The Kolpak cup is about to runneth over

The Kolpak train will not run forever and ever. Inevitably, even a system with 18 counties and hundreds of players will put a halt to the influx of foreign imports whose cricketing GPS only points unerringly north.

There is a swelling sea of pessimism that suggests that English cricket is about to be flooded with wantaway Saffers, desperate for the security of the pound and the walls of Brexit. It is quite a thought, but even England’s voluptuous war chest can only take so much.

Already, there are murmurs in England about a team that refuses to be quintessentially English. Look at their cricket team since 2000, and you will struggle to see an XI that was born and bred inside the Queen’s country.

We live in a new world, where there are supposedly more and more opportunities, and less and less boundaries. And yet, the freedom of that movement may well reach its nadir, with more and more young English players simply cold-shouldered by a wave of fleeing pros from the colonies.

Patriotism has a price, and the counties have the pockets deep enough to pay it. West Indies captain Jason Holder has called for a better wage all-round, to try and get the situation under control. Holder himself has watched his own, proud nation lose a rash of superstars to the freedom of freelance.

It simply doesn’t pay to be tied to a national body that pays a relative pittance to your considerable pound of flesh. A generation of would-be Test greats in maroon caps have taken the IPL autobahn to success and excess, and their lives will never, ever be the same again.

Good luck to them.

And there are many like them, in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and even in England. The very best will always get the big loot. Talent works in that way. The entertainers always receive top billing, because they are forever thrilling.

The problem, as cricket is finding, is in the star cupboard below that. The honest grafters, the Test and first-class workhorses, who are not quite sensational enough to get a lofty IPL wage.

Or anywhere else, for that matter.

The pay in domestic English cricket is such that it outstrips most national player contracts in other countries. Make of that what you will, but it explains why Duanne Olivier, just beginning to blossom in Test cricket, would look at Yorkshire as a sunnier destination for his cricket ambitions than the Proteas.

Again, make of that what you will.

South Africa cannot hope to compete for the bucks on offer in England. Those Proteas who don’t play all three formats are receiving pay packets comparable to top county deals. The one thing you might say is that county cricket provides the playing security that international cricket simply doesn’t. Kyle Abbott left saying that he never knew whether he was truly in or out, and Olivier may have looked at Lungi Ngidi getting back to fitness, and thinking his honeymoon period was at its end. That is the risk one has to weigh up as an international athlete.

Different people have different reasons, but this may well be the last season that the term Kolpak is mentioned as frequently as it has been in South African cricket. Nothing lasts forever, and that trap-door will soon close. Then, maybe, the cricketing landscape might once again return to some sort of normality. Until then, the prophets of Kolpak doom will keep telling us that SA cricket is about to die a slow and agonising death. Never mind that Olivier has left and Anrich Nortje has stepped in, or that more and more young batsmen – of all races – are coming into the light, as well as promising keeper-batters.

A half empty cup always attracts more attention, so brace yourselves for several weeks of urgent speculation about any player around the Proteas.

Be that as it may, the Kolpak cup is about to runneth over.


Sunday Independent

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