Why The Hashim Amla Kolpak Deal Is Good For County Cricket

Is there a more controversial word in the English cricketing dictionary than ‘Kolpak’? No other word, other than ‘(the) Hundred’, leads to more collective cursing and eyebrow raising. However, not all Kolpak deals are the same. And today I’m going to argue that Surrey’s Hashim Amla Kolpak signing, which was announced this week, happens to be a great thing for both Surrey and the English game in general.

The arguments against Kolpak signings are numerous and understandable. The presence of overseas players (who don’t actually count as overseas players) can block a young English player’s route into their county first team. What’s more, it’s terrible for world cricket when top quality cricketers abandon their countries to take up lucrative county deals. It weakens the standard of international cricket, creates a ‘talent drain’, and highlights inequities in resources. Basically it’s just not fair.

However, although I freely admit that the Kolpak deals signed by the likes of Kyle Abbott and Duanne Olivier are very worrying, I think the Hashim Amla Kolpak signing is entirely different. Whereas Abbott and especially Olivier still had an international future ahead of them, and might still be playing international cricket had Hampshire and Yorkshire respectively not offered them a greater degree of financial security, Amla’s international race has already been run.

Kyle Abbott was 29 when he agreed a four year deal with Hampshire (he was 30 when he started playing for them), and Duanne Olivier was 26 when he committed to county cricket. Amla will be 37 by the time he turns out for Surrey. He retired from international cricket in August this year and was past his peak – he averaged just 27 in his last 14 test matches.

Although Olivier had a promising international career for South Africa, and has talked up his prospects of playing for England one day, South Africa lose nothing with this Hashim Amla kolpak deal. The bottom line is that Amla’s absence from their ongoing test match against India won’t affect the odds – punters can use the latest STS bet promotional code – one iota. He’s simply not good enough to win test matches anymore.

Consequently there are only beneficiaries in this situation: Surrey get the benefit of Amla’s runs and huge experience – he played 124 test matches and 181 ODIs – and Surrey’s youngsters will benefit from the mentoring role he will inevitably play. What’s more (whisper it quietly) Amla gets a nice pay day as his years as a pro wind down.

Although some might argue that Amla’s presence in the Surrey side might prevent the next Ollie Pope from getting earlier exposure to first team county cricket, I believe two factors offset this concern:

Firstly – and I cannot stress this enough – there are a whopping 18 professional cricket clubs in England. There are more opportunities for talented young players in this country than any other country in the world. Consequently, it’s simply not right to argue that a player of Amla’s undoubted class ultimately prevents the cream of English talent from rising to the top.

Secondly – and I bet all Surrey’s prodigious youngsters would agree – the presence of cricketing legends at county clubs benefits young players far more than it damages them. One only has to look at the impact of a certain Kumar Sangakkara at Surrey.

These (former) world class cricketers don’t just pass on invaluable advice and support, they also set a brilliant example for young players. They show them how to be a top pro, how to work hard, how to make the necessary sacrifices, and explain the mental side of being an international cricketer.

I’m positive that Alec Stewart – who has long argued that finding, developing, and preparing young players for England is every county’s raison d’etre – would argue vociferously that playing alongside Sangakkara and bowling to him in the nets has helped the Curran brothers immensely.

I also imagine that Ollie Pope has benefitted hugely from practicing with Surrey’s other Kolpak signing Morne Morkel. If Pope plays for England in South Africa this winter (and one imagines he will) it’s reassuring to know that he’s already spent hours facing Morkel in middle practices. Suddenly the prospect of blunting a fired up Kasigo Rabada isn’t such a step up.

Although Kolpak signings aren’t always good for the English game, and nobody wants to see too many mediocre foreign born cricketers clogging up the domestic scene, overall their influence on English cricket has been positive. Why? Because high quality imports raise the standard and reduce the gulf between the county championship and test cricket.

The awkward truth in English cricket is that eighteen county clubs is probably too many. I would never argue for the abolition of any counties, particularly as the ECB traditionally makes healthy profits despite the large handouts to all eighteen clubs, but there’s always the danger that talent is spread to thinly. Kolpak players, as long as they’re better than the English players they’re keeping out of the side, mitigate this problem to a significant extent.

