Cricket SA can't compete with Kolpak for player loyalty
What can Cricket South Africa (CSA) do to keep their players out of the monster’s clutches?
Not enough to rid themselves of this drain on their human capital‚ most of whom have used up years of resources only to be made offers that they can’t — or don’t — refuse.
Duanne Olivier‚ who has been a star performer in South Africa’s Test attack this summer‚ became the latest example of the trend by signing a three-year contract with Yorkshire‚ which was announced on Tuesday.
Of the 60 players who have gone that route since 2004‚ as many as 42 of them — 70% — have been South African.
And there will be more.
It’s an open secret in cricket circles that a particular player was upset about missing out on selection not because he was desperate to earn a Test cap but because‚ until he did‚ he was ineligible to agree a Kolpak deal.
Asked what CSA plans to do to stem the tide‚ chief executive Thabang Moroe‚ speaking from the International Cricket Council (ICC) meeting in Dubai‚ offered hope rather than action.
“The Kolpak ruling is something we have had to live with for some time and we have to manage its implications as best we can‚” Moroe said.
“Fortunately‚ the Proteas brand remains a strong one and there is a strong desire among our players to represent our country and to play international cricket.
“Duanne Olivier indicated in his announcement that turning his back on the Proteas and international cricket was one of the hardest decisions he has ever had to take.
“From our side we will make the package we are able to offer our players as attractive as possible within the constraints that we have to face.
"The launch of the Mzansi Super League was an important initiative in this direction as we attempt to create additional revenue streams.
“I remain convinced that most of our players still dream of being part of a winning team at the World Cup or the soon to be launched Test Match Championship and for this we are grateful.”
There will be empathy for CSA’s plight‚ not least because their hands are tied by regulations that govern the movement of players as professionals.
“The Kolpak situation is similar to the issue of free agency in cricket in that‚ in both‚ a player is free to exercise a choice as to where and how he plies his trade as a professional cricketer‚” Tony Irish‚ the chief executive of the South African Cricketers’ Association and the Federation of International Cricketers’ Association‚ said.
“This is made possible by a combination of the way cricket around the world is structured by the administrators and the laws that apply to that.
“I think this is important to emphasise because players are often blamed for the choices they make but the system is set up to allow those choices.”
Could CSA write a clause into players’ contracts that prohibits them from signing Kolpak deals?
“In any situation where a player has choice it means that there need to be measures aimed at retaining players‚” Irish said.
“This retention can’t be by simply attempting to restrict the movement of players. Such restriction is likely to constitute an unlawful restraint of trade especially where a system is set up to allow movement.”
He said “retention is best achieved in South Africa” by “a combination of not just one factor‚ and the importance of each varies from player to player”.
Those factors‚ Irish said‚ included “paying players what they are worth” which he admitted was “sometimes difficult because our players earn in rands and it’s hard to compete against hard currencies”.
Other safeguards were “having secure contracts for a clear period” and the importance of a “trusted environment with good culture and free from politics”.
Irish also listed the value of “the general health and sustainability of the game”‚ “having an individual management plan for each player so there is clarity on issues such as what formats he plays‚ length of contract‚ whether he will receive NOCs [no objection certificates] to play other cricket‚ etcetera”‚ and “a compelling Proteas playing schedule” featuring “big series and ICC events”.
Some of that ground is covered in SACA’s memorandum of understanding with CSA‚ but there is no gaurantee players will stay in the country.
“The degree to which [the above measures] can be achieved will in most cases result in player retention‚” Irish said.
“[But] there will always cases in which players make personal decisions which are beyond the control of these factors.”
The first Kolpak player was Claude Henderson‚ now South Africa’s spin bowling consultant‚ and the list includes Ottis Gibson and Faf du Plessis — who changed his mind and returned to the South Africa fold.
Heino Kuhn‚ Morné Morkel and Wayne Parnell signed Kolpak contracts last year; Morkel after retiring as an international.
Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw were among the five South Africans who went in 2017.
Olivier‚ who took 24 wickets at an average of 14.70‚ is the first to take the bait this year.
With Brexit‚ which looms on March 29 — although a postponement seems increasingly likely — set to change the landscape in county cricket‚ expect others to follow.