Lancashire defend system after double Kolpak deal
Lancashire have become the latest county to raid South African cricket by signing Dane Vilas, the wicketkeeper-batsman, in a double Kolpak swoop which has also seen them shore up their batting strength by signing the veteran West Indian Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Vilas flew 600 miles to Johannesburg from Port Elizabeth as a late substitute in a Test against England at the start of 2016. Roughly a year later, at 31, he will fly around 5,000 miles to Manchester on a two-year Kolpak deal which realistically will bring his brief South Africa career to an end.
He is the seventh South African player to take that option as expectations grow that Brexit might bring an end to the arrangement which exists under EU employment law.
Kyle Abbott (Hampshire), Hardus Viljoen (Derbyshire), Simon Harmer (Essex), Rilee Rossouw (Hampshire) and David Wiese and Stiaan van Zyl (Sussex) have also signed Kolpak deals, although opening batsmen Dean Elgar and Stephen Cook have stayed loyal to South Africa by signing overseas player deals with Somerset and Durham respectively.
Not many 42-year-olds would win a county cricket deal, even in a winter when Kolpak signings have again flooded into the game, but Chanderpaul retains an appetite for batting and has a pragmatic, safety-conscious style which might have been designed to offset the passage of time.
Any burst of regional pride which met Glen Chapple's progress through the ranks to become Lancashire's head coach earlier this month will be tempered, for a while at least, by the decision to stock up with overseas reinforcements in an attempt to safeguard their future in Division One of the County Championship.
Lancashire only became sure of safety on the final day of the season when results went their way after they had suffered a heavy defeat against Warwickshire.*
Reeling from the enforced retirement of Tom Smith, they will plead that they have also had to contend with the loss in recent seasons of two further South African batsmen, Alviro Petersen and Ashwell Prince. Luis Reece has also been allowed to join Derbyshire.
Their batting is likely to be further compromised by the loss of one of their homegrown products, Haseeb Hameed, to England for the second half of the summer. Hameed is the first England opening batsman produced by Lancashire since Michael Atherton but it is possible that, after only 23 first-class matches, any further benefits accrued at county level will be strictly limited.
Ashley Giles, Lancashire's former director of cricket, supervised a successful progression from the Old Trafford academy before returning to Warwickshire to take up a similar role. Four players made their first-class debut in 2016. Liam Livingstone and Rob Jones both went on to hit maiden first-class centuries, with Livingstone earning England Lions selection. The legspinner Matthew Parkinson took a five-for on debut against Warwickshire and England Under-19 fast bowler Saqib Mahmood made his first-class debut against Hampshire as well as breaking into the NatWest Blast side.
Lancashire were at pains to point out that 19 players in the squad have come through the system. The Old Trafford academy, recently audited by the ECB, was ranked second, only to Durham, for producing young homegrown players who went on to make appearances for the club in the Championship in 2016.
"This evidences the club's ongoing commitment to developing young players to go on and play for England," a Lancashire media release stated.
Chanderpaul renews acquaintances with Lancashire after a spell at the county in 2010. Only Sachin Tendulkar, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis have played more Tests than Chanderpaul, who joins Lancashire on a one-year contract.
Chapple said: "He knows what it takes to be successful and there is no doubt that he will have a positive effect on our squad. The talented squad at Lancashire is very young and Shivnarine will bring a healthy level of experience to help guide them.
"Whilst Shivnarine will undoubtedly have an important role to play on the field, his role off the field will be of huge importance to our young players. He's one of the most experienced international cricketers in the history of the game and it will be a fantastic opportunity for our players to learn from him, in all aspects of the game."
Vilas can be expected to make more of an impact in the limited-overs formats, with Chanderpaul unlikely to figure often in T20.
Chapple said: "Signing a player of Dane's undoubted calibre and experience is a great boost. His aggressive batting style will see him as an important part of our T20 and one-day sides in 2017, as well as in four-day cricket."
*January 27, 1600GMT: This story was corrected to amend Lancashire's result
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps