Australian Kolpaks get closer
The name Kolpak already elicits tuts and frowns on the county circuit, but the reaction could soon grow stronger if, as expected, Australia and New Zealand add their names later this year to the list of cricketing nations with trade agreements with the European Union, a scenario which would allow their players to perform in England without the exclusive 'overseas' tag.
Maros Kolpak, a Slovakian handball goalkeeper, unwittingly changed the face of domestic cricket forever when he won a ruling at the European Court of Justice in 2003 permitting him to ply his trade in the German league as a non-foreigner. That decision paved the way for cricketers from nations who already had trade agreements with the EU - mainly South Africans, Zimbabweans and some West Indians - to circumvent the regulation that, until this year, limited each county to two overseas players. That quota will go down to just one in 2008 but the potential influx of Australians and, to a lesser extent, New Zealanders could render the attempt to create more places for young English talent redundant. Glamorgan are already considering signing Matthew Elliott, who has played 21 Tests for Australia, as a Kolpak player next season.
"It's a difficult one," says Dougie Brown, the chairman of the Professional Cricketers' Association. "It's a question of balance. We have to protect the integrity of the game but we can't be seen to discourage Australian and New Zealand players from coming over to ply their trade in the UK. We're right to want to encourage players who are going to play for England. It's a concern for the game. It's an ongoing issue and something we're aware of."
The ECB has tried to dissuade teams from picking non-England qualified players by ring-fencing a quarter of their £26m allocation to the 18 first-class counties as "performance-related" pay: the more England players a side produces, the more money it gets. But, as Brown points out, there is nothing the ECB can do legally, hence its reluctant acceptance earlier in the year of Jacques Rudolph's Kolpak status at Yorkshire, despite Rudolph - contrary to regulations that have proved non-binding - having played for South Africa in the preceding 12 months. Now Australians and Kiwis might try something similar.