Lancashire seeks exhibition match against IPL franchise to accelerate ties with India

Lancashire says their overseas signing of all-rounder Washington Sundar is just one step on a “journey of engagement” with their Indian audience.

That’s an expression used by CEO Daniel Gidney, who has said an important step would be to attract an IPL team to come and play a game at Emirates Old Trafford.

Washington, 22, has arrived in the UK and will play two LV= Insurance County Championship matches this month and then the entire Royal London Cup. He is recovering from a hand injury and if he is fully fit, he could face Northamptonshire in the Championship at Wantage Road from Tuesday.

“We’re very excited,” Gidney said. “Recently, Ravi Shastri made a big appeal, saying he thinks once Ravi Jadeja retires, Washington will be a very great all-rounder in all three formats for India.

“That’s a big decision for a player so young. But she… [India] are clearly excited about him, and so are we. We get him for a championship and 50-over cricket, and he will play at Sedbergh, Blackpool and Emirates Old Trafford. He’s going to do a tour of the county, and he’ll get the full Lancashire experience. We can’t wait to have it.

“Shreyas Iyer got injured the day after we signed him to the One-Day Cup last year, which was a blow of course. He is now fully entrenched in all the Indian teams and is going to be a fantastic player.

“But Mark Chilton [Lancashire’s performance director] has developed a very good relationship with Rahul Dravid. They’ve had a lot of phone calls and through Teams and stuff, and Rahul has been incredibly supportive. VVS Laxman is the head of the Indian Academy, which gives us another link.

“I met Sourav Ganguly, who spoke fondly of his time in Lancashire. You can also talk to Farokh Engineer, who is a fantastic supporter of Lancashire. The tires have been there for a long time, only we are trying to speed them up now.”

The possibility of Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings or Royal Challengers Bangalore coming to Emirates Old Trafford to play Lancashire in the future is an enticing prospect.

“We would love to have an IPL team here to play a match at Emirates Old Trafford,” Gidney said. “That would be absolutely amazing and something huge for the club and our fans.”

With a long list of former Indian foreign players in the county, led by Engineer, Laxman, Ganguly and woman star Harmanpreet Kaur, who played for Lancashire Thunder on the day of the Kia Super League, the county’s ties to India are on the pitch strong .

But they are also strong off the field. Gidney has traveled to Mumbai in recent years to help Manchester Tourism promote the city to a much wider audience, while the organization of the 2019 India-Pakistan World Cup match proved incredibly successful.

“It was after that game between India and Pakistan that we thought, we really need to look east,” Gidney said. “We started to think carefully about how we would engage our Indian fans.

“You saw how much they loved that game, and we thought, ‘You know what? We need to make Emirates Old Trafford exciting in-game and out-of-game so that Indian fans want to come here and watch’. We want the second team of every Indian.

“Right now we live stream all our games on the Jio and FanCode platforms in India. I think we are the only province that does that. Forty percent of our YouTube views come from India, so we are on a journey of engagement with our Indian audience.

“You have a population of 1.2 billion people who love their cricket. Why shouldn’t we?”

Lancashire has established Dubai as their main base for pre-season tours for the past year and a half, although in February 2020 – just before Covid hit – they trained for a week at Reliance Park in Mumbai.

“That training camp was great,” Gidney said. “We definitely want to do part of next season’s pre-season tour in India, and we’re looking at that right now.”

And as for more Indian arrivals to follow Washington, that could extend to the Thunder squad for women’s domestic cricket.

“It’s something we’ll definitely look into,” Gidney said. “If Kate Cross and Sophie Ecclestone are picked up in the women’s IPL next year, I’ll have them scout for us!”

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