South African Dane Vilas and Cameron Delport's hopes of continuing to play in county cricket as local players courtesy their ancestry visas have been dealt a terminal blow, after the ECB confirmed that they would not be exempted from the cancellation of Kolpak registrations when the UK's transition period with the European Union (EU) ends on December 31, 2020.
Alan Fordham, the ECB's head of first-class cricket operations, sent a letter to the counties, the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) and the relevant boards last week, setting out the changes that would be made to eligibility registrations following the end of the transition period. That included the long-anticipated cancellation of Kolpak registrations and confirmation that EU nationals with settled or pre-settled status in the UK would continue to qualify as local players.
After lobbying from the PCA, the ECB had confirmed this July that counties would be able to field two overseas players rather than one in both the County Championship and the One-Day Cup in order to protect the jobs of players on Kolpak deals.
Both Vilas and Delport had appealed to the ECB in the hope that their ancestry visas would mean they remained eligible to play as non-overseas players for Lancashire and Essex respectively, and both remained optimistic when contacted by ESPNcricinfo last week.
But Fordham's letter, published on the ECB's website, affirmed that the cancellation of Kolpak registrations would "apply regardless of whether such player currently holds, or is able to obtain, an ancestral or family visa giving them the right to work in the UK".
ESPNcricinfo understands that the changes have been approved by the ECB board and are not pending appeals. It is unclear, however, whether the ruling will face any legal challenge from players affected at this stage.
"Confirmation that EU nationals would only be eligible if they have settled or pre-settled status came as a blow to Dutch cricket as well, seemingly ending the pathway for young players to gain experience at the county level - much like the now first-class-veteran Ryan ten Doeschate - unless they move to the UK on a permanent basis"
Vilas, 35, is expected to stay at Lancashire next season despite the ruling. Since signing for the club in 2017, he has settled in London with his wife Pippa, whose ancestral visa means that he has - and would continue to have - the right to live and work in the UK. Lancashire have previously given him guarantees that he would stay on as an overseas player. That said, he is unlikely to retain his top-bracket contract in the Hundred with the Manchester Originals, competing for one of three overseas spots rather than being one of the better local players available.
For Delport, meanwhile, the ruling could be the first step on his return to the international fold. He has previously held conversations with South Africa's director of cricket Graeme Smith and head coach Mark Boucher about the possibility of playing for his native country in the 2021 T20 World Cup, and publicly revealed his intentions to represent them while speaking to ESPNcricinfo last month.
In practice, many players on Kolpak registrations - including Simon Harmer, Duanne Olivier and Stiaan van Zyl - will become their respective counties' overseas player next year, while a handful - like Fidel Edwards and David Wiese - are expected to be released at the end of the season.
Confirmation that EU nationals would only be eligible if they have settled or pre-settled status came as a blow to Dutch cricket as well, seemingly ending the pathway for young players to gain experience at the county level - much like the now first-class-veteran Ryan ten Doeschate - unless they move to the UK on a permanent basis.