The ending of Kolpak contracts in England offers South African cricket opportunities but there are also concerns about the impact it will have on a broader basis for all professional contracts locally.
Kolpak has been a strain on South African cricket for more than a decade. Rilee Rossouw, Kyle Abbott, Wayne Parnell, Hardus Viljoen and most recently Duanne Olivier have all drawn a line under their international careers, to take up offers in the UK. Abbott, Rossouw and Olivier were ‘departures,’ which angered local cricket authorities.
Then Proteas coach Russell Domingo expressed disappointment with Rossouw and Abbott’s departures under his watch, wishing they’d expressed more openly their desire to leave at a time when the national side was in transition and they were being looked at as crucial components in the Proteas set-up. Olivier had broken records in a three-match series against Pakistan when he went the Kolpak route with Yorkshire, with then Cricket SA chief executive, Thabang Moroe, bemoaning the resources CSA had invested in Olivier only to see all that development head to England.
“If one looks at the bigger picture this is not good news for the global game either that a player who has just broken into the top 20 on the ICC Test match bowling rankings for the first time should opt effectively to bring down the curtain on his international career in favour of playing only in domestic leagues,” Moroe said at the time.
Moroe was right. And in that sense the decision announced last week by the England Cricket Board to end all Kolpak contracts and instead enforce an “overseas player” quota is good news for South African cricket. However there are complications now too.
First the good; the likes of Simon Harmer, Abbott and Rossouw are now theoretically available for Proteas selection. “They would now be classified as ‘overseas players’ and are now eligible to play for South Africa,” said the SA Cricketers Association (Saca) chief executive Andrew Breetzke. “They can play domestic cricket in South Africa. Whether they want to is another question.”
The players’ desires and the ability of local franchises to sign them up are some of the considerations that will make for a very different landscape when it comes to player contracts in South Africa.
The availability of those previously unavailable due to Kolpak, is good for SA cricket. Having access to the expertise of Morne Morkel, Abbot, Hashim Amla, Rossouw, and Harmer would be beneficial to local players but it also broadens the net in terms of Proteas selection, particularly for Harmer who has stated he wants to play Test cricket again or even for Rossouw in the white ball formats.
Money will however be a major issue. Cricket SA may be advertising for positions at Board level and in the management head office in Johannesburg, but it remains an organisation that has a dreary financial cloud hanging out over it.
“How our players are contracted will be a big discussion going forward in our cricket system, especially with the restructure happening and what that will end up being,” said Breetzke.
The discussions around the restructure of the domestic game have taken a back seat, while the administrative mess continues to suck all the air out of the sport.
But whatever remains of South African cricket, once those responsible for dragging the sport into the crisis weighing it down are dealt with, will encounter a landscape for players that is vastly changed. The Kolpak change will only have accelerated a process that is likely to see domestic contracts not drawn up in the manner many have been used to in the last 15 years.
“The days of one domestic contract, where you will play all the (30) matches, across three different formats, I’m not sure that can remain going forward, the reality will be different,” said Breetzke. “You might find players very early on going, ‘I’m this type of player, give me the freedom to play overseas and still be part of the domestic structure.’”
The decision by the ECB had been mooted for a while so discussions around domestic contracts have started between Saca, CSA’s Director of Cricket, Graeme Smith, and CSA’s head of cricket pathways Eddie Khoza.
But those talks need to happen at a more senior managerial and even Board level, something which can’t take place right now. “You have to have a strong Proteas team, and for that you have to have strong domestic competitions and within that you have to have a strong transformation pipeline. You have to have a system, where the people within that structure have to have a line of sight in which they can make it to the Proteas,” Breetzke remarked.
All of these are critical talks that need to be had, structural matters that need urgent resolution. They can’t take place properly right now. Just another consequence of the almighty administrative mess that CSA is in.