The emergence of the Kolpak player has hurt South Africa’s strength in depth over the past two decades. Here are some of the players they’ve lost…
What is a Kolpak player?
South Africa aren’t exactly in a great place at the moment. Normally such a consistent side at World Cups, at least when it comes to reaching the knockout stage, this time they were pretty much out after three games. Things are a little better in the Test format where they’re currently ranked third but the retirement of Hashim Amla won’t help matters and there’s little in the way of young talent coming through. They’re also third in the T20I rankings but odds of 9.0 with Betfair suggest they’re not fancied for the T20 World Cup.
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The interesting thing is that if they had all their best players to choose from, they’d be far stronger than they are in all formats. But they don’t. So who are these players who are unavailable…and why?
But first up, an explanation of what being a Kolpak player means.
A non-English player who signs for an English county on the understanding that he agrees not to represent his country while he is under contract with the county.
He must either have a work permit valid for at least four years or have represented his country a certain number of times to be eligible.
Given this is all about EU employment laws, it only applies to countries who have as association agreement with the EU. That’s mostly the ACP Group of States which includes South Africa, Zimbabwe and countries making up the West Indies.
In other words, it applies to players from countries just listed but not others such as Australia or India.
Who’s a South African Kolpak player?
The strong and accurate fast bowler was just starting to cement his place in the Test side when Hampshire offered him the chance to become a Kolpak player. Rather than risking being out of the Proteas team for quota, injury or loss of form reasons, he went with the safe option of a long-term contract that sees him getting paid, whether he plays or not. Just the sort of workhorse bowler the Test side is missing.
Signed for Hampshire as Kolpak player at the same time as Abott did. The aggressive left-handed batsman, who can bat anywhere between one and five, played 36 ODIs and 15 T20s for South Africa and went out in style in the international arena before starting his time with Hampshire, scoring 122 at Newlands against Australia to complete a 5-0 whitewash and see him crowned Player of the Series.
Unlike the first two, Olivier took the Kolpak player option even earlier in his career, ending his time with South Africa at just 26, having only played 10 Tests and two ODIs.
He became a Kolpak player for Yorkshire as of February 2019 and has spoken of hoping to represent England one day. Would have been a long-term natural replacement for Vernon Philander in the Test side.
Despite being a more than decent player when he was representing South Africa in ODIs and T20s, he’s one of those players who’s got better with age.
In fact, he’s arguably played the best cricket of his career after turning 30. He would surely have walked into the Proteas’s side in either of the shorter formats over the past few years had he…you guessed it…not signed as a Kolpak player for Glamorgan.
Bulldozer, as he’s known, has however made the most of his new-found freedom by signing up to play for the Adelaide Strikers in the Big Bash and the Delhi Daredevils in the IPL. Ingram’s Delhi are 8.0 to win next year’s IPL with Betway.
Morkel is a very different case. The 6ft5 fast bowler played 86 Tests, 117 ODIs and 44 T20Is for South Africa so there wasn’t much left for him to do in the international game by the time he called it quits in international cricket and signed for Surrey as a Kolpak player in March 2018.
A similar case to Ingram and Roussow as a player who never really secured his place in South Africa’s limited-overs sides and opted for the secure paychecks and predictability of the English county circuit over the ever-changing selection policies of CSA.
The batting all-rounder signed for Sussex on a three-year deal in 2016.
The wicketkeeper-batsman and sometime (just) batsman, had a very strange international career. He made his T20 debut back in 2009, never played an ODI for South Africa, was re-called to the T20 side in 2017 after an eight-year absence and later that year played four Tests, with little success, against England in England.
He was told by CSA that opportunities would be limited for him from thereon and at age 33 he called time on his international career to sign as a Kolpak Player for Kent. He managed four centuries in limited-overs cricket for them and has at times captained the side.
Kent are 12.0 with Royal Panda to win this year’s T20 Vitality Blast.
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This is one of the ones South Africa will be really annoyed about. Aged 26, the off-spinner and useful number eight made his Test debut for South Africa and looked like he could be the solution to their problem of lacking a quality spinner in their Test side, a job no-one had done properly since Paul Harris retired and which never Imran Tahir never managed to do.
Less than two years after his debut in 2015, he signed for Essex as a Kolpak player. Admittedly with great success, taking 72 wickets in his debut season as Essex won the County Championship. South African selectors will be thinking about what might have been.
South African non-Kolpak players
The following are players who aren’t on Kolpak contracts but instead of turning out for South Africa, decided to play for other countries.
Born in Klesrksdorp in the North West Province, South Africa, in 1994 he will forever be the answer to a cricket quiz question as the first man in history to come on as a concussion substitute. Which he did in the Second Ashes Test when Steve Smith was hit on the neck by Jofra Archer.
Labuschagne’s family moved to Australia when he was 10 and he didn’t even speak English when the move came about; he only spoke Afrikaans.
It would admittedly have been quite a strange scenario for him to be playing in Australia at domestic level while representing South Africa but prior to making his debut for Australia in 2018, he was certainly eligible.
The middle-order batsman could be an important player for Australia in all formats for years to come.
If you replaced Australia for England, you could be talking about Labuschagne here. Also aged 10 when he left South Africa, he ended up making his debut for Surrey as a 17-year old.
The big-hitting limited-overs specialist who opens the innings and is a fantastic fielder could easily be turning out for South Africa rather than…winning the World Cup with England and playing in the Ashes.