Afridi is welcome, but what of local young talent in KZN?

2009-10-14 00:00

IN securing Shahid Afridi to boost their Pro20 challenge this season, the Dolphins have pulled off an impressive scoop. Afridi, a flamboyant all-rounder with notable 20/20 credentials, could just be the catalyst the Dolphins need to improve their fortunes in that form of the game.

Afridi is a dynamic player who is capable of winning limited-over games single-handedly, and oh how the Dolphins could use him!

After narrowly missing out on a place in the Champions League Trophy last season, they will be desperate to make good this time around.

Qualification for this lucrative tournament will have been the chief motivating factor behind the Dolphins pursuing Afridi.

In financial terms, his signing is a gamble, but one that has the potential to pay off handsomely.

Afridi will not come cheaply, but should he secure the Dolphins a place in next year’s Champions League tournament, it will have been a risk worth taking.

The management of the Dolphins are acutely aware of the substantial financial rewards on offer, as are the players. Watching their provincial counterparts taking part in the current Champions League tournament in India will have provided added motivation for them to pull out all the stops in this year’s campaign — and who better than Afridi to lead them?

Afridi’s signing, though it may be costly, is commendable. What concerns me more is the fact that the Dolphins are signing players from other franchises, who are coming to the end of their careers.

It’s a real concern that instead of drawing from their own pool of players, the Dolphins appear to feel they are best served importing talent from elsewhere.

Not only does this convey to young players waiting in the wings that they are simply not good enough, but it also shows that the franchise has little confidence in its own ability to develop players and bring talented cricketers through the system.

Peter Roebuck, writing for the Weekend Witness, mentioned that he is concerned about the development of cricket in the province, with regard to school cricket in particular, and I concur.

The fact that very few black players are on the team sheets of the top schools in Natal and even on the sheets at franchise level is a situation that needs immediate attention.

Experienced players certainly add value to a franchise, but their inclusion comes at a price.

These imported cricketers, who justifiably demand well-paid contracts, are taking the place of local youngsters for at least a season.

It’s understandable that desperate measure are called for when a franchise is struggling, but casting the contract net outside of the franchise’s development framework has a hugely negative impact. It may provide some temporary reward, but what of the long-term damage?

Successful Dolphins teams in the past were made up of a couple of senior players, but mainly of youngsters – a structure mirrored in the ‘B’ team.

Ford and Marshall did not have to look far for talent in the 1990s because they were able to benefit from years of effective development practices.

So while hauling out the chequebook may help the Dolphins in the short term, the proof of the pudding will be in how the franchise can sustain its development in the long term.

Afridi will make a positive impact on the current players, but what contribution will his signing, and those of players from other franchises, make towards developing a production line of talented Dolphin cricketers for the future?

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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