What’s more, in the case of Surrey, signing Amla will help to counterbalance the loss of their considerable England contingent during the season. It can’t be easy dealing with the loss of Burns, Pope, Sam Curran, Roy, Tom Curran, and possibly even Ben Foakes at various points during the campaign.

With Amla in the ranks next summer, plus the possibility of Dean Elgar (or a player of similar quality) returning as the overseas player, Surrey will remain quality opposition throughout the year. And it will be a similar story across the country with many other counties. Although the wealthier clubs do have something of an advantage when it comes to offering more lucrative deals, the smaller counties have also exploited the current regulations well. Worcestershire, for example, have benefitted from Wayne Parnell’s availability, and Kent supporters have clearly enjoyed watching Heino Kuhn.

It’s worth remembering that when England’s test team was at its strongest circa 2003-2010, the county championship had more foreign players than ever before. They raised the standard, helped the very best young players to stand out, and created one of the toughest domestic first class leagues in the world. Even travelling Australians were surprised how competitive the cricket was.

Yes there’s a danger that too many Kolpak signings may eventually upset the balance between foreign and home-grown talent in England. However, I do not believe this point has been reached. What’s more, with Brexit (if it ever actually happens) likely to restrict the flow of imported cricketers in the future, I have no issue whatsoever with Surrey’s Hashim Amla Kolpak deal.

I understand if you’re not convinced by the above. County cricket is a complex and far from perfect ecosystem. However, before you damn all Kolpak cricketers to oblivion, please pause to consider the benefits these guns for hire have brought to their specific counties and county cricket in general over the years: Ottis Gibson, Murray Goodwin, Andre Adams, Shaun Pollock, Alfonso Thomas, Simon Harmer, and Ashwell Prince.

There are many other examples I could have used – not to mention the scores of overseas players who have made massive contributions to their counties too. The bottom line is that county cricket needs imports to survive and thrive. Without their presence the championship would lose its spice, and the standard simply wouldn’t cut the mustard.

James Morgan

Written in collaboration with STS

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  • Yes it’s a good signing for all your reasons James, providing at 37 he can stay fit, and interested. I don’t have a problem with Kolpacks, unless like Northants and Leicester a few years ago had over 50% between them.
    However, I believe Kolpack signings could be under threat, IF we ever leave the EU, but I don’t know the reasons why this should be. Perhaps someone else does?

    • Kolpak was the result of an EU court decision – as Wikipedia puts it: “The Kolpak ruling is a European Court of Justice ruling handed down on 8 May 2003 in favour of Maroš Kolpak, a Slovak handball player. It declared that citizens of countries which have signed European Union Association Agreements have the same right to freedom of work and movement within the EU as EU citizens”. For cricket that means South Africa & some Caribbean countries. When (if?) we leave the EU there is no legal reason why the Kolpak ruling would continue to apply to us. So logically there should be no new Kolpak player…what happens to those already here is probably, like so much else, not certain…

  • Cricket has few problems with the present set up for overseas players compared to the sorry state of the premiership and championship. There we can see how the desire for a quick fix has brought In a bevvy of second rate foreign mercenaries as our youngsters are farmed out on loan to lower division sides in order to get match practice.
    As the competition in domestic cricket is nowhere near as cut throat there will never be this imbalance, though our county scene is tempting to foreign youngsters in order to extend their often limited first class opportunities.
    The thing I object to more than any other here are the short term signings of established international players for a few weeks a season to help left silverware. It makes a mockery of the white ball scene. It used to be that foreign county recruits played full seasons and often lived here with their families, so there was a definite commitment and county identity to them, some of them becaming county captains. This is not expected any more as players come and go with massive cash inducements and monotonous regularity.
    Amlar may be able to impart something useful to the Surrey youngsters but realistically how long is this going to last and with his poor recent test record will hebe able to rediscover his touch on the county circuit.

