/ 8 July 2016

Money challenges the Proteas’ allure

Big hit: Rory Kleinveldt has become a hero at Northamptonshire.
Big hit: Rory Kleinveldt has become a hero at Northamptonshire.

Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) annual awards jamboree will take place with less to celebrate than in most years of the past decade and more to be concerned about.

Nonetheless, the emergence of Kagiso Rabada will be appropriately celebrated with nominations in almost every senior category.

Rabada is on a short-term contract with Kent in England, where he will play seven games in all three formats. He collected the man-of-the-match award on debut for leading the bowling attack in defence of a modest score. Kent have been so impressed they have already suggested a “first right of refusal” option for any periods in which the 21-year-old fast bowler might be available in the next decade.

Rabada still dreams of a long and glittering international career – he has read and listened to the hype and, happily not bothering with false and unnecessary modesty, he understands how good he may become and what he may be capable of achieving.

He also knows how much money he can make – he has been approached informally by three Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises for next year’s tournament.

But many other South African players are in a very different position, and are now looking either to establish a full-time career elsewhere – mostly in England – or become full-time freelancers playing as many domestic T20 tournaments as possible.

The last time South African domestic cricket was so unappealing was around the turn of the millennium when first-class salaries could comfortably be bettered by English club teams, never mind counties, and nonmerit selection was in its infancy.

The establishment of the South African Cricketers’ Association helped to address the issue of remuneration but now that the exchange rate has collapsed against the dollar and pound, and the foundations of sporting competition have been so dramatically changed, faith in the “system” to provide an adequate or reliable living is at an all-time low.

Former Cobras all-rounder Rory Kleinveldt has become a cult hero at Northamptonshire after just two seasons and has set such a powerful example for his countrymen that his name has become part of the informal lexicon of the agent’s bargaining: “My man can do a Kleinveldt for you – be your Kleinveldt.”

At least half-a-dozen current or former Proteas players have let it be known that they are available for permanent contracts in England, just as Alviro Petersen did two years ago when he retired from international cricket. South Africa has always, and will continue, to produce more young, first-class cricketers than any other cricket-playing nation, although India’s domestic standards are finally reaching a point where quality will soon match quantity.

But, equally, with just six professional franchise teams to play for and the ladder to success having been fundamentally altered, not to mention the shaky financial structure, more and more players aren’t even bothering to “have a go” in their home country. In Scotland’s most recent squad, there were four born-and-bred South African cricketers. They feature in Irish and Netherlands teams, too, and in domestic and club competitions everywhere.

Revolutions in cricket have come thick and fast for more than two centuries so it seems churlish to suggest that current changes will alter the game in South Africa any more than previous ones, or even “kill it”, as the most conservative lovers would have us believe.

But it is changing irretrievably, so it would seem wiser for the doubters to step aboard the listing ship rather than run aground or sink. According to many experts – cricketing as well as marketing, logistical and public relations – the golden window has opened for the South African and international game to right itself, but it will not remain open for long.

If the International Cricket Council is not able to gain acceptance from its members for both Test and one-day international leagues and some degree of standardisation for match fees for all competing nations, then international cricket will take a distant rear seat to domestic T20 competitions such as the IPL, Big Bash and the ongoing Caribbean Premier League (CPL).

There is an outside possibility that the imminent report into last season’s RamSlam match-fixing scandal will overshadow and embarrass the CSA awards ceremony on July 26. But, more likely, the event itself is the booby trap that will blow up in the faces of the very people trying so hard to put a smile on the CSA’s face.

Scheduled as it is during the closing stages – including semifinals and final – of the CPL, the 10 nationally contracted Proteas players spread across the six franchises in the Caribbean are contractually bound to return to Johannesburg. For a dinner. In a year in which they underperformed consistently and won nothing.

It is exactly the sort of straw that may, sooner rather than later, break the camel’s back of loyalty, which keeps persuading the best Proteas to follow a conventional career path rather than the one chosen by former Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum and all of the best West Indians – that of the itinerant, well-paid, happy mercenary.