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Lancashire aim for exhibition match against IPL franchise to accelerate India links

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Lancashire say their overseas signing of allrounder Washington Sundar is just one step on a “journey of engagement” with their Indian audience.

That is a phrase used by chief executive Daniel Gidney, who has said that a major 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 is due to play two LV= Insurance County Championship games this month and then the whole of the Royal London Cup. He has been recovering from a hand injury, and if fully fit could face Northamptonshire at Wantage Road in the Championship from Tuesday.

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

“That’s a big call to make on a player so young. But they [India] are clearly excited about him, and so are we. We’ll get him for some Championship and 50-over cricket, and he will be playing 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 him.

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

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

“I’ve met with Sourav Ganguly, who spoke fondly of his time at Lancashire. You can also talk to Farokh Engineer, who is a fantastic advocate of Lancashire. The links have long been there, it’s just that we are trying to accelerate them now.”

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

“We’d love to get an IPL team over here to play a game at Emirates Old Trafford,” Gidney said. “That would be absolutely amazing and a huge thing for the club and our fans.”

With a long list of former Indian overseas players at the county, headed by Engineer, Laxman, Ganguly and women’s star Harmanpreet Kaur, who played for Lancashire Thunder in the day’s of the Kia Super League, the county’s links with India on the field are strong.

But they are strong off the field too. Gidney has travelled to Mumbai in recent years to help Manchester Tourism promote the city to a much wider audience, while the hosting of the 2019 World Cup game between India and Pakistan proved incredibly successful.

“It was after that India vs Pakistan game that we thought, ‘We really need to look east’,” said Gidney. “We started to think hard about how we were going to engage our Indian fans.

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

“At the moment, we are streaming all our games live on the Jio and FanCode Platforms in India. I think we are the only county to be doing that. Forty percent of our YouTube views are 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 wouldn’t we do that?”

Lancashire have established Dubai as their main base for pre-season tours over the last decade and a half, though they did spend a week training at Reliance Park in Mumbai in February 2020 – immediately before Covid struck.

“That training camp was amazing,” Gidney said. “We’d definitely like to do part of next season’s pre-season tour out in India, and we’re looking at that at the moment.”

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

“It’s something we’ll definitely look at,” Gidney said. “When Kate Cross and Sophie Ecclestone get picked up in the women’s IPL next year, I’ll get them to do some scouting for us!”



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