Surrey spokesman said: “Kent very kindly and to their great credit said that as Gareth had not participated in the game, Amar could step in. We thought that was that, then we were contacted by ECB to say it was outside competition regulations so it could not happen.”