Andrew Hall: From Cronje to Kolpak (part two)

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Part one of Andrew Hall’s interview can be found here, discussing his international career. Part two concentrates on County cricket.

Case C-438/00.

Held in the fifth chamber of the European Court of Justice, the case was between Deutscher Handballbund eV and Maroš Kolpak.

None of that will have made much sense – apart from that last word.

Kolpak.

Those of us who follow County Cricket, and even those who don’t, know what a Kolpak is.

They have simultaneously been the best and worst things to happen to English cricket, as well as a sad indictment upon the players, the clubs, and upon the quota system in South Africa.

It is worth noting that it’s not just South Africans who can become Kolpaks. Maroš himself was a Slovakian who wanted to play handball in Germany.

But for cricket, it has been South Africans who dominate the Kolpak scene. And it’s understandable: when opportunities at home dry up, why not take advantage of the chance sitting in front of you?

Andrew Hall spent seven seasons as a Kolpak, from 2008 to 2014. Prior to that, he’d been an overseas player. He’s seen it from both sides of the fence. So what does he think, are Kolpaks good or bad for the game?

“I think it’s impacting positively, and I think the fact that they have specific rules in place has made it a more positive thing. I think it would have been, probably a negative impact if they allowed just anybody who has played in South Africa to come and play over here. But I think that the review system that they have in place makes it that if a player’s coming in that they’re going to improve the standard of the game. And yes, it’s good that they allow that kind of player to come in.”

He discussed his Northamptonshire team, and the positive impact the non-English players had. At a time when Northants were struggling for depth, they employed a number of overseas and Kolpak players. Hall believes that this was a positive, because they were improving the standard of the game.

“We effectively had five-semi international players in the side. But at the same time, we had to do that because as Northants, we didn’t have players who could fill those positions. We didn’t have guys that were of a quality that they were able to play and compete. But because these guys were around, we were able to work with bowlers, work with other batters, and within a couple of years the natural progression was that the local players came through and those guys were moved on. Last season we had one player, and that was myself.”

And while it was a particularly successful stint at Northants for Hall, as a batsman, bowler and senior figure, it was by no means his first County gig.

That started back in 2003, when he was signed as an overseas player for Worcestershire.

His signing with the side was down to Allan Donald, who had been a Warwickshire stalwart for years, and had played very briefly for Worcester in 2002.

“He [Donald] knew Tom Moody from Worcester quite well. And he mentioned to Tom that I was available, and basically through AD I managed to get my first contract with Worcester. I played really well for them the first year, and got offered another year deal. And then, from there, Graeme Ford who was my national team coach with South Africa went to Kent. And he signed me up for a three year deal with Kent. And then Northants after that, I was signed up by David Capel and I was there for seven years.”

With Northants, as mentioned in part one, Hall signed as a Kolpak following his retirement from international cricket. Before that, however, he played in the Indian Cricket League – the ‘rebel’ league to the IPL.

“I love India, I’ve always loved India. I enjoy going to India, I love playing in India. It’s just one of those countries where their love for cricket just inspires you to play better, and to be better. So I loved all my times in India. Unfortunately, during those times, there were some issues on the go. And things came up once the league was disbanded, which haven’t been ideal. It’s just sort of cast a dark shadow on everything that happened there. I thought, to be fair, that it was a really good tournament when it started. It was pretty much a predecessor to the IPL. We had three tournaments before the IPL started … and they [the IPL] had the backing of the Indian cricket board which made them a far more attractive and lucrative offer.”

After that season in India, he returned to the far less political active fields of the County Championship.

2008 was an average season for Northants. They fell two places short of promotion from Division Two, finishing fourth on the ladder, but won just three County matches, drawing a remarkable ten. Hall had a solid season, making 257 runs at 32.12, and taking 24 wickets at 22.29.

2009 was a disappointing one for the side, falling just one point short of Essex – and promotion. Hall had a remarkable season, topping the run charts for his team with 1161 runs at 50.47, and taking 40 wickets at 22.77.

In 2010, Nicky Boje resigned the captaincy of the side, and Andrew Hall took the job over.

“I’ve always loved being captain, I captained a couple of teams in South Africa as well. It’s something that I enjoy. I think my competitiveness has a big part to play in it. I want to be competitive, I always want to win. I wouldn’t say win at all costs, but definitely win as best as you can, win as many games as you can. Because of that, the team and the coach felt I was the right person for the job. I really enjoyed the challenge of captaining a County, and at the same time trying to get the best out of the players. And then really just drive the team and the County forward, especially in how we prepared for games and how we got ourselves ready for upcoming matches.”

But the biggest challenge facing a bowling captain is how he utilises himself. For some bowling captains, lapsing into over-bowling themselves was the fault. For others, they didn’t bowl themselves enough.

“Yeah, that was the difficult one. In the end, I relied heavily on my vice-captain and my senior players. I would stand in the slips next to David Sales, who was a senior player and had captained Northants in the past, and we’d also have Stephen Peters in there, who captained the last two seasons and was a senior player as well. And we’d get to a time when the others guys had bowled and they would both say to me, ‘how do you feel, are you ready?’, and I’d say ‘yeah, I’m ready to bowl’, and they’d say ‘well, we feel now’s the time you need to have a bowl’, or ‘you need to have another bowl because we feel you can get this guy out especially with what you’re looking to do’.

