County view July 3, 2007

Passport of convenience

There seems to be no end to the number of Kolpak players joining county cricket, but it's about time stronger penalties were put in place

South Africa, England or a bit of both: Jacques Rudolph is hoping time with Yorkshire will lead to an international recall © Getty Images
The conversation at passport control might go something like this.

Immigration officer: "What's your purpose for entering the UK?"
South African visitor: "I've got a contract to play county cricket."
Immigration: "How long do you propose to stay?"
South African: "Two, maybe three, years...until Haroon Lorgat gives me a call to say there's a spot in the Test side...or I might hang around the rest of my career if I fancy playing for England."

Clearly, English cricket can't appear too churlish about South Africans who have decided to make these shores their home. Three are in the current one-day squad against West Indies (Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior) and another (Andrew Strauss) was involved in the Test series. Two of them, Pietersen and Trott, made the decision after experiencing the youth set-up in South Africa , a route that is now becoming a well-trodden path through Heathrow.

However, the ECB appears to have realised that the Kolpak system is being exploited with the news last week that each county has been written to, reminding them of the regulations about the standard of player that can signed. In reality it's unlikely to make much difference as the bigger problem developing is the trend of players using the system for short-term gain.

Over the last 12 months, Paul Harris at Warwickshire went from being a Kolpak player to a South Africa Test bowler and is now back at Edgbaston as one of their two overseas players. Jacques Rudolph has come over to Yorkshire to further his game with a view to returning to South Africa "a better player". He even signed having played international cricket within 12 months, which is one of the unenforceable qualifying limits for a Kolpak signing.

Ryan McLaren, the South African allrounder with Kent, is making a strong impression - so much so that Jacques Kallis has recently said he is on their radar as a possible ODI player. County cricket has always provided a strong finishing school for some of the world's best players, but it now appears to be boosting the credentials of anyone with the correct passport - without much thought about the future impact.

Lorgat, South Africa 's convenor of selectors, has gone so far as to say: "If anyone wants to play in England we won't stand in his way. On the contrary, he can only improve [by playing in England], which could be to the advantage of South African cricket. English conditions provide a good training ground to any player."

Vaughn van Jaarsveld, a 22-year-old batsman who has recently been snapped up by Warwickshire, is the latest to join the Kolpak ranks, but it's not a vote of confidence in the batting talent coming through the ranks at Edgbaston - a team that was good enough to leave Ian Bell out of their recent Friends Provident semi-final.

The problem is that the offers are too tempting. With the exchange rate so favourable any half-decent South African player is value for money when put against the cost of developing home-grown talent

The problem is that the offers are too tempting. With the exchange rate so favourable any half-decent South African player is value for money when put against the cost of developing home-grown talent, which won't bring immediate results. As Richard Bevan, chief executive of the PCA, told Cricinfo the current fee a county pays to sign a Kolpak player of £20,000 is too low. He wants it nearer £50,000 to dissuade counties from looking overseas. The ECB's current penalty for fielding more than three non-qualified players of £1100 (per player) in a first-class match is also quite laughable.

A paper is due out today by the Leicestershire chairman, Neil Davidson, about placing the emphasis on young English players. It will be worth following although, unsurprisingly given the make-up of Leicestershire's squad, he doesn't slam Kolpaks altogether. Glamorgan, a county short on money in recent years, has chosen not to dip into the foreign market and this season has handed debuts to James Harris and Tom Maynard with instantly eye-catching results. It could be the blueprint to follow.

Twenty20 goes sour

It's been a pretty long honeymoon period for the Twenty20. This is the tournament's fifth year and there's hardly been a bad word said about it. However, the past week has been a rocky time for rock-and-roll cricket. Monsoonal rains haven't helped, especially for Worcestershire who are now facing huge losses after New Road flooded, but it's beyond the boundary where concerns are growing.

At Southgate , some Middlesex players had their wallets stolen and the Hampshire team bus was pelted by stones. Now Robert Croft has spoken about the abuse he took, while fielding on the boundary at Taunton, which has gone above what a player would normally expect.

Twenty20 has attracted new fans to the game, generating an atmosphere in county cricket that hadn't been experienced for years while spectator numbers dwindled. It has become the main money-maker for most counties (hence Worcestershire's problems) and sell-out crowds flock into the grounds. A small number of spectators, though, seem to have let the entertainment go to their heads. It started as a family game and, to build on its outstanding success, needs to stay that way.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo