Currently, almost every major country has its own Twenty20 competition: the Big Bash, T20 Blast, IPL, HRV Cup and Caribbean Premier League have all established themselves as good places for overseas players to have a hit; the Bangladesh Premier League and Sri Lankan Premier League less so, if they even continue to be played. As these competitions continue to grow, it is essential that they do not overlook talent from Aberdeen in favour of lesser players from Adelaide.
Currently, only a few Associate players have really made their names known in the flashy world of snazzy clothes and loud music. Ryan ten Doeschate, hardly an Associate player these days, but still claimed by most Dutch fans, is the only one to really make a mark in the IPL, and this season he only managed 52 runs and one wicket from ten games - hardly compelling stats. Tom Cooper regularly hits runs in his local Big Bash, while the O'Brien brothers have also kept themselves busy in Bangladesh (both) and the Caribbean (Kevin). Otherwise, there were a couple of Associate players in the inaugural BPL, but on the whole they've been rather quiet.
If counties are on the lookout for more highly able and available players, it wouldn't hurt them to look at the North Sea Pro Series and Interpros. The players I am particularly thinking of are Michael Leask and Stephan Myburgh. Myburgh showed his destructive abilities at the World Twenty20, while Leask has barely stopped launching spinners out of the park since his break-out innings against the Dutch in the UAE. And when I say out of the park, I am describing the sort of hit that should probably be worth a twelve.
His most recent twenty-over innings came for the Highlanders against the Reivers, whose bowling attack included Iain Wardlaw, Safyaan Sharif, Majid Haq, Con de Lange, and Moneeb Iqbal - far from shabby. Leask, however, thumped a mind-bending 132 from 57 deliveries, including no less than eleven sixes. In his wake, he left some terrifying bowling figures: Sharif, 4-0-68-0; de Lange 4-0-61-2 and Sabri, 1-0-22-0 stick out in particular. With that kind of hitting power, especially against spin, I'd expect BPL (should it go ahead), CPL and IPL vultures to be circling. County sides would also be advised to seek his signature for the rest of the T20 Blast.
As the T20 system continues to grow and competitions begin to clash, coaches and scouts from franchises could do a lot worse than to look for players from off the beaten track. Afghan players such as Samiullah Shenwari and Hamid Hassan are beginning to make a mark in Bangladeshi domestic cricket, while a lot of Associate players had the opportunity to show their class in the World Twenty20 as far as the format allowed. There's no lack of quality players, and that's something that hasn't always been the case in Associate cricket. Even some of the less-exposed countries like Canada, Kenya, Namibia and the United States have cricketers who wouldn't disgrace themselves.
Until that time, though, Associate players will have to find themselves slots in Full Member competitions. While this has always been an up-hill task, it could become something approaching commonplace with the players available. Scottish stroke-makers Leask and MacLeod have shown that they could certainly command a county place in the shortest format, while Gavin Main's yorker to dismiss Stuart Broad hinted at potential as a death-bowler. Additionally, if you can't find a Dutchman of county standard after their World Twenty20 campaign, then you really aren't looking. And as for the Irish - I've written enough about their players, and most of them already do play for county sides.
This article has been written during the course of Kent's game against Hampshire, and despite virtuoso brilliance from Robert Key, it is painfully clear that they lack a good batsman. Would Michael Leask, Stephan Myburgh or Andrew Poynter really look out of place in that side? Seeing as only one overseas player was playing, you could make a case for chasing the signatures of any one of Mohammad Nabi, Irfan Ahmed, Rakep Patel or Steven Taylor of the United States.
My point, long and rambling as it may be, is that the approaching age of Twenty20 freelancing could be a boon for Associate players, so long as the appropriate talent scouts are looking for talent in the right places.