Leading Edge: Why we should be concerned about Vilas’ Kolpak deal

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

DOES a tree make a sound when it falls, unheard, unseen, unknown, in a forest? Who can say. But we can say this: the noise that greeted a wicketkeeper’s international career being felled by a Kolpak deal wasn’t nearly as loud as that generated by Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw doing the same.

The wicketkeeper was Dane Vilas, who has signed a two-year contract to play for Lancashire as an ersatz European.

Part of the reason his defection flew largely under the radar was that – as he put it himself – “‘Quinnie’ has played so well that I have no real chance of getting back into the South African team”.

Fair enough. One Quinton de Kock is worth at least two of a host of other, albeit decent, players.

Vilas, quality stumper that he is, was not as central to South Africa’s plans as Abbott and, in a one-day sense, Rossouw.

And, at 31, the end of his career is in sight. Not that Lancashire seem to put much store in that kind of thinking: on the same day they announced they had signed Vilas they also revealed they had snapped up Shivnarine Chanderpaul, all 42 years of him.

So, off you go, Mr Vilas, not quite with South Africans’ blessings – which you need as little as our permission to play wherever you like – but with some understanding for your decision. Sterkte out there.

Besides, it’s not as if you jilted us at an altar similar to that from which you had made all sorts of sounds of loyalty only days earlier.

Better yet, like Dean Elgar and Stephen Cook, who will play county cricket as overseas professionals this season, Abbott, Rossouw and everyone else on a Kolpak contract, Vilas will have the freedom to continue his franchise career in South Africa.

At least he does until – or if – Cricket South Africa follow through on a mooted idea to limit the number of Kolpak players franchises are allowed to field.

But there are reasons to be concerned that players like Vilas have gone this route.

What does it say about the game in our country that the considerable investments in time, money and other resources that go into producing cricketers good enough to excel at a high level – Kolpak players need to be good enough to be offered a contract, after all – are walking out of the door?

It tells us, primarily, that South African cricket doesn’t pay well enough. Or, at least, not well enough to make committing yourself to what amounts to a never-ending season an unattractive option.

What will happen when all that playing, practising and travelling takes its toll on personal and family lives, as it must?

If you were Vilas and the thought of trusting your 30-something-year-old knees to get you through another few months of crouching behind the stumps almost daily made you choose to take those months off instead, what would you do?

Let’s see … Play significantly less in South Africa than you would have to in England, or shoulder the greater workload of a county season but for significantly greater reward …?

Not much of a contest, is it. England will win almost every time. That means Kolpak players will be seen in South Africa’s summer in ever dwindling numbers.

The game’s depth of talent will thus spring a leak and the overall strength of South Africa’s competitions will be eroded.

Which could, in time, detract from the quality of players that emerge at international level.

So, if you hear a tree falling in South African cricket’s forest, be worried. How long will we have that forest?

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