Simon Harmer closes door on England ambitions, but would welcome SA talks
Spinner cites change in Kolpak regulations for ending hopes of qualifying for England
Simon Harmer believes that his hopes of qualifying to play Test cricket for England are over, but has not ruled out the possibility of a return to the South African set-up, after starring once again for Essex with 14 wickets against Surrey at Chelmsford.
Harmer, 31, overcame an abductor strain to lift Essex clear at the top of the Bob Willis Trophy South Group, returning second-innings figures of 8 for 64 to complete a 169-run victory on the final afternoon.
It was the third time in his first-class career that he has claimed 14 or more wickets in a match, a feat that no bowler has achieved since the Kent spinner, Derek Underwood, between 1967 and 1983.
He has now claimed 230 wickets at 20.01 in his four seasons at Essex, including 18 five-wicket hauls and four ten-fors, but speaking after the match, he acknowledged that the UK's impending exit from the European Union, and the changes to the Kolpak ruling that that will entail, have effectively ended his chances of qualifying to play for England.
"I think so," he said. "With the Kolpak ruling changing, as far as I know with clarity, the Kolpaks will fall away at the end of the year when England leaves the EU and therefore the door closes.
"I have explored trying to get onto a different visa so that I can have more rights, in terms of buying property and a whole load of other things but I got a very stern no from Alan Fordham at the ECB. As far as I am concerned there is no future there."
Harmer played five Tests for South Africa in 2015 before joining the country's exodus into the ranks of county cricket. However, with his status set to change to that of an overseas player from 2021 onwards, when all counties will be permitted two such registrations, there is still the outside prospect of him being reunited with his former countrymen.
"It is a difficult question to answer," he said. "There is a lot happening back in South Africa and I don't know what the feeling is back home.
"As far as I'm concerned, my main focus is with my employer which is Essex. I don't look too far ahead and just try to do as well as I possibly can.
"If other things happen and fall into place then what will be will be. I can only focus on myself, my own performances, on Essex and trying to contribute as I can to winning as many trophies as I possibly can. As a professional cricketer that's what it all boils down to."
Harmer has already been an integral part of two County Championship victories in the space of three years, and last season he captained Essex's T20 side to a thrilling final-ball victory against Worcestershire in the T20 Blast final, and even hit the winning runs.
"There are a lot of teams with a lot of players that don't win trophies and I think we are in a very special place as a team and I think we need to capitalise on that," he said.
"It is a once-in-a-generation thing and I think there is something very special brewing here at Essex with the players who are coming through with the players we already have. I think we can really be a dominant force in county cricket for a long time to come. That is my focus and I am quite excited about being a part of that and the rest of the noise is just noise."
Nevertheless, with South African cricket in a state of flux at the moment, Harmer said he would welcome the chance to sit down with CSA's director of cricket Graeme Smith, and find out once and for all whether he has a chance of representing his country again.
"Yeah, I think there needs to be an open-door policy from both sides and there needs to be commitment from both sides," he said. "There is quite a bit that needs to happen but I am all for having discussions but for now it is a long way off.
"There is a lot happening back home in South Africa to do with coronavirus. When is cricket going to get going again etc? I try to keep things short term and try and take care of the now. If you are doing the right things then perhaps bigger things might happen.
"I am a believer in positive energy and putting positive energy into the universe, so whatever is meant to be will be."