Sport

Zaidi break has Church in a spin

Accrington's outgoing professional Ashar Zaidi made his County Championship debut last week – but his surprise call-up has left Lancashire League rivals Church in an awkward situation.

Ashar Zaidi

Accrington's outgoing professional Ashar Zaidi made his County Championship debut last week – but his surprise call-up has left Lancashire League rivals Church in an awkward situation.

Zaidi led Accrington to this year’s league title, breaking a 54-year-old club record by scoring 1,446 runs in a season.

After confirming he would not be returning for a fourth year at Thorneyholme Road, Zaidi agreed terms with Church last month to become their professional for 2014.

In the meantime, though, the 32-year-old had written to each County Championship side asking for a trial.

Sussex were the first to respond, inviting him to play for their second XI against Durham and the Pakistan-born all-rounder took his chance, scoring an unbeaten 192 and claiming match figures of 6-24.

So after returning to Lancashire to play in Accy’s final game of the season on September 8, hitting an unbeaten 91 in the win at Colne, Zaidi was handed his first-class debut in England.

Sussex called him up for their County Championship game against Yorkshire, beginning last Wednesday, and although Zaidi was trapped leg before by Ryan Sidebottom for 17, he went on to take 4-57 in Yorkshire’s first innings. They were almost his best first-class figures after the left-arm spinner took 4-50 for Islamabad in 2009.

“It all came as a surprise really,” he admitted. “It was a dream debut for me to go from playing league cricket to such a big County club within 10 days’ time. It was pretty special.

“I’ve had a good season with Accrington, scoring a few runs and getting a few wickets. I thought I could go a step further so I applied to the County sides, to see how it goes, and here I am playing for Sussex.

“The kind of season I’ve been having, my form’s pretty good so I just wanted to carry that through to the end of the season. Now we’re just taking it game by game and I’ll see what the coaching staff says.”

Zaidi is seen as a potential replacement for England spinner Monty Panesar, who will leave Sussex at the end of this month.

Sussex have one County Championship game left against Durham, beginning next

Tuesday, and Zaidi hopes to keep his place. The Hove-based club will then decide whether to offer him a permanent contract. Although Sussex were the first County Championship side to offer him a trial, it’s understood that as many as four clubs are now interested in signing Zaidi.

The former Pakistan A international has recently qualified to play for England so would not be classed as an overseas player.

However, there is the small matter of him already being contracted to Church for next season. Church may be offered compensation should a County Championship side wish to sign Zaidi but that would still leave them having to find another paid man for the 2014 campaign, after all the top professionals available have already been signed up.

At 32, Zaidi might have thought his first-class career was over after 88 games for Islamabad but he believes he still has plenty to offer.

“It depends on your fitness, your form and your mental approach,” he said. “I think I’ve got a few years in me to play at County level and deliver the goods.”