“Will you not want the best for your family and children? If you know you can work for just 5 years more, will you not want to make as much capital in the interim? Yes, cricket internationally will stand to suffer, but for every Abbott, there will exist a Markram, who will refuse to let go of his country, and in that, a cricket lover should find solace”.
In an era when an individual being is always running after finances and looking at ways to optimise his resources, it does remain quite strange that when a bunch of cricketers look to do just that, he is chastised and viewed with unagreeable looks. The “club vs country” debate, or rather the “more money vs lesser money” argument is one for the ages, and even though certain sects of people have their own strong opinions, the harsh truth does remain that playing cricket and earning a living out of the sport remains the right of every athlete.
It is true that every sportsman dreams of representing his country and bringing laurels to his nation from the time he starts playing the game. With either the willow or the cherry in hand, he fast-forwards to the day, when he will emerge as the hero for his team, in a packed stadium – amidst the vociferous spectators, he will stand tall to reciprocate the applause that has been pouring on him from all quarters.
But unfortunately, a bridge of difference remains between wishful fantasies and the harsh reality, with only a handful being able to successfully replicate desires on the grand stage. An even lesser number can make a decent living and though they do remain in the international scheme of things, the opportunities are far and few in between. Without adequate international chances and sans, a secure income, it is but fair that they chose to go down a route that will provide surety and security.
Morne Morkel remains the latest cricketer to join the bandwagon and earn the wrath of the cricketing arena after he chose to retire from international cricket to join Surrey in a two-year Kolpak deal. The pace bowler, who had been turning out for the Proteas since 2006, played his last Test against the Australians and while his achievements were celebrated, as soon as the latest news crept in, his patriotism and his priorities towards the nations were questioned.
However, a player who has been a silent hero for the South Africans, scalping 309 wickets at 27.66, deserves more respect. The player has played with a large heart throughout his international career, shifting his technique and adjusting according to the more famed bowlers – mainly Dale Steyn and recently Kagiso Rabada. The international star has never refused the duties of his team and did not even once whine when the management dropped him for a game in his farewell series. Each time he was overshadowed, he returned stronger and every moment that he went unnoticed, he determined to pitch in with greater performances.
With Steyn’s injury issues, much of the burden fell on Morkel and the lanky bowler never for once hesitated to lead the attack and guide the younger crop of youngsters. Once he ensured that he had fulfilled his responsibilities to perfection, the senior Morkel bid adieu in possibly the most controversial manners possible to sign a Kolpak agreement, that will enable him to finally retire with a few extra sums in his pocket.
So, what exactly is the Kolpak deal? Generally, the citizens of every European Union country can work in any other EU nation. Under the Kolpak rule, every citizen who is a part of the European Union Association Agreements that are free trade treaties signed between countries and the EU can also avail the same rights.
In cricket, if a cricketer signs the Kolpak deal with the EU, he can play cricket in any EU country, without being considered as an overseas player. With South Africa, Zimbabwe and a few Caribbean countries being a part of the Cotonou Agreement with the EU, cricketers from these nations can easily avail the services in any county side. On the flip side, they must not play for their country and can turn out for the domestic side in their country of birth only during the English off-seasons.
Needless to say, this move has been met with its own share of critics – both in South Africa and in England. A number of South African cricketers like Neil McKenzie, Alviro Peterson, Ryan McLaren, Andre Nel, Colin Ingram, Jacques Rudolph, Justin Kemp, Paul Harris, Ashwell Prince, David Wiese, Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw have signed this deal and moved away to England, which has only reduced the number of domestic players in South Africa.
Rossouw, who played 11 Tests for South Africa, especially earned the wrath of coach Russell Domingo and Cricket South Africa chief executive Haroon Lorgat, for giving up his national duties. “He toured Australia as the backup Test batsman, he was the next batsman in. He’s played in most of the one-dayers and a lot of T20s. He’s a guy we backed after five noughts [early in his international career]. We said this is a guy who can play the closest level to AB de Villiers in the one-day teams. We invested massively in him and we’re very disappointed in his decision.”
Abbott too had played in the 2015 World Cup and his decision to switch loyalties was not taken well as well. But is it really fair to blame him? In the tournament, he had been in fine form and in the semi-finals, much to the anger of captain AB de Villiers, Abbott had to make way for Vernon Philander, as the CSA officials were firm on having 4 non-white cricketers in the squad. In a nation, where strict rulings on quota still persist in the national team, wasn’t it but better for Abbott to move away to a side that will offer him security and additional benefits, rather than being in the middle of the whims of the national selectors and the quota system?
In England, as the Kolpak signees are not counted as an overseas player (a county team can play one overseas player), the counties benefit from having an international star in the ranks. It is almost like signing up AB de Villiers in the Royal Challengers Bangalore side as an Indian. But, this does block a spot for a native youngster, and in the process, the national team suffers as well. Unless a Kolpak player has played 7 years of county, he cannot turn out for England. But no county will obviously want to let go of the services of Morkel, once he is in the side. The ECB then has a smaller pool of local talent to choose from.
Despite their drawbacks, as stated earlier, it remains the right of any cricketer, rather of any human being, to optimise his limited years as a professional. Though Aiden Markram has firmly said no to signing a Kolpak deal, the influx of Proteas cricketers in the English nation is currently higher with things set to change after the Brexit. Till then, if a cricketer wants to switch sides and play for security and a higher fee than what is being provided in his country, let us not come together to pass judgements.
Will you not want the best for your family and children? If you know you can work for just 5 years more, will you not want to make as much capital in the interim? Yes, cricket internationally will stand to suffer, but for every Abbott, there will exist a Markram, who will refuse to let go of his country, and in that, a cricket lover should find solace.