TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
THE leading runscorer in county cricket this season is a South African, but you won’t find his name in a test squad. Instead, he is picking them.
Ashwell Prince is that Saffer. Discounting the round of championship matches that started on Tuesday, Prince has scored 1311 runs in 17 first-class innings for Lancashire this season. He has reeled off five centuries – only Jonny Bairstow has scored as many – and averages 81.83.
Prince played his last test in December 2011 and retired from international cricket in March last year. However, the nuggety left-hander is not lost to SA cricket having been made a selector in June.
Alviro Petersen is also on Lancashire’s books. He has scored three centuries and averages 52.66. Jacques Rudolph, meanwhile, is averaging 37.66 with a century for Glamorgan. Surprisingly, Richard Levi – he of the bat bigger than his technique – is averaging a mite more than the more polished Rudolph, 38.53, for Northamptonshire.
Like Prince, Petersen and Rudolph have retired from the international arena while Levi has signed a Kolpak deal with Northamptonshire, which means he is unavailable for SA.
However, Rory Kleinveldt, who has taken 41 wickets at 28.80 for Northants, remains in the mix for SA selection. Theoretically, at least: what with the queue of quality quicks stretching out the SA dressingroom door these days, the hardworking seamer could struggle to add to his four test, 10 one-day and six Twenty20 caps for SA.
The same goes for Colin Ingram, who has scored four half-centuries for Glamorgan. But an imminent return to the SA fold does not look likely for him.
What does it say about SA cricket that some of county cricket’s leading players are South Africans who are not eligible for national selection?
“It says they all play in the (county) second division,” Jimmy Cook said on Tuesday, and he is correct in that none of the men above turn out for first division sides.
“But it also tells us we still have quality players – there is a difference between the first and second divisions but runs are runs.”
Cook knows of whence he speaks, having played 71 first-class games for Somerset from 1989 to 1991, scoring 7604 runs at 72.41 with 28 centuries, and stayed in contact with the county scene as a coach. But he wasn’t about to say things were tougher in his playing days.
“From when I played, the standard is getting better and better,” he said.
So, is county cricket a valuable finishing school for players or a place for players to finish their careers? Both, Cook suggested: “If you get an opportunity to play there, go.”
Other South Africans have done exactly that this season: Hashim Amla and Vernon Philander each played two first-class games and three T20s for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in May.
But, in a cricket world studded with lucrative T20 distractions staged in exotic climes, the county circuit, once the envy of the game where players from around the globe proved their mettle, looks set for an insular future.