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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Greg on October 17, 2008, 2:25 GMT

    There are no 'good guys' in this farce. Ryan McLaren? Another latter-day South African taking the easy option, running away and playing for English money instead of being patient and backing his own ability to eventually play internationally. Only 23 years old and he signed away his chance to play for his country. How much self-belief has he really got? Kent? Well they certainly don't have McLaren's best interests at heart, do they? Majola? Let's just say that he hasn't been a force for good in South African cricket and statesmanship is an alien concept to him.

  • Andy on October 15, 2008, 16:51 GMT

    So, let me get this right, if a player does not get picked for his country he is free to go and work where ever he may choose, and accordingly signs a contract for a monetary sum over a specified period which siuts him and his country's selectors at that time.

    Then, a little while in the future, his country comes knocking and the contract that was signed should be ripped up? Sorry, but I dont think so, in the real world it doesnt work like that, it would be known as "having your cake and eating it".

    He, Kent and South Africa knew what the deal was and he or SA should have done something before he signed.

    Simple as that to me. I do think, however, that Kolpak should be abolished as it is harming English cricket by having half of SA playing in the counties.

  • Charlie on October 15, 2008, 14:47 GMT

    Kent employ and play McLaren as a non-overseas player. If he were to play for South Africa that would have to change. This in turn would mean that Kent couldn't play (what would then be) another overseas player, as they were able to do this year. That's how they lose out. And that's why, given that these are the terms of the contract McLaren knowingly entered into, Kent are not acting unreasonably.

  • Paul on October 15, 2008, 14:24 GMT

    I can understand Kent's stance on this. They have invested in Ryan Mclaren, for the last two years and the mext teo, and to a degree have gone about structuring a side around him, in one-day terms. So why, when he has signed a contract saying he has no intention of representing his country, would they release him without any compensation, to go and do something he said he wouldn't. And that's Kent's fault ?

    He has my sympathy, because he obviously never thought his last last two seasons with Kent could have gone so well, and that SA would come calling. They indeed are expecting him (and Kent) to drop everything, including 50% of his wage, which he was willing to do, to go running and play for SA.

    However, players in SA do have a get out clause if their talents are not being recognised as quick as they would hope. They can run off to English cricket and earn plenty more money, however, they should not be surprised if it does come back to bite them on the behind in the future.

  • StJohn on October 15, 2008, 13:38 GMT

    We'd need to see the actual contract, but being 'forced to sign a sworn declaration that he had "no intention or ambition to play for his country".' sounds potentially unenforceable & possibly illegal itself, although suing, or being sued by, your employer is not always good for a long-term, cordial relationship! That said, it's a personal choice and who really knows what was said in private between parties? There appear to be many perfectly viable options (at least from the outside): English qualification; waiting until the contract term expires; simply ignoring the contract and seeing what Kent do; or just joining another county. But what do the parties themselves have to say? Kent's attitude sounds very tight and could well be short-sighted and self-defeating: some international exposure might make him even better for Kent. On the other hand, maybe RM doesn't want to make a fuss, loves Kent (it's a great place to live!) and sees his long-term future in England anyway. Who knows?

  • Terence on October 15, 2008, 13:35 GMT

    It is a pity about Ryan not been able to play for SA, but I sometimes wonder at the treatment some of our players get from the board with a host of players choosing to turn their back on SA cricket - Andrew Hall, Johan van der Wath and even Shaun Pollack retired before their time, and recently I have read headlines saying Ntini is not happy with the treatment he has recieved for Cricket SA. Mayby the board should appreciate the talent we have and try bring the players thru? We also stay loyal to the older players like Kallis, Boucher and Gibbs, who have all had really bad runs of form at times. Release these players to play for their provence for a short time to get their form back and slot in a younger player into the full SA team to blood them? How else will we know how good they are? Because, Bangledash and Kenya, with all repect - can sometimes not even compete with some of the top tier tournaments within SA, never mind international level....

  • Emily on October 15, 2008, 9:39 GMT

    I think this endless bashing of SA cricket administrators is often not fair. Its like if a guy doesnt get into the SA team the moment he shows talent he strops of to England muttering about quotas etc ala Vaughn Van Jarsveld (and yes KP)...fact is as the author points out who would you drop for Mclaren over the last few years Pollock or Kallis, Hall and Van der Wath had claims every bit as legitimate when they were selected above McLaren...look how long some Aussie lads slogged in domestic cricket before getting their shot. But in SA its like the system is held to ransom, I want it all instantly or i go Kolpak. Fact is Ryan did say he wanted to play for SA and would have had the legal restrictions not been in place, Kent were unreasonable and the ICC shoud step in to stop any domestic strucutres barring their players from playing international cricket.

  • Richard on October 15, 2008, 6:42 GMT

    I dont blame Ryan at all for not playing for South Africa as I am certain that he will qualify for England pretty soon, this has nothing to do with Kolpaks or contracts it is a way out for him so he can qualify for England. South Africa keep getting it wrong, they messed up with KP and they have done the same with Ryan.I suspect South Africa tried to pick him against lesser opposition, play him 2 or 3 times then forget him, in this way he will never be able to play for England. In a few years he will be qualified and will move seemlessly into Freddies spot when he is ready to retire. All the best Ryan and well done for not falling for it.

  • jay on October 15, 2008, 6:07 GMT

    In the long run McLaren may be glad he chose Kent over SA. He could be the next KP in bowling terms if and when he turns out for England in the future.The approach of SA has been shoddy to say the least towards its cricketers. People point fingers at Asian bloc for mismangement by its board, but the level of nepotism and short-sightedness punctuated regularly by scrapes between its big-wigs is a matter of shame. The players will do what McLaren has done - they stand a far better quality of life, respect and recognition for their skills, and acknowledgement of their rights in England than SA. And this guy Majola ought to exit the big stage - he's an embarrassment- making gaffes aplenty. Congrats McLaren for a wise choice - the same cant be said about SA cricket admininstrators.

  • Alan on October 15, 2008, 5:07 GMT

    I hardly see how Kent lose out by McLaren playing for South Africa outside of the English season. In any case, won't he be able to represent South Africa after his current contract expires (assuming he doesn't sign the same clause)? He's only 25, so I think the implication that his international career's over before it started is a little premature.

    As to being "left with nothing" if he terminates his contract- surely there are plenty of counties who'd happily accpet him as an overseas player? If he doesn't want to wait two years, then I'm sure he has that option.

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