    • That is one of the things I hate about the modern County Scene

      When I first started watching Lancashire Farouk Engineer who was right at the end of his career and Clive Lloyd were Lancashire’s Overseas Players. These two still live in Manchester. They were followed by Wasim Akram who played for Lancashire for 10 years except when Pakistan were touring England. Greenidge and Marshall at Hampshire, Richards and Garner at Somerset, Rice and Hadlee at Notts, and of course Zaheer and Procter at Gloucestershire (or should I say Proctershire). I could go on. These players were synonymous with their counties. Sure there were one or two who came and went but often they were temporary replacements either for injury or when the regular was on Test Duty in England.

      I hate the here today somewhere else tomorrow attitude of the present players and indeed Committees. I dread to think how many Overseas Players/ Mercenaries Lancashire have had over the past few years. This Summer was crazy. I suppose the one exception to the Merry Go Round is James Faulkner who has played a number of Seasons for Lancs now in the T20, and importantly when not playing for Lancs he hasn’t played for anyone else.

  • I, personally think it is a good thing, but in order to prevent the likes of say Leics and Northants abandoning their youth set ups and completely filling their sides with Kolpaks I would bring in a ruling that each side must contain say 8 players qualified to play for England.
    With England International players rarely turning out for their counties and others starting the season in the IPL, the county championship loses a lot of quality so it makes sense that high class overseas players plug that gap

    • I agree that there should be some restrictions. We need to be mindful of the damage Kolpak deals can do to countries like South Africa too. Amla moving to Surrey now doesn’t have any negatives because his international career is over and the English season finishes before the SA domestic season starts; therefore there’s no talent drain. However, other Kolpak deals can have a negative impact on international cricket.

  • If you have an interest James you ought to disclose it. For example if you are a Surrey fan or a member of the Club? If so it is special pleading, if not, you are making a general point.
    What I don’t like is the aside that there shouldn’t be as many as 18 counties without any real argument, justification or debate! The point about reducing the pool of players to raise the quality of players is elitist nonsense. If your net is wide flung you will be capturing more players to choose from. Given our population and reach our 18 Counties can supply potential players the rest is training. Training includes concentration on the basics and motivation. I’m not in favour of squeezing yet enough Kolpak player into the team by the wealthy sides or those sides stealing from other Counties who have invested in youngsters. I quote Surrey harvesting from Durham. Was it Hampshire that signed up four Kolpaks last year? In general I approve of visiting overseas players but they have to be fairly limited so they can be role models rather than rich pickings for some. Meanwhile Surrey will always have deeper pockets than some Counties.
    What we should always bear in mind is that we are trying to develop and spread cricket for the many youngsters who are interested in the game not reduce it for the few.

    • Hi Jackie. I support a smaller county – Worcestershire; so I definitely don’t have an interest to declare!

      However, I have no problem with Surrey signing Amla because he’s a legend of the game and I think he’ll help the younger players at Surrey without really blocking their route into the first team.

      I said explicitly in my article that I would never want to abolish counties. But I do think there are too many if we are simply going to rely on English talent (because talent would be spread too thinly).

      The presence of Kolpaks and overseas players helps us to sustain standards across the large amount of teams we have – thus justifying the existence of 18 teams! One of the reason why I’m in favour of QUALITY Kolpak players is because it negates the need to abolish counties in order to raise standards. I think you’ve got my argument all wrong.

      Yes in theory we have a population capable of sustaining 18 clubs playing to a high standard but interest and participation in cricket is currently too low for this to happen. We need to either make cricket the NO.1 sport in the UK, so there’s more young English talent, or boost standards via imports. The latter is expedient in the short term while we hope the game grows to facilitate the former.

      • If we go with the simple expedient of restricting how many players a county may field at any one time that are not qualified to play for England you get around all the international ramifications of restrictive practice. You can sign as many mercenaries as you like but you can’t play more than say 4 of them at any one time. The only issue then is who do you sign to help you win matches. This would likely be opening batsmen, opening bowlers, all rounders and spin bowlers. What is left are a surfeit of middle order batsmen and seam bowlers. Ring any bells with the present state of the game in this country?

  • Well at least this one actually retired from South Africa before being signed. Rather than the usual representing SA, still being in their prime and being snatched away (Abbott, Olivier, Harmer, Rossouw, and I could probably mention quite a few more). So in that sense a good signing, but is anyone really in doubt that a Kolpak XI would be a stronger side than South Africa, by the time South Africa tour England again?

