South Africa news March 1, 2016

Pillans' Surrey move sparks concern at talent drain


Surrey's desire to add depth to their bowling options has resulted in two young South Africans switching allegiance in order to play county cricket, increasing concerns in their home country about a drain of talent due to a lack of opportunity.

Dolphins fast bowler Mathew Pillans has signed a three-year deal the day after teenager and former Under-19 player Conor McKerr also agreed to join Surrey. Both have ambitions of playing for England although it will take them seven years to qualify.

McKerr has a British passport but the ECB's tightening of qualification rules means that, because he will arrive in the UK after his 18th birthday, he must serve a longer qualification period. However, he will only be 25 by the time he is eligible.

Pillans, who has secured an ancestral visa giving him the right to work in the UK, will be 31 but an an insider told ESPNcricinfo, "Mathew believes he has a better chance of playing for England in seven years' time than he does of playing for South Africa. He is not even in a franchise team here."

Pillans was schooled in Pretoria and played for the University of Pretoria team before moving to Kwa-Zulu Natal in 2013, when he could not find a regular place at Northerns. He featured sporadically for the Dolphins but played more regularly in the amateur Kwa-Zulu Natal Inland team this season. He took 21 wickets at 20.76 in five first-class matches and seven wickets at 9.42 in three List A games for the amateur side and nine wickets at 26.33 in two first-class games for the Dolphins.

Last season, it seemed Pillans had earned the right to a more regular place in the franchise team when he finished as the seventh-highest wicket-taker overall in the first-class competition and as the Dolphins' best performing quick. He took 29 wickets at 23.79, which included a ten-for against the Knights. Recently sacked coach Lance Klusener took a particular liking to Pillans and described him as a bowler who could "run in all day for you" but Pillans still found himself on the sidelines.

He was on a rookie contract with the Dolphins, earning R140,000 a year (US$8,943) and was becoming increasingly "frustrated by the lack of opportunity," said the source. When Graham Ford, who coached Surrey until leaving to take charge of Sri Lanka earlier this year, approached people in South Africa for assistance in finding recruits for the county, Pillans was one of the players recommended to him. Ford was involved in the negotiations between Pillans and Surrey, and he has been released from his Dolphins deal with immediate effect.

"It has been a really tough decision to make but I have been given a great opportunity that I'm looking forward to," Pillans said. "It has been great to have had the chance to work with the senior guys at the Dolphins; playing alongside them and to be around them to listen has really helped me take my game forward. I'm going to miss the Durban vibe and all the people but I'm also very, very excited about what my new opportunity holds."

The source warned that more players could be headed to other countries. South Africa's 2014 Under-19 World Cup-winning captain Aiden Markram has been approached by a team in New Zealand although the Titans told ESPNcricinfo they believe they will be able to hold on to him. Corbin Bosch, who played in the 2014 team under Markram, is moving to Australia and Obus Pienaar, another former Under-19 who plays in Bloemfontein, is also considering New Zealand as an option.

When asked if the exodus of players had to do with CSA's transformation targets, the source stayed away from making a direct link but hinted that it could be related. "I don't want to talk about quotas but I'll say that the balance of teams is affecting the opportunities people are getting. There are also other factors like the declining Rand."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Werner on March 3, 2016, 19:07 GMT

    Transformation... No matter how well you do, Sorry you did not make the side cos reasons. Who will be the next KP ?

  • ian on March 3, 2016, 7:40 GMT

    In the light of these two imports that bolster an inflated squad of quicks already at Surrey, I would have thought that (a) a rotation policy will be evident in Surrey's team selections, and (b) some of the players who are languishing in the Second XI will be out on loan as soon as the pecking order has been established. Competition for first team places will be keen. I am delighted for Mathew Pilans and Conor McKerr: if there are no opportunities within SA for career advancement, then you look to work in a country when you have the opportunity to fulfil your potential and earn a salary commensurate with your expertise. That is true in any field of endeavour, sporting or otherwise. That is the world in which we live.

  • Brokensaint on March 2, 2016, 19:21 GMT

    laduma 2 wrongs don't make a right brother

  • Alan on March 2, 2016, 15:38 GMT

    DALE_PAIN: It is not that the players allegedly considering leaving SA have not done sufficiently well to crack the nod at Franchise level. They are generally performing better than several regular franchise players in their respective unions. The point being made is that many cricketers at franchise level in SA are in the team not because they are the best players available to that specific union: they are selected because they are the best non-white players available to that specific union. Quite a difference. The standard of franchise cricket in SA is poor and, in my opinion, should not be considered as First Class. I can think of club teams in the past who would have been too strong for some of the franchises.

  • Ray on March 2, 2016, 12:59 GMT

    @ ChewtonMendip: "Whatever happened to Surrey's youth system? Whatever happened to developing your own talent? " That's a little unfair. 10 of last season's squad were Academy graduates.

  • Benn on March 2, 2016, 12:51 GMT

    Equally, it'll all be about whet Stewie can get for his $. An aspiring SA player will cost the club less given the exchange rate on hand. Don't get me wrong, this isn't solely about the money, but it'll be a HUGE factor in what Surrey look at investing in. The deal breaker, though, will be game time.

    I'll back Matty P to take 60 championship wickets this year if he plays.

  • Ray on March 2, 2016, 12:48 GMT

    I know nothing about either Pillans or McKerr but our SA friends seem to rate Pillans especially. Personally, I think that it's unlikely that he will play for England at 31, and his move has more to do with money. McKerr's a different kettle of fish - one for the future - as I doubt that he will figure much for the 1st X1 this year. Have to agree with @oldenguy, with the arrival of Foottit I thought that we had enough cover in the seamers. Disappointing, I think that this probably means that Meaker will be off - and (unlikely though possibily) Dunn. Hopefully, Meaker will be able to rebuild his career elsewhere. He's been plauged by injuries recently, and hasn't exactly been helped by Surrey's recruitment and selection policies.

  • werner on March 2, 2016, 12:14 GMT

    @LADUMA - agree with you if it was applied in the junior ranks, but provincial and National level - definitely not the place for politics.

  • Martin on March 2, 2016, 11:51 GMT

    Whatever happened to Surrey's youth system? Whatever happened to developing your own talent? Depressing that they're just bringing over some South Africans. Come on Stewey, you can do better than that.

  • Richard on March 2, 2016, 10:48 GMT

    This seems a puzzling move by Surrey - they have 8 fast or medium bowlers already on their books - Tom & Sam Curran, Matt Dunn, James Burke, Mark Foottit, Aneesh Kapil and the two warhorses Jade Dernbach & Stuart Meaker (not to mention Chris Morris for some 20/20 games). There's surely more than enough talent there, even taking into account potential England call-ups, injury or rotation If there are new signings as well, one wonders whether some of the above might start feeling undervalued & underused, and consider moving themselves!

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