Yet another white South African cricketer has taken Kolpak route turning his back on the Proteas. It was not someone who was on the fringe trying to break into the side or become a regular, but the Proteas’ best fast bowler this season. Duanne Olivier, the Afrikaans speaking quick from Free State has outshined both Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada this season having taken 24 wickets in the three match series against Pakistan.
The quota system that has been blamed for the slump in Springboks’ recent form (in rugby 45% of the players representing the national team must be non-white), has had an effect on cricket as well. Cricket South Africa (CSA) in 2016 had assured the government that six non-white players will feature in the Proteas’ side on average.
Although the quota system at face value doesn’t tell a good story, CSA has managed the problem reasonably well. In a bid to achieve the average target, they play non-white players mostly against weaker opponents or during dead rubbers. Sure, selections should be done on merit but don’t pass all the blame to authorities running cricket here.
For example, in the must-win second Test against Sri Lanka in Port Elizabeth, the Proteas fielded seven white players. Quota system may have affected South African sports but players turning Kolpak cannot be entirely blamed on the controversial system. There are other reasons that tempt players to turn to county cricket giving up their international careers. The main one being financial benefits.
In general, the exodus of the best talent for greener pastures stems from better pay and better lifestyle. Cricket is no different. Olivier’s three-year deal is said to be worth 150,000 Sterling Pounds a year. What would he earn by playing for Proteas is said to be less than half of that amount. Playing for the country and patriotism seem to be adages that people lived up to in a bygone era. These days players are more worried about keeping the home fire burning and of course the future.
CSA did try to negotiate with Olivier by offering him a two-year contract. But the Yorkshire deal proved to be too tempting.
The Kolpak deal allows a player from another country to play county cricket as a local provided his country of origin has free trade agreement with the European Union that would help him to get a work permit. So Yorkshire, who have gone through some troubled times recently, need not register Olivier as an overseas player. He can play as a local.
However, with Brexit looming large and work permits for foreign nationals becoming null and void once Britain leaves EU, English counties have gone helter-skelter since the June 2016 referendum to rope in the best talented through the Kolpak system.
Look at the talents that South Africa have lost since then. Kyle Abbott, Morne Morkel, Rilee Rossouw, Colin Ingram and David Wiese to name a few. Last summer alone some 14 players turned Kolpak.
The problem that South Africa is facing is not particular to cricket. It’s a common one as the white population in the country is shrinking. Official stats show that as many as half a million South Africans have migrated in the last three decades. Job opportunities, safety, education and South Africa’s weak currency all have contributed to the mass exodus. The recent tax regulations that targeted high income earners like doctors, lawyers and engineers is likely to force more whites to move on.
The Australian government’s decision sometime back to relax laws to allow farmers an easy route to gain permanent residency also tends to encourage whites to leave the country.
If the rainbow nation is to thrive as it did during the years of Nelson Mandela’s presidency soon after African National Congress’ landslide victory in 1994, the opportunities must be equal to all South Africans.
South Africa is a nation of immense potential. The country has so much to offer. People look up to the South African sportsmen who have gone onto make an indelible mark at the global stage whether it be Jacques Kallis, Bryan Habana, Ernie Els or Caster Semenya. Restricting opportunities is only going to kill the sport in the country.
The quota system was not something that was introduced by CSA. It was forced upon them by the government. Refusal to rope in more non-white players would have resulted in a host of sanctions which include not giving the green light to stage international tournaments and government backing to the sport.
CSA can do a few things to stop the mass exodus and one of them is to pick players for the national team on merit which will keep the white South Africans interested as there is the security of equal opportunities. That is what former players like Mike Procter and Kevin Pietersen have advocated.
They can allow more non-white representation in domestic cricket which will in the end produce more Rabadas and Ngidis. They need not worry too much about not being able to host any international events as most of these nowadays has been distributed among the big three – India, Australia and England.
West Indies captain Jason Holder has argued that minimum wages assured by the ICC is the best way forward to overcome the Kolpak issue. One of the other steps CSA can do is to provide players a pay hike to retain them in the system.
A franchise based T-20 league that has been successful in places like India, Australia and Pakistan is another step forward for CSA. They did have ambitious plans to start a T-20 league of their own but these too fell apart. A lucrative T-20 league will encourage players to stay on as there are more opportunities.
These are some of the measures that CSA can take to address what right now is a burning issue.
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