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