Sport

SATURATED CALENDAR

Cricket South Africa aiming to increase player pool with hybrid contracts

Cricket South Africa aiming to increase player pool with hybrid contracts
Quinton de Kock of South Africa. (Photo: Pankaj Nangia/Gallo Images)

Cricket South Africa will implement hybrid contracts in the new cycle which will open the door for discarded players to return to the national fold.

The saturated cricket calendar, filled with an abundance of various short-format leagues — from T10 and 100 over to T20 — has meant that Cricket South Africa (CSA) has had to find new ways of keeping players available for ICC tournaments.

Star Proteas wicketkeeper batter Quinton de Kock retired from 50-over cricket at the conclusion of the recent Cricket World Cup.

But national white-ball head coach Rob Walter recently expressed that De Kock had planned to retire from all international — having retired from Test cricket in 2021 — but convinced him to stay committed to the national T20 side for a little while longer.

De Kock is currently in Australia playing in the Big Bash League for the Melbourne Renegades. Days before that, he was in the United Arab Emirates playing in the Abu Dhabi T10 for the Delhi Bulls.

All this despite South Africa playing a T20I series against India — the Proteas only have three T20I matches scheduled, against West Indies, before the T20 World Cup in North America in June next year.

Rob Walter

Rob Walter, white ball head coach of South Africa. (Photo: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images)

Walter and the Proteas management will, therefore, have to rely on the form of players from the assorted T20 leagues around the world to select players for the global tournament.

For this reason, CSA is in the process of initiating “hybrid” contracts — which will allow players to only be contracted for certain formats — for the next contracting cycle.

“We’re trying to be proactive from our side to tackle the new world, the changing landscape of global cricket with T20 [leagues] and ICC events every six to seven months,” CSA Director of Cricket Enoch Nkwe told Daily Maverick.

“How do we best retain our best players and most of them are marquee players that are playing in all these T20 leagues, the IPL, SA20, The Hundred and one or two others.

“We’re trying to work out a fitting model that’s going to work for us as a South African national system.

“That is to look at players who we believe will be eligible for selection for ICC events. It’s not just about the T20 World Cup (next year), there’s the Champions Trophy (in 2025) right after the T20 World Cup.”

Enoch Nkwe

CSA Director of Cricket, Enoch Nkwe. (Photo: Rogan Ward/Gallo Images)

Growing pains

During the announcement of the Proteas squads for the multi-format series against India, Walter dangled the idea of former national captain Faf du Plessis returning to the national fold, to the media.

Having only officially retired from Test cricket, Du Plessis has not played for the Proteas since 2021 and has been a mercenary to the various short-format leagues since.

With the hybrid contracting system, players are not required to play any local domestic cricket in order to be selected for the national side which opens up the opportunity for the 39-year-old to return to the side.

“That’s what hybrid will be there for to try and tap into some of the players that want to retire in certain formats and maximise the opportunities in the T20 space,” Nkwe said.

“We’re not closing the door to freelance players. [However] it’s not going to be an easy handout to say because you’re a freelance player you’re going to get a hybrid contract.

“The hybrid system is not going to be for everyone. There’s going to be an element of players almost earning the right to go into signing a hybrid contract.”

Faf Du Plessis, hybrid contracts

Faf Du Plessis of Saint Lucia Kings in action against Trinbago Knight Riders on 26 August, 2023 in Basseterre, Saint Kitts and Nevis. Du Plessis is a freelancer who could play for SA under a hybrid contract system. (Photo: Randy Brooks/CPL T20 via Getty Images)

Domestic cricket’s importance in the cricketing calendar will likely continue to wane with the implementation of the new contracts — which will formally begin in May.

But according to Nkwe, that may be part of the growing pains of innovation.

“The reality is, part of the changing landscape, that most players won’t become available to play domestic cricket because of the [various T20] leagues,” he said.

“If you look at the international calendar, including the leagues, there’s a lot of clashes now especially with domestic cricket.

“It’s how we’re going to make sure there’s still a lot of emphasis on domestic cricket. Domestic cricket still means a lot because it’s still a strong feeder system for international cricket.

“We need to figure out ways to keep it very strong and hopefully players can be available in certain windows of domestic cricket.

“We understand the challenges that come with the hybrid system… I don’t think the hybrid contract will only apply for international cricket for national teams. I think it will slowly be going down to domestic cricket overtime.”

Compromise

South Africa’s own T20 league, the SA20, clashes with their renowned summer cricket window. In 2024 the tournament will run from 10 January to 10 February.

The Proteas have a two-match Test series scheduled against New Zealand in New Zealand at the start of February. National players contracted to any of the six SA20 teams will not be allowed to represent the country against the Kiwis, instead they have to fulfil their short-form contract.

With the hybrid contracts, the hope is that when a similar situation occurs with a foreign league tournament, this situation won’t happen again.

“Instead of trying to fight the [T20] leagues, we try to figure out a model that will complement [T20] and international cricket,” Nkwe said.

“At the centre of it is the players. They still want to play international cricket. They still want to do well for their country.

“It’s how best then do we manage them. Workload management becomes key but also how do players maximise in these leagues while also providing them with an opportunity to play for their country.

“There will never be anything more special than playing for your country.

“We do understand that times have changed and that the global landscape has evolved to such a degree that we have to meet each other halfway and still make international cricket as attractive as possible.”

South Africa’s elite cricketers don’t have to retire in order to explore the globe, playing in the ever-growing T20 leagues anymore. By 1 May next year, several of them can continue to do that while playing international cricket.

Through compromise, CSA might have their best possible squad available at next year’s T20 World Cup — even if their first match together may be during the tournament. DM

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