Amol Muzumdar was waiting and waiting with pads on while schoolboys Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli stitched on their memorable partnership.
Amol is universally accepted as the best domestic player who has not played for India. On his 1st class debut for Mumbai, he scored 260. It was the world record for the highest score on 1st class debut until it was broken by Ajay Rohera, who scored 267 for Madhya Pradesh in 2018.
At present, Amol is the batting coach for the South African team. However, does he have the best talent available to him to try and get the South Africans to perform? Certainly not! Let us see why and how.
South Africa have just lost a Test series to India 3-0, in which they were comprehensively outplayed by the hosts. While the Indian team was definitely superior and even had the luxury of having proven performers like Hanuma Vihari and Ishant Sharma out of the playing 11 and a class act like Bhuvaneshvar Kumar not even in the Test squad, South Africa, on the other hand, has talented players choosing domestic cricket elsewhere over national duty, thanks to the Kolpak rule.
What is the Kolpak rule? It is named after Maros Kolpak, a Slovakian handball player who became eligible to play in the German League after winning a case in court. As per this rule, a player can choose to play domestic sports including cricket in another country provided he/she foregoes the opportunity to represent his nation.
As many as 78 countries signed the Cotonou agreement with the European Union and it would prove to have far-reaching consequences. In fact, things reached such a ridiculous situation that a Leicestershire-Northamptonshire match in 2012 had as many as 12 South African players. Rules had to be tightened thereafter.
How does Kolpak help the English Counties? It is because while they could field only one overseas player earlier, now they could field these quality overseas players as domestic ones. Therefore, the quality of the local teams improved dramatically.
Claude Henderson, who had played seven tests and four ODI’s for South Africa was the 1st cricketer who signed up under the Kolpak rule to play county cricket for Leicestershire in 2004. Thereafter many cricketers from South Africa have followed suit. Other affected countries are Zimbabwe, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana. New Zealand too is covered under the Kolpak rule, but only Andre Adams and Grant Elliott having opted for it; New Zealand has not been adversely affected to a major extent.
The country most affected certainly has been South Africa. Interestingly, even the current skipper Faf du Plessis was a Kolpak player for a years, but then did the reverse and made his debut for South Africa after giving up his Kolpak status
At present, Simon Harmer for Essex, Kyle Abbott and Rilee Roussouw for Hampshire, Morne Morkel for Surrey, Duanne Olivier and Hardus Viljoen for Derbyshire, Wayne Parnell for Worcestershire, Merchant de Lange for Glamorgan, David Wiese and Stiaan Van Zyl for Sussex, Richard Levi for Northamptonshire , and Dane Vilas for Lancashire are examples of South African players who would almost certainly have figured in their national team, but are now playing country cricket in England.
The Kolpak phenomenon, as can be seen from the above details, has been there since 2004 and steadily whittling away at the talent available for selection for the South African national team. The problems are manifold and the main reason for the exodus of South African cricketers via Kolpak route is the weak South African Rand vis-a-vis the British Pound (1 Pound equals 18.73 Rand), need for financial security and also the racial quota system in South African cricket ( Zimbabwe as well). As per this quota system, only five out of the eleven players in the South African team can be whites. Consequently, talented whites feel they will compete for 5 and not 11 players and thus, coupled with other reasons, opt for domestic cricket overseas.
Apart from talented players opting out and diminishing the available pool for selection, another problem area is that possibly it is hastening the retirement of existing class players. Two examples would be Hashim Amla and Morne Morkel, both of whom have been signed on by Surrey. The problems are dual. First, a top class player may leave international cricket earlier and second, he is not available domestically as a mentor for local talent. For instance, while Wasim Jaffer is not playing for India since quite some time, he is available to play first class cricket and provide invaluable guidance to emerging youngsters. That option is not available for retired South African stars who have signed the Kolpak agreement.
How can Brexit help South African cricket? Simple, the players will no more be considered as domestic cricketers and be considered as International cricketers and so with only one allowed per team, the South African-Kolpak players will be eligible to play for South Africa again.
It looks like, not just Boris Johnson, but South African cricket and its fans too would like Brexit to happen soon.
Do you agree?
[The writer is a columnist based in Mumbai. The views are personal.]