South Africa, Sport

The Paper Round: Kolpakalypse Now

By Antoinette Muller 9 January 2017

Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw have become the two most high-profile Kolpak signings since the system began. They join a handful of teammates over on English shores. Everything from reasons for leaving to how the whole malarkey was handled has been dissected. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

The gloriously coined “Kolpakalypse”, by Cricinfo’s Sri Lankan correspondent Andrew Fernando, hasn’t quite taken off on social media as it deserved to, but Kolpak deals are on everyone’s lips – or at least their fingertips.

Kyle Abbott’s announcement last week that he will take up a Kolpak deal with Hampshire sent South African cricket into a tailspin. Also packing his bags and going was Rilee Rossouw, one of South Africa’s standout limited overs players in recent months. They joined the already departed Simon Harmer, Hardus Viljoen, Stiaan van Zyl and Colin Ingram and before you could say “exchange rate”, David Wiese and Marchant de Lange’s names also popped up as potential soon-to-be expats.

On the surface – and for most outsiders – it might look like an exodus of sorts, but is it really?

As the news was just breaking about the imminent departure of two high-profile players, Stuart Hess wrote in The Star that it’s something Cricket South Africa (CSA) needs to address as a matter of urgency because of the impact it has on the team’s long-term goals. He’s right, of course, but perhaps far more urgent than players who don’t feel like waiting around for a national contract is the way those who do have those contracts communicate.

As Lloyd Burnard writes for Sport24, South African sports fans have every right to be just a little bit ticked off with both Abbott and Rossouw. He writes:

The issue here is not the decision to leave. That is something that CSA are not in a position to stop at the moment, and the attraction to move abroad says more about the state of the country than it does (about) the state of cricket in the country. If a player wants to give up a shot at international cricket for job security and money, then that is his decision and it is one that should be respected. But don’t start pulling the wool over, and don’t try and milk the international system for all it’s worth. If you’re going, then go, but is it really too much to ask for a bit of transparency along the way?”

Considering Abbott apparently put pen to Kolpak paper almost six months ago, it’s a fair request. But the other red herring is why did Abbott – and to an extent Rossouw – do not feel comfortable about raising these concerns with their employers when they were feeling a little bit miffed?

In case you’ve forgotten, cricket, even at national level, is still a job. Any one of us who has ever made the decision to leave a job will know just what a complicated schlep it can be. How many of us told our employers of our intentions to leave months before we made the call? Probably not many. We don’t tell our employers these things for many reasons, most often because we are at our wit’s end with a situation and don’t feel like it’ll change. Considering that six months ago Abbott was still unsure of his place in the side, can we really blame him for not speaking up?

The answer will depend on your feelings on that whole delicate matter of “national pride”. But what is certain is that the way Rossouw pulled a fast one has stirred far more ire than Abbott’s move. Abbott at least mentioned to his coach a few months ago that he wasn’t certain about his future. Rossouw, on the other hand, just upped and left and Russell Domingo made it quite clear just how irked he was about the way in which the batsman departed.

As Lungani Zama points out in The Argus, selectors have every right to feel ticked off after they dropped Hashim Amla, of all people, for him.

Regardless of his reasons to depart the South African scene, the manner in which Rossouw handled his departure lacked any class. No call, no messages; just an e-mail that had his coach’s name spelt wrong. Scores of players from the past and present (Hampshire teammate Kyle Abbott included) would kill for the sort of privilege and patience Rossouw has received over the year,” Zama writes.

Well, quite. And, as Domingo pointed out at his press conference, were it a player of colour in Rossouw’s position, the word transformation would have been bandied about.

Fortunately, nobody sound of mind has tried to pin these moves wholly on transformation. Abbott himself said that it’s not an excuse he will use while captain Faf du Plessis said he was sure it was not Abbott’s reasoning.

But targets at both domestic and national level remain a double-edged sword. Nationally, they aren’t really needed because the team was transforming organically anyway. Domestically, the subject is far more challenging. It is within these structures that targets are implemented most aggressively and for that, CSA deserves to be commended. That the sport has remained so untransformed at franchise level is a massive concern. Targets thus not only aim to address some of the terrible wrongs of the past, but are also a way of trying to force franchises to take action.

But that does not mean that targets are always the perfect solution. They are certainly not the long-term solution. South Africa has just six professional franchises which means that even without targets, spots in the professional structures are limited. Add into the mix the monetary challenges many of these teams face, meaning they can only hand out so many contracts, and we’re in a bit of a pickle.

Writing for SuperSport, Neil Manthorp dares to tread there, writing:

One thing which genuinely puzzles me, however, is the angry denial by some senior administrators that the workplace environment for many domestic cricketers has been made to feel less secure by the increase in quotas.

Just because somebody points out or comments on the effects of quotas it doesn’t mean that he or she disagrees with their implementation or doesn’t understand the reasons for their existence. But they do cause insecurity (over and above the natural insecurity of a professional sportsman’s life) and if a player is good enough or lucky enough to be offered an alternative workplace environment, they are likely to be tempted.”

Job security” was one of Abbott’s main concerns in leaving. And that’s job security with the national side. A four-year contract worth about the same as a rolling one year one? It’s a no-brainer towards the end of your career, really.

The question we have to ask about all the players who have departed these shores recently is this: can any of them lay claim to having been consistently hard-done-by by transformation targets? Barring the unfortunate incident in the 2015 World Cup semi-final involving Abbott, he has largely been competing for a spot in the side with some of the best players in the world and – for a large part of his career – they happened to be white blokes.

CSA have insisted on a number of occasions that they will do everything in their power to retain the players who are good enough (and willing to) to represent the country. They admit that they will “lose a few” along the way, but they aren’t so concerned about these casualties. If we’re really honest about it, neither should we be. DM

Photo: Kyle Abbott of South Africa retires from international cricket during Day 4 of the Sunfoil Test Series, 2nd Test match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town on 5 January 2017 ©Chris Ricco/BackpagePix


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