Kolpak fever has hit South African Cricket with no less than eight players preferring to play county cricket ahead of being available for South Africa. Only Colin Ackermann of these players has not played for the Proteas.
There have been some very emotional debates and statements on their decisions. Many South Africans consider them to be unpatriotic and one tweet even suggested that their passports should be revoked. It reminded one of the backlash experienced by the West Indian, Australian and England players when they agreed to rebel tours to South Africa for a big pay day during the days of apartheid.
These players have made this controversial decision for a variety of reasons, like financial security, quotas and new cricket horizons. However, the two main reasons are financial security and quotas. Cricket South Africa (CSA) needs to take note of these developments to manage the situation in the years ahead. Being a small country there will always be a drain of professionals and cricket, like rugby, will form part of it.
CSA needs to pay their contracted players better and also sign three year contracts with them. This will not only give the players security, but will also ensure that CSA retain the services of the established players as well as retain the depth in their contracted squad. It is unacceptable that a county can outbid an international team like South Africa for the services of a player. CSA has the financial resources to prevent this happening.
The talk that transformation is the reason that players sign Kolpak is a misrepresentation of the situation. No right-thinking South African can have a problem with transformation, as it is not only morally right but has and will continue being good for South African cricket. Hashim Amla, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada are world-class players and have made a massive contribution to the success of the Proteas. They are certainly not quota players but proof of what can be achieved through transformation being a natural process.
The real problem lies in the quotas that CSA has legislated of a maximum of only five white players in the team. During the last two years about thirteen white players have played for South Africa across the three formats and with the latest legislation there is only place for five of them at any given time. There is no doubt mentioning quotas to a white player sends fear through his body and this is where the Kolpak decisions are being made. It is no coincidence that since the implementation of quotas in the national team, Kolpak signings have increased. It has created fertile ground for players to look beyond the Proteas for security.
CSA need to manage the Kolpak challenge, and not react to it, by accepting the globalisation of the game. These Kolpak players are South Africans. They have made a contribution to South African cricket and should not be treated as outcasts.