County Cricket 2015: The South African Influence

Vernon Philander introduced to the media at Trent Bridge

Vernon Philander introduced to the media at Trent Bridge

South African (and South African born) players have graced English county cricket for many decades. In particular, from 1970 to 1992 during South Africa’s cricket isolation, this was “test” cricket for many of our country’s finest ever cricketers.  Barry Richards (Hampshire), Mike Procter (Gloucestershire, or “Proctershire”) and Clive Rice (Nottinghamshire) are now an inextricable part of those counties’ history.  Eddie Barlow and Peter Kirsten (Derbyshire), Garth le Roux and Kepler Wessels (Sussex) and Jimmy Cook (Somerset), to name a few, also had distinguished county careers.

South African born cricketers who have gone on to represent England have also made a profound impact on English cricket before 1992.  Basil D’Oliviera (Worcestershire) was arguably the most famous, but there were also players like Tony Greig (Sussex), Allan Lamb (Northamptonshire) and Robin Smith (Hampshire).

Post-1992 both trends continued.  For South Africans wanting to play county cricket, opportunities even increased with the introduction of the so-called Kolpak player in the early 2000’s.  South African born players from this era who chose to play for England instead included Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Matthew Prior.

In 2015 the eighteen counties collectively have 351 local players on their books; this number includes centrally contracted England players and Kolpak players.  At the time of writing, 34 overseas players have been contracted.  How do South Africans feature in this mix 23 years after re-admission?

39 of the 351 local players are South African born; that is just over 11%.  In practical terms it means that on the field every county XI will on average have one South African born cricketer playing as a local.  At Middlesex, Somerset and Surrey the South African connection represents more than 20% of the squads.  Put another way:  South Africa will be able to make up three pretty mean franchise squads out of this group of 39.

The point is our country continues to “bleed” players to the English set-up.  Admittedly many of them are in the twilight of their careers (the likes of Alviro Petersen and Ashwell Prince) and enjoying the financial rewards for a lifetime offered to the sport.  But there are also many who still have their best years ahead of them and are now lost to South African cricket, like Keaton Jennings (Durham) and Gareth Roderick (Gloucestershire).

The easy argument is to say “good riddance” if they don’t want to accept the South African cricket dispensation.  However, the fact remains we continue to lose very, very good players.  Just imagine if someone like Pietersen could’ve played for the Proteas…

But perhaps even more worrying is the fact that of the 34 overseas contracted players only three are South Africans:  Vernon Philander (Nottinghamshire), Rory Kleinveldt (Northamptonshire) and Jacques Rudolph (Glamorgan).  International tours and tournaments (like the Indian Premier League) affect the availability of South African players just as much as any other country.  Why then would counties voluntarily choose to contract players like Colin Munro (New Zealand – Worcestershire), Shaun Tait (Australia – Essex) and John Hastings (Australia – Durham)?  With all due respect, there are better South African players than them.  Are our players not as good as we think, despite our international strength?

It could also be that the process of getting a South African player into the United Kingdom has just become too onerous for the counties.  South Africans have to go through a cumbersome visa application process with obviously no guarantee.  An Aussie or Kiwi just waves his passport.

The numbers suggest that in 2015 county cricket is far more beneficial for England than South Africa:  It takes a lot away from South Africa (i.e. the South African born local player) and gives very little in return (i.e. opportunities for overseas players).

Francois Brink



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