Why SA’s backup players are in England

2008-09-24 00:00

THE English Cricket Board has been hard at work alongside the British government to limit the number of non-European union cricketers on the county cricket circuit.

The Kolpak ruling currently allows approximately 20 South African cricketers to play county cricket in England by virtue of the fact that South Africa has an associate trading relationship with the European Union. Understandably there have been many critics of this ruling as it has reduced the number of English players representing their counties and therefore the pool of players available for national selection.

The effects of the Kolpak ruling have not only been felt on English soil, but have made a huge impact here in South Africa, where many promising youngsters have been lost to South African cricket. Cricketers have taken advantage of the ruling because they have either felt that they are getting a raw deal from South African cricket, but mostly because of the financial rewards.

Any change in the current ruling would have a significant impact on South African cricketers plying their trade abroad. The downside to the Kolpak ruling in South Africa is that these players are not permitted to play in this country as anything but an overseas player and each franchise has been limited to one overseas player, which has diluted the base of players even further.

South African cricketers have been a huge asset to county cricket as they have added depth and experience to teams who have been permitted to have Kolpak players as well as an overseas professional.

After witnessing South Africa’s humiliation in the one-day series against England recently, many critics and commentators were asking where the backup players are? The easy answer to that question is that most of these players are in England.

How South Africa would have liked to call on a player like Dale Benkenstein. He has excelled in county cricket and admits to playing some of the best cricket of his life over the last few county seasons. It’s hard to believe that Benkenstein was considered too old to be part of the South African squad at the tender age of 28 and there have been many others.

In Australia players are not considered old even at the age of 35. We have seen many promising players making their debut in their thirties. Legspinner Bryce McGain will be making his test debut for Australia against India at the age of 36.

Restricting the exodus of players to the UK will certainly benefit South African cricket. Should the ruling change, players of Benkenstein’s ilk could choose to play their cricket back in South Africa, which will provide a huge boost to domestic cricket and our national team.

Playing franchise cricket is obviously not nearly as lucrative as county cricket and the favourable exchange rate has made it even more attractive to young South African cricketers. The Australians, in contrast, seem to have the ability to stick out state cricket to grasp at any chance to wear “the baggy green”. Wouldn’t it be great to see that sort of dedication and passion back in South Africa?

•Neil Johnson is a former Natal, Zimbabwe and Hampshire all-rounder who now lives and coaches in South Africa.

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