THE DISTRIBUTION OF MONEY IN CRICKET
By Adam Hassan
On the 26th February 2019, the South African fast bowler Duanne Olivier announced that he had decided to join Yorkshire on a 3-year Kolpak deal, making him the 41st South African cricketer to sign a Kolpak contract since the Kolpak arrangement came into place in 2003. The Kolpak ruling allows citizens from around 100 nations to play cricket in any EU nation without being considered as an overseas player. For those 3 years he won’t be able to play for South Africa, and the South African selectors have more or less said that he won’t play for South Africa again, both things he knew when he signed this deal.
Olivier has given up a potentially exciting international career which saw him, at the age of 26, take 48 wickets in 10 Test matches at an average of 19. The surprising thing about this is that it comes right after he’s broken into the South African team and proved quite a vital cog. He’s just had a breakthrough home summer in South Africa, and against Pakistan in particular, we saw that he’d finally made the step up to international cricket and was a revelation on the bowling side. For someone like him to turn his back on South Africa in favour of the county game in England is a big problem for South African cricket.
On the surface it’s very disappointing to see a player seemingly in the prime of his career turn his back on his country, but actually it’s a lot more complicated than that. There are so many underlying reasons why he would make this decision. He would’ve agonised over this, and he would’ve balanced it up against the vitriol he’s going to get in response to this, but in the end financial security won out; he’ll earn 3 times more money playing for Yorkshire than he did for South Africa. It can’t be right that it makes more sense for Olivier financially to play for Yorkshire than to play for South Africa. It’s an issue that has to be addressed, because until Cricket South Africa (CSA) can compete with that sort of opportunity, we’ll continue to see this.
I don’t blame Olivier; it’s not really about the individual. In an ideal world you’d like them all to devote their time to the badge, but we live in far from ideal times. I find it more about the situation that has led the player to make this decision, and clearly the economics are so skewed against South Africa at the moment. Last year, AB de Villiers was earning the same amount on his Test contract for South Africa over 5 years as he would in 1 season in the IPL.
The other issue here is that Duanne Olivier and Kyle Abbott are the high profile examples, but actually it’s people like Stiaan Van Zyl and Colin Ackermann that have a knock-on effect in South Africa, because then you get a South African domestic system where you’re taking out the experienced players or the players who might push those in possession in the national team. It was only a few years ago that Stiaan Van Zyl was being touted as the Ian Bell of South Africa. Colin Ackermann signed his Kolpak deal when he was being talked of by South African selectors to open for the England tour. That is going to be the biggest strain, if players choose £50,000 a year to play Division 2 cricket over fighting for a place in their national side.
South African cricket fans are going to be feeling absolutely distraught by this, because they’re losing talent to these Kolpak deals. CSA have invested a lot of time, money and effort into Olivier, and they did everything they physically could do to keep him playing. How much time and emotional investment can they throw at these players when they don’t know if they’re going to be playing 5 years down the line?
We’ve seen similar problems in the West Indies, but on a much more alarming scale. The West Indian cricketers were playing for next to nothing compared to what they knew they were worth, so they took a stand and refused to play the domestic game, and were therefore unavailable for international selection. In fact, when the West Indies won the T20 World Cup in 2016, only one of the players in their squad was also in their Test squad, because all the other player were playing in T20 franchise leagues around the world: the IPL, the Big Bash, the PSL, the Ram Slam, the BPL etc. Incredible talents such as Chris Gayle, DJ Bravo, Kieran Pollard, Andre Russell and Darren Sammy have been lost over the last several years due to the lack of financial security. And for all that we’re excited about the way the West Indies have been playing in the last few months, you hesitate to get too carried away just because you never know what will happen in terms of whether they can keep that team together because of the financial imperatives those players face.
Jason Holder, the young West Indian Test captain, has been calling for a high minimum wage for all international Test cricketers to ensure that the top talent doesn’t go where the money is. That’s where the ICC needs to step in and tax the superpowers, being Australia, England and India. There needs to be a central money pot better disseminated across the game to protect those countries like South Africa, the West Indies, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and New Zealand, which are economically inferior to the ‘big three’.