Two fast bowlers‚ a short format all-rounder‚ an off-spinner‚ a middle order batsman and an opening batsman — both left-handed — walk into a pub somewhere in deepest‚ palest‚ middle England and say: "Howzit."
They are‚ respectively‚ Kyle Abbott and Hardus Viljoen‚ David Wiese‚ Simon Harmer, and Rilee Rossouw and Stiaan van Zyl. It was announced at the weekend that Wiese had signed a contract with Sussex.
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 SA‚ 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 is 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 is no doubting that South African cricket has been rocked by the steady stream of Kolpak defectors. It is as if we have 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 should not 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 CE of the South African Cricketers’ Association‚ said. "They are going to environments where they believe they will be more secure in their careers.
"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 SA has invested and we have to look at a more effective retention strategy for them in SA."
Stemming the Kolpak tide looms as the biggest challenge the game in this country will face in 2017‚ and probably in subsequent years.
Cricket SA is mulling limiting the number of Kolpak players allowed in domestic teams. It seems a reasonable line of defence but it carries the danger of these players avoiding being part of the game in this country altogether. This would create more opportunities for players but could lead to a lowering of already sagging standards at franchise level.
A plan to manage the situation is in the works.
For its next trick Cricket SA will need to pull out all the stops to lend its proposed new T20 tournament the credibility it will need to square up to established events, such as the Indian Premier League and the Big Bash League. Where the hard currency will come from to buy the players who will guarantee that credibility is the question.
Cricket SA will want to keep hitting its transformation targets in the national teams for a range of reasons‚ among them to earn Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula’s blessing to bid to host the 2018 World T20.
That is if the International Cricket Council decides to shift the tournament from its current four-year frequency to a biennial schedule.
And then there is India.
Before their previous tour to SA‚ in 2013‚ they subjected Cricket SA 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 on‚ and Cricket SA 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‚ Cricket SA.