    So a Kolpak XI, paid for by international broadcasting money deals (Sky) is actually stronger than what Sky are actually paying for whenever South Africa tour England. Yeah, perfectly sensible.

    • I don’t think SA players are” snatched away” as such. The fact is that financially they earn more playing County Cricket with most clubs than they do playing for SA. Morne Morkel for example retired from International cricket for a 3 year Kolpak deal with Surrey for financial as well, as probably with many SA’s, the political interference in team selection.

      • You do realize that you first have to be picked by South Africa to be eligible for a Kolpak deal? As Kyle Abbott admitted in tears it was all about the financial security for him (and I can’t blame him for that). Not because he did not care about the country, or that playing cricket for South Africa is just something to pay the bills for him.

        Rillee Rossouw was happy for CSA to pay his medical bills, and then set off to play domestic cricket in England. This after YEARS of investment by CSA in the player.

        And again, who is paying the counties? Oh yes, that is international cricket (the counties get more from the Sky Sports deal than they are allowed to spend on wages). So basically South Africa in particular is subsidising the wages of English players, to the tune that they even have to ship off their best players so that English players can learn how to play cricket. Great business model.

        Because obviously, half the counties can hardly be bothered to invest in English talent.

  • Amla’s a big non-issue.

    More seriously. a Test match is going on that’s 601/5d plays 36/3. Who wants to watch this shit? How was this allowed to happen? And what could be done about it – and why won’t it be?

    (BTW the home team won their second consecutive toss. What a surprise)

    • Amla is not an issue, in the sense that he has nothing to offer playing wise to South Africa. Unlike a whole bowling attack that South Africa shipped to England in the last 4 years. If he is the best #3 South Africa could possibly pick, they might as well apply to become the nineteenth county in England. Would save the counties a fair bit of money for scouting / bribing purposes too.

      As for the yawn-fest in India: Just give the touring side the chance to decide what they want to do. Not that it would make much difference in the end result of that particular Test, but at least it would be slightly more compelling than the test-card (do they still use that on TV?). At least it would also counter some blatant pitch doctoring which we have seen pretty much everywhere in the world.

  • Any truth to the rumour that Simon Harmer will qualify shortly for England? You know the most successful offspinner in county cricket in the last 3 years who has been an integral part to Essex winning two County Championships?

  • In his interview last month he admitted, if I recall correctly, that his progess along the visa path to a stage where he could be eligoble hadn’t really even got going.

    I’m not sure he’s been resident enough either–hasn’t he been playing a full domestic season in SA till last winter? I got the impression that the whole thing was his wishful thinking added to a lot of journalistic speculation

  • “You do realize that you first have to be picked by South Africa to be eligible for a Kolpak deal?”

    Are you sure, d’A? I thought du Plooy was playing as a Kolpak–and du Plessis and Ryan McLaren certainly did in the past a long time before they became SA players.

    You touch on one thing that is often overlooked in the Kolpak debate–no-one is forcing a county to pick Kolpak (or EU) players. All the Kolpak and Bosman rulings say is that if you do contract them, they can’t be treated as overseas players if they don’t want to be. But if every county ignored them–or came to an agreement that only players in Amla’s position, who’d already retired from international cricket having played a full career, would be contracted–then the problem for SA (or WI) cricket would die overnight.

    As it is, unless the UK remains in the EU then next season is the last season that there will be Kolpaks, according to the ECB’s current position. So counties like Surrey who have contracted new Kolpaks for longer than one year (or those that have given Kolpaks or EU players extensions beyond 2020) are taking quite a risk unless they’re happy to make them overseas players after next season. With Harmer, Vilas and Abbott I can see this happening (and Olivier apparently has a clause in his contract forcing Yorks to play him as an overseas player if the Kolpak system finishes during hIs contract)–but Surrey would have to choose between Morkel and Amla. And de Lange over, say, Labuschagne at Glamorgan as an overseas–you’ve got to be joking!

  • …I’m interested why an apparently innocuous opinion about Kolpak players from me seems to have been removed overnight….!


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