Ashwell Prince has blamed Cricket South Africa for the departure of Cobras batsman David Bedingham to Durham for the 2020 season. Bedingham has obtained the right to work in the UK through an ancestral visa, rather than a Kolpak deal, and is unavailable to play for Prince's Cobras in the domestic one-day competition which started today.
Bedingham will be joined at Durham by Farhaan Behardien, the allrounder who last played for South Africa in November 2018. Behardien has signed a two-year deal for the club, and joins the likes of Morne Morkel, Hashim Amla and Vernon Philander in choosing to end his careers abroad.
Bedingham, on the other hand, is about to enter his prime and was in his second season as a contracted Cobras player. He played in the Western Cape throughout his career and represented the South African Under-19 side in 2013, and Prince believes more could have been done to keep him in the country.
"It's high time that CSA sits down and look at things a little bit closer and don't beat around the bush of why people are leaving. Get to the crux of why people are leaving. Face it, confront the brutal facts. That's where we are at," Prince said. "If I had to criticise CSA, maybe they think people who can play at the highest level, you can walk around every corner and you find two or three but you don't. It's one percent of people who play cricket who can play at the highest level. If you are losing all of your one-percenters then what are you left with. You're left with… I don't know."
ESPNcricinfo understands that CSA were made aware of Bedingham's plans. Acting director of cricket Graeme Smith said he would comment at a future date.
Prince said he had a "good understanding," of why Bedingham opted to leave South Africa. "It is the same reasons you get every day, for everyone that leaves. It's about opportunity, it's about uncertainty, same old, same old," he said.
The Cobras, according to Prince, "tried everything to keep David here," but could not provide him with the security he needed. That is only likely to come for players when the restructuring of the domestic system, which is currently sub judice, is resolved. As things stand, CSA plans to cull the six-tier franchise system and install a 12-team provincial system, a move which could see up to 70 cricketers lose their jobs. That decision is on the verge of being rescinded but that may come too late for Bedingham.
Another oft-cited reason for players who leave South Africa relates to limited opportunity, which, for white players is a direct result of the transformation target. At domestic level, teams must play six players of colour, of which a minimum of three must be black African, leaving five places for white players. Prince, who was recently named coach of the South Africa A side after turning down a role as national team batting consultant, has made plain his unhappiness with the target at two of CSA's internal forums.
At both the coach's conference and the transformation indaba, he was among those who lobbied to eliminate the distinction between players of colour and black African players. If that were to happen, it would not create space for more white players, but would allow for flexibility in picking players of colour, who occasionally have to displace white players to meet the target.
Even if that were to occur, it would not guarantee Bedingham the game time to stake a claim for higher honours, which Prince believes he could do. "My honest opinion is that he has got a better chance of playing international cricket for South Africa if he had stayed. But you don't know what's going on in the players' head. I don't think he would struggle to get a contract at this level. And when I say this level, I mean franchise of county cricket it's the same level. Where does he have a better chance of playing international cricket? I think it's here," Prince said.
"Some people might say he hasn't done enough yet at this level. That might be true but you could also argue he should be in and around the SA A squads, at least. He has not had an opportunity at that level."
Behardein signed a two-year deal with Durham. "I have loved representing South Africa for many years, but now is the time to explore a new chapter," Behardien said. "This is a fantastic opportunity for me to support Durham's ambitions and play a key role moving forward in their success." The pair join two other South African-born players - Gareth Harte and Brydon Carse - in the Durham squad.
While Bedingham has been part of the Cape Town Blitz squad in the Mzansi Super League, he has not been considered for any national representative sides since age-group level. Until late last year, Bedingham held out hope of that changing.
In an interview with SA Cricket Magazine in November 2019, Bedingham appeared committed to the national cause but did not rule out seeking an opportunity abroad. "My dream is still to play for my country. Once you believe you can't play for your country, though, you do have to look at options like Kolpak," he said.
"There is obviously money and security abroad, as guys like Simon Harmer and Duanne Olivier have shown. One doesn't always know how they will fare abroad, though, with the different conditions, pitches, lifestyle, etc. It's different for everyone. Some are happy to take the risk to earn the money. Others are more family-orientated and might need to decide otherwise. I'm not there yet, but if I do get there, I'll look at all the aspects with perspective and decide accordingly."
Two months later, he has made his decision.