From quota to Kolpak, challenges staring South African cricket in its face

South Africa cricket team. Photo: PTI
The South Africa cricket team is going through, arguably, its worst phase since being set up in 1992. Not only did it fail to qualify for the knockout stage in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 but also had a rather forgettable tour of India recently. In its maiden bilateral tour after the World Cup debacle, South Africa suffered some of their most embarrassing defeats in Test cricket. In the three-match Test series, India imposed follow-on twice in successive Tests and South Africa lost by an innings on each occasion.

A deep dive into statistics from the recently-concluded Mandela-Gandhi Freedom Trophy paint quite a disturbing picture of a world-class team plumbing the depths of mediocrity. In the three Tests played between the two sides, South Africa, ranked third in ICC Test rankings, could not bowl out India even once. Their total tally of wickets in the series, at 25, pales in comparison with India’s 60. Even in the batting department, Proteas’ performance was hardly inspiring: South African batters managed to score only two tons in their six innings, compared with India’s seven centuries in four innings.

Middle-order batsman Temba Bavuma’s statement after the final Test seems to mirror the state of South African cricket today. He said: “I am giving my best, but probably my best at this point is not good enough.”

What is ailing South African cricket, and where lies the cure? One of skipper Faf du Plessis’s assertions at a press conference after the Ranchi Test might bear a clue. The impending Brexit might help Cricket South Africa, he suggested. The team will be able to reserve its best players. Brexit will stop the Kolpak players and that would benefit it in a tremendous way.

What is this Kolpak rule and how will it help South Africa?

In the event of ‘no-deal Brexit’, the UK will not be part of the European Union Association agreements and treaties. Those like the Cotonou Agreement might cease to exist. Then, if a South African cricketer goes to play county cricket in England, he would be considered an overseas player. In county cricket, only one foreign player is allowed to be part of the playing eleven for any team.

Let’s take a look at the challenges facing South Africa cricket:

Reservation policy: At the domestic level, South Africa has a strict quota system which allows a franchise to field only five white players. The rule says that at least six players in the team’s first eleven must be native South Africans. This is one of the reasons why many white players opt for county cricket and end up playing for England — Kevin Pietersen is an example. This means a talent drain for South Africa.

Even the national team has to play an average of six coloured players in a season, with two mandatory black Africans in the starting eleven.

Kolpak rule: Under the Kolpak rule, citizens of European Union countries are allowed to work or play in any other EU country. The European Union Association Agreements, which are free trade treaties between the EU and other countries, also have the same terms. So, South African players can play county cricket in England under the Cotonou Agreement with the EU and not be available for inclusion in the national team until the expiry of their county agreement.

South African players like Kyle Abott, Morne Morkel, Simon harmer and Duanne Olivier have preferred county cricket to playing domestic cricket in South Africa and inclusion in the national side. The rationale is that domestic cricket does not promise a good pay and the chance of making it to the playing 11 in the national side is not assured. 

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