County view June 11, 2008

Glamorgan's Kolpak-free future?

Ivo Tennant
Ivo Tennant looks at the Kolpak question, one that Glamorgan in particular is seeking to answer

James Harris: Glamorgan's teenage star-in-the-making has emerged from their academy system © Getty Images

So which club will take a moral stance and not include any Kolpak players? It's an even harder question to be answered given the sums of money available for success in the newly formed Twenty20 Champions League, not to mention the row that's emerging over the participation of players contracted to the rebel Indian Cricket League.

As Nasser Hussain, the former England captain, put it this week, the temptation now must be to field an entire XI of Afrikaners, West Indians and assorted others under the banner of a first-class county, drawn to the UK by the prospects that extend well beyond bounty from regular employment and, in the case of the numerous South Africans, a wonderful exchange rate.

The ECB is awaiting clarification from the EU as to how to handle a further influx of Kolpak cricketers, but, whatever the legal ruling, the ones already actively playing in England will be protected. Imagine, then, how smug Yorkshire would feel if they had never abandoned their original policy of selection of only those cricketers born within the Broad Acres.

We forget that interest in the game is fostered by an identity with home-grown heroes. Which boy or girl growing up within a ten-mile radius of Leicester or Northampton is drawn to support the county side by the presence of - to paraphrase Sir Robin Day - individuals born thousands of miles away and who are in England only because of a legal loophole?

At Swansea a fortnight ago, during a match against Glamorgan, the topic of discussion for the Northamptonshire side over the tea table was not the works of Dylan Thomas or the beauty of the Mumbles or even the worth of the match in progress but the merit of Paul Harris, the South African left-arm spin bowler. At least this was not carried out in Afrikaans.

Northamptonshire won that match through prominent contributions from Johan van der Wath, Andrew Hall and Nicky Boje (their overseas player). The following week Leicestershire defeated Glamorgan as a result of HD Ackerman scoring 164, Jacques du Toit, who will qualify for England in the autumn through residency, making 63, Boeta Dippenaar (their overseas player) taking four brilliant slip catches and Dillion du Preez and Claude Henderson taking 11 wickets between them.

In other words, Kolpak signings and the men of the Veldt triumphed over the boys from Cymru. And boys are just about what they are, given that James Harris, the most promising Welsh cricketer to emerge since Simon Jones, is at present taking his A-levels. The point, though, is not so much the results of these Championship matches, which, anyway, were almost overlooked on the sports pages owing to the ceaseless comment about where the Twenty20 game is leading.

The point is that Glamorgan are taking a stand in looking to develop their own cricketers. The Glamorgan and Wales Academy is based in the National Cricket Centre at Cardiff and the brief is to nurture promising young Welsh cricketers. "The club has always looked to develop players of its own," said Matthew Maynard, Glamorgan's Cricket Manager. "We have to be careful about the long-term effects on the English game.

"The ECB has to look at the issue of Kolpaks, although how to manage this is another matter," said Maynard. "If it says the way ahead is for each county to restrict the numbers, then that is right. I only started this job last September and I have already been approached by 15-20 Kolpak players - good ones such as Charl Langeveldt - but I want to see where we are as a squad first. We are not held back from signing them by any lack of finance."

It could be said that Glamorgan did not always occupy the moral high ground. Rodney Ontong and Simon Base both pre-dated the influx of Kolpaks as a result of being South Africans registered to play in county cricket. Roland Lefebvre, who also played for Somerset, was signed through an EU qualification. Even Chris 'Kippy' Smith - Robin's brother - had one match for Glamorgan before joining Hampshire.

Kevin Lyons, the Glamorgan allrounder who became the coach of Western Province, was the key link. Of the 1969 Championship-winning side, Tony Cordle, the Bajan allrounder, was not an overseas player but qualified through becoming a naturalised resident. And they made some dubious overseas signings in subsequent years as well as some very good ones.

As for the other Kolpak-rich counties, Leicestershire argue forcefully that they have to compete - and cannot do so if the likes of Stuart Broad depart to wealthier counties. Then there is what might be termed the Arsenal factor: the absence of Englishmen, let alone citizens of north London, does not prevent crowds from being drawn to the Emirates Stadium. The same could apply to the IPL. Shane Warne, the captain of the victorious Rajasthan Royals, has not as yet qualified to play for India.

Still, anyone who cares for the future of English cricket will have a soft spot for Glamorgan. And they might even end up supporting them. Goodness knows, as they contest bottom place in the second division championship table with Gloucestershire following a third successive defeat this week, they are in need of all the backing they can get.