October 15, 2008

Nowhere man

Why the Ryan McLaren issue has implications for English and South African cricket



McLaren: "trapped in an unfortunate legal situation" © Getty Images

Ryan McLaren's name may, in years, or even mere months, to come, rank alongside that of Maros Kolpak as one that denotes one of the most significant changes to English cricket's landscape in over a hundred years.

McLaren, the Eagles allrounder, signed a Kolpak contract with Kent two years ago, and after a highly successful first two seasons put pen to paper for a further two seasons for 2009 and 2010. Then his country came calling - at least two years too late. McLaren's performances had merited, at the very least, courteous recognition from the national selectors, but blessed with the presence of Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock in the national side, not to mention a plethora of almost similarly skilled allrounders, they ignored McLaren.

He then took the advice of those close to him and chose to take his skills where they would be appreciated, in every way, including financial. Then, when Andrew Hall, Johan van der Wath, Justin Kemp and Nicky Boje signed with the ICL, and Pollock retired, the cupboard looked very bare indeed for South Africa. McLaren looked the perfect, readymade replacement.

So what about the pesky Kolpak contract? The precedent had already been set by spinner Paul Harris' happy and trouble-free march out of Warwickshire in order to join the Proteas, so why couldn't McLaren so the same? That was certainly the attitude and approach of Cricket South Africa, who made cursory approaches to McLaren - "Are you interested in playing international cricket?" - and then dropped him cold, leaving him to deal with the Kent situation by himself.

Having said that, what do Kent believe they are achieving by denying McLaren the chance to fulfill a childhood ambition? Will he be the same player for his county knowing that his chance of competing against Australia has gone, and potentially his chance of a place in the 2011 World Cup squad? "Kent's attitude was a little disappointing, although they had technically sound reasons for their approach," said SA Cricketers Association chief executive, Tony Irish. "Everyone knows that the pinnacle of a young player's career is to represent his country, and I'm surprised they weren't a little more sympathetic.

"By allowing him to play for South Africa they would probably have ensured his loyalty forever, and they could easily have signed him as an overseas player for next season as South Africa have no commitments at all during the English season apart from the Twenty20 World Cup in June."

Cricket South Africa's chief executive, Gerald Majola, inflamed the situation on Monday by suggesting that McLaren didn't want to play for South Africa "enough" and that his Kent contract was "unenforceable." The implication was that the 25-year-old McLaren, having been snubbed by his country's selectors in his youthful prime, should sort out his own legal difficulties if he wanted to play international cricket.

 
 
What do Kent believe they are achieving by denying McLaren the chance to fulfill a childhood ambition? Will he be the same player for his county knowing that his chance of competing against Australia has gone, and potentially his chance of a place in the 2011 World Cup squad?
 

But McLaren is a loyal and decent person, unlike the swelling band of cricketing mercenaries who play for the biggest cheque, wherever it may be found. So he will play for Kent instead of South Africa. Maybe.

The difference between Harris and McLaren is that Harris' Kolpak contract was based on a nudge-nudge-wink-wink basis as far as the "playing for your country" clause was concerned. McLaren was forced to sign a sworn declaration that he had "no intention or ambition to play for his country". So when Majola accuses him of being unpatriotic, McLaren finds himself pasted into a dreadful corner. Should he say he is Kent-loyal only, then he would be lying. Should he say he wants to play for his country, he would be in breach of his contract and could have it terminated. Leaving him with next to nothing. "He is trapped in a very unfortunate legal situation and there isn't much he can say about it," said Irish.

The ICC, perhaps, will recognise the significance of talented players not being able to play for their countries - even when they desperately want to. If it doesn't, it will have to live with the prospect of dozens of the world's best players slogging it out on the domestic circuit in England, whose collective name will be "McLaren players".

Neil Manthorp is a South African broadcaster and journalist, and head of the MWP Sport agency

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