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County Cricket

Kolpak loophole to close at end of 2020, ECB advise counties

by Will Cracknell 15 minute read

Kolpak cricketers face uncertainty after the ECB advised counties they will no longer be able to participate in English domestic cricket as non-overseas players, and must instead be registered as overseas players in a post-European Union Britain from 2021 onwards.

Since 2004, cricketers from EU Association Agreement countries – mainly South Africa, but also Zimbabwe and several Caribbean nations – have been able to take advantage of their right to work in EU countries to ply their trade in county cricket.

The Kolpak rule – created when the European Court of Justice found the Cotonou Agreement meant Slovak handball player Maros Kolpak should not count as a non-EU player in the German handball league – allows players to sign contracts with English counties without having to be fielded as overseas players.

Somerset have signed Vernon Philander as a Kolpak for the 2020 county season

But new ECB guidance issued to the 18 first-class counties state Kolpak cricketers will no longer be classed as local players after “the end of the government transition period” – currently scheduled for December 31.

The advice of the ECB has come as a surprise to some counties, who hoped that players on existing Kolpak deals would be able to continue under the same arrangement for the duration of their contracts. On the same day Britain entered its transition period from the EU, Durham and Somerset confirmed the respective signings of former South Africa T20 captain Farhaan Behardien and veteran seamer Vernon Philander – both on two-year Kolpak contracts. But according to the ECB’s advice, both will be considered overseas signings in their second year, despite their deals being agreed as domestic players.

Currently, 17 South African Kolpaks hold 2020 contracts, as well as others from elsewhere – former West Indies bowlers Miguel Cummins (Middlesex) and Ravi Rampaul (Derbyshire), and Zimbabwean Blessing Muzarabani (Northamptonshire) among them.

The issue has proved divisive both domestically – with players accused of depriving up-and-coming English talent of places in county sides – and in South Africa.

To be eligible for a Kolpak contract, players must forego their right to represent their country, a factor cited by many for England’s dominance in their recent Test series win over a substandard Proteas side.

A myriad of factors lie behind South Africa’s cricketing exodus, but most lead back to issues of finance – exacerbated by the weakness of the rand, South Africa’s currency – and the sense that the governmentally-mandated transformation system, capping the number of white players the Proteas can pick, has reduced opportunities.

However, not all are convinced the cancellation of Kolpak contracts will lead to an immediate upturn in fortunes for South African cricket.

Speaking at a media briefing last week, Cape Cobras coach Ashwell Prince said: “Not every Kolpak player is going to strengthen the Proteas. A lot of them have tasted international cricket and most of them have failed.”

And closer to home, the narrative that fewer Kolpaks will increase opportunities for homegrown talent belies contributions made by these players to the county game.

What impact, for example, did facing Morne Morkel in the nets at Surrey have on Ollie Pope, Rory Burns or Sam Curran – all of whom have made their England Test debuts within the past two years and impressed at the top level?

Like many issues Brexit-related, it appears we must wait and see what the future holds for Kolpaks in the county game and whether whatever changes do come into effect are positive or negative.


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