Former coach says problem now serious July 19, 2006

Ford concern over South Africa's player drain

Cricinfo staff

Graham Ford: 'The lure of the pound is very strong' © Getty Images
The subject of the number of overseas players in English cricket has been argued over for years, but the recent influx of players under the Kolpak ruling has taken the debate onto a new level. The number of South Africans playing county and club cricket has never been higher, and most benefit from having British passports through parents or grandparents.

But while the issue is a concern to the English, it is also a worry for South Africa. Graham Ford, Kent's South African director of cricket, has been responsible for an influx of his countrymen to Canterbury, but he is worried by the trend.

He told AFP that he is inundated by phone calls and e-mails from South African parents desperate to get their sons into one of the leagues. "Every week, I receive hundreds of queries. I'm extremely concerned that so many quality players are deciding to play elsewhere. If we continue to lose so much talent it's bound to threaten our depth and it's going to be terribly difficult in the long run to maintain that same quality."

It was Ford, who coached the South African national side until 2001, who first identified that Kevin Pietersen was a special talent. "A lot of people ask me how we could let someone like that go," Ford shrugged. "I don't have an answer. I tried to keep him in South Africa but it didn't work out. The really worrying thing from a South African perspective is that we have no idea how many other potential matchwinners we are losing.

"South Africans have a big problem regarding KP [Kevin Pietersen]. They don't want to acknowledge that this guy is an exceptional talent. Of course it's sad seeing Pietersen winning games single-handedly for England when he could be doing it for South Africa," said Ford.

Ford added that the player drain was continuing. Former international wicketkeeper Nic Pothas, 32, will qualify to play for England this season - although his chances of a call-up are almost non existent - while Jonathan Trott, who is only 25, could well be drafted in after strong performances.

"The lure of the pound is very strong and you can't always fight against that," admitted Ford. "But there are other reasons as well. Disillusionment is just one of them. And then there are a whole lot of guys who simply haven't made it and are feeling sorry for themselves. It's a convenient excuse to blame the situation back home."

This winter, Ford, who coached the South African national side until 2001, will return to the republic to take charge of the Dolphins.