TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
TWO fast bowlers, a short format allrounder, an off-spinner, a middle order batsman and an opening batsman – both left-handed – walk into a pub somewhere in palest, pastiest, middle England and say, “Howzit.”
They are, respectively, Kyle Abbott and Hardus Viljoen, David Wiese, Simon Harmer, and Rilee Rossouw and Stiaan van Zyl.
Those players make up more than half a decent side, and they have all signed Kolpak deals in recent months – which takes them out of the equation for selection for South Africa, which they have all earned.
Their collective contribution to the cause amounts to 29 tests, 70 one-day appearances and 56 T20 games.
All told that’s 155 caps worth of international experience taken out of the system.
Measuring how much the game in this country has lost on its years of investment in players who use it to buy their ticket to England is more difficult.
But there’s no doubting that South African cricket has been rocked by the steady stream of Kolpak defectors.
It’s as if we’ve caught our significant others cheating on us.
Add a national flag to any team’s badge and they become a focus of misplaced patriotism.
It shouldn’t matter where professionals decide to ply their trade, regardless of where they were born.
For instance, how many South Africans are unhappy that Welkom-born, Cape Town-raised Mark Shuttleworth lives on the Isle of Man?
But the stock market scoreboard does not push South Africans’ buttons nearly as effectively as events on a cricket ground.
“It’s disappointing to lose players of the calibre of Kyle and Rilee but you can’t blame these players, or any of the Kolpak players, for going this route,” Tony Irish, the chief executive of the South African Cricketers’ Association, said.
“They are going to environments where they believe they will be more secure in their careers.
“The global cricket landscape offers alternative markets for players these days and this is a reality we must deal with.
“We need to look more critically at how we can make players more secure in the South African environment.
“This is not just about money but also about other issues that matter to players.
“Our top players are scarce resources in which Cricket South Africa (CSA) has invested and we have to look at a more effective retention strategy for them in South Africa.”
Stemming the Kolpak tide looms as the biggest challenge the game in this country will face in 2017, and probably in subsequent years.
CSA are mulling limiting the number of Kolpak players allowed in South African domestic teams.
That seems a reasonable line of defence but it does carry the danger of players thus treated avoiding being part of the game in this country altogether.
Which would create more opportunities for players who are not planning to go Kolpak.
It could also lead to a lowering of already sagging standards at franchise level.
A plan to manage the situation is in the works. Once released it will be the most studied document since the ball-tampering regulations.
For their next trick CSA will need to pull out all the stops to lend their proposed new T20 tournament the credibility it will need to square up to established events of this ilk like the Indian Premier League and the Big Bash League.
Where the hard currency will come from to buy the players that will guarantee that credibility is the unanswered question.
CSA will want to keep hitting their transformation targets in the national teams for a range of reasons, among them to earn Fikile Mbalula’s blessing to bid to host the 2018 World T20.
That’s if the International Cricket Council decides to shift the tournament from its current four-year frequency to a biennial schedule.
And then there’s India.
Before their previous tour to South Africa, in 2013, they subjected CSA to an ordeal not unlike a cruel child spending an afternoon pulling the wings and legs off an insect.
After much desperation and sometimes unethical behaviour a tour shortened from 12 to five matches was agreed, and CSA suffered R318 000 in lost revenue.
Several of the bully boys have since been removed from their positions but, as a consequence, Indian cricket is in a state of flux rare even by its standards.
That will make India’s suits even more volatile and unreasonable than usual.
Good luck, CSA.