Pity the poor Kolpak refugees as politics bowls a bouncer
Abbott, Rossouw and Olivier were in national reckoning when they were bitten by the Brexit bug. So now what?
Were SA cricketers who took up Kolpak contracts in the light of Brexit well advised? With Britain’s exit from the European Union now put on ice, was it a sound decision?
From where Kyle Abbott, Rilee Rossouw and Duanne Olivier are sitting, it would be interesting to read their minds on Brexit. They were securing their futures and there is nothing wrong with that. What they didn’t factor in was the fickle and two-faced nature of politics. They were within their rights to put their interests first, but has putting money ahead of their national aspirations worked out or backfired?
A Kolpak contract is an agreement entered into by a sporting entity within the EU with a professional sportsman who is not from an EU country, but whose home country has signed European Union Association Agreements. The ruling came in 2003 after Slovakian handball player Maros Kolpak took on the German Handball Association when his club had filled their non-EU quota. At the time, Slovakia was not an EU member but had an Association Agreement.
SA falls under this Association Agreements group. Its professional cricketers can take up these contracts and have made up most Kolpak-contracted players since 2004. They forfeit the right to play for the national team and, when they play domestic cricket, they are classed as foreign players.
Claude Henderson, the SA national team’s spin coach, was the first to SA cricketer to sign a Kolpak deal with English county side Leicestershire.
Abbott, who signed for Hampshire in early 2017, received a raw deal during the 2015 Cricket World Cup where he bowled really well. He had established himself as a front-line swing bowler who complemented Kagiso Rabada’s pace and Vernon Philander’s thriftiness.
The long-term nature of Dale Steyn’s injuries in 2015 and 2016 would have guaranteed Abbott a sustained national team run. Steyn only returned in 2018 and subsequent ailments would have given Abbott a fair crack at international level.
Olivier, who has joined Yorkshire, has not exhibited the form that saw him routinely run through the Pakistan batting order in the December-January Test series – but he was the best domestic bowler. He had earned a spot that carried a sense of permanence with the impending retirements of Steyn, 35, and Vernon Philander, 33, in the next 12 to 18 months.
Rossouw’s early 2017 exit was the most talked about. According to then coach Russell Domingo, Rossouw didn’t even have the decency to spell Domingo’s name correctly.
Rossouw, an excellent T20 player who joined Hampshire, was backed after a dreadful start to his ODI career with five ducks in 10 completed innings. He came good as an adaptable floating batsman and did reasonably well in the 2015 World Cup. On current form he would have been a valuable addition to the Proteas as a seasoned limited overs campaigner. Along with Abbott, he ditched the Proteas when they were central to the team’s planning for the 2017 Champions Trophy.
While there are SA players who are not in the national frame who rightfully put themselves first to make the most of what remains of their careers, these Kolpak contractors were in national reckoning when they were bitten by the Brexit bug. Now that no political antidote has been found, have they made the correct call?
That’s as interesting as a coin toss on a cloudy day with a green-top beckoning.