“I would say to them ‘well, I’ve been thinking about that, but I wanted to give this bowler one more over’, and they were like ‘mate I don’t know, just cut him short, say really well bowled but we want to try something different and get a wicket’.

“And inevitably, if I brought myself on, the bowler would feel a little let down and maybe as though I just wanted to bowl myself, but that’s why I relied on my senior players. And I always said to them, ‘go make sure he’s fine and give him the reasons why we’ve done this’.

“So they would go over and say ‘just to let you know mate, Hally wanted to give you another over, but as senior players we think he’s the man to get us the wicket’. Because of that, the guys really respected the way we ran the team.”

While Hall managed to make a good balance of matters, through the help of his senior players, he still believes that the bowler-captain’s biggest challenge is his own workload – and that it is more difficult for a bowler to be captain than a batsman.

Hall ended up spending three seasons as Northants captain, from 2010 to 2012. He kept playing for another two seasons afterwards too. Given that he spent seven seasons playing day-in-day-out for Northants, he must have enjoyed the atmosphere to stay there. So was his time Wantage Road the most enjoyable of his cricketing career?

“Yeah, I must admit I’ve loved every minute with Northants. I would have liked to have seen us play more in the first division. My years at Kent I really enjoyed because the first division cricket we played there was really competitive and a good brand of cricket. But my time at Northants was just unbelievable, because we had a great bunch of guys, the changing room environment was amazing, and the guys were competitive throughout. We tried our best at any given time.”

The highlights of his County career?

“Obviously winning the T20 championship two seasons ago would be one of them. That was a culmination of three years’ worth of work for the County, where we started long before that with how we wanted the team to play and how we wanted guys in certain positions to play. And it came to the front in that season. And at the same time we got promoted to the first division, which was something we’d been trying for many years. Two consecutive seasons we missed out on promotion by one or two points. I think those two are definitely top of my list.

“Couple of individual ones – scoring some hundreds, getting a hundred at Lord’s was really good, getting wickets, getting good players out is always fun.”

Following the 2014 season, Northants took the decision to release several players – Hall among them. Did he consider finding another club, or did he take that as his cue to hang up his boots?

“In the beginning I was thinking about it – I always said I wanted to play one more season. And I was definitely thinking about looking around and having talks with other clubs. But as time wore on it looked less likely that, because of my age, anyone would be seriously interested in giving me an opportunity. Because of the fact that squads are getting smaller as County budgets are getting smaller every year. At one stage I said to my wife that ‘I think it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to get another contract, and it’s time that I just move on and make that decision and just get on with it’. It’s rather a case of me hanging on for the last bit when I just need to move onto the next phase of my career and really start getting into my coaching.”

So he’s officially retired?

“I’m done, I’m officially retired, and I’m done. I’m not even playing club cricket.”

So, his coaching. He runs a coaching business, and is looking to develop that even further. What made him decide to take his career down that avenue?

“I’ve always been involved in coaching. Coming from a non-cricketing area in South Africa, when I started playing for South Africa and being a regular in the national team, I wanted to give something back to cricket.”

He started with his own academy in South Africa – around 180 cricketers a week, five employed coaches, indoor facilities, bowling machines, two indoor nets with full run-ups, video cameras.

“It made a big difference to me that I could see cricketers in my hometown and area being able to get quality coaching and be able to move their own cricket forward. Something that, when I grew up, I didn’t get. I didn’t get formal coaching from a cricket coach up until I was 18 years old. Where with these guys, we started with kids as young as six years old.”

It becomes immediately apparent that coaching is something Hall is particularly passionate about; that he genuinely wants to help develop and improve the budding cricketers he’s working with.

“Coaching’s always been something that I’ve done, whether I’ve been playing or not playing. And then just wanting to move forward in that direction after I played. One of my ambitions is still to be able to coach an international team. So that’s sort of like my goal that I’m busy with now. I’ve been fortunate enough to be given an opportunity with Spencer Club in London. Where I’m running their entire junior section. So we’ve got about 1000 junior members, boys and girls, and we’ve got about 75 coaches that run there. So we start when they’re seven years old and go through until they’re sixteen.”

To finish off our interview, Hall and I ran through a number of issues circulating around the cricket world today. As someone who played top-flight cricket for nearly two decades, including over 100 international matches, Hall understands the game better than most.

We discussed some of the up-and-coming talent in English cricket – he’s bowled to, or batted against, most of them, so he can speak with a fair degree of knowledge.

Sam Hain? “He’s a good player. I think he will be a very, very good player. He’s very difficult to bowl to, and knows his game quite well. He doesn’t take unnecessary chances. He’s just one of those players that, if he gets in, isn’t going to give it away very quickly. And I see a bright future ahead of him if he can continue working in that fashion.”

A Northants teammates of Hall’s, David Willey. “I think he’s a good player as well. I’m quite surprised that he hasn’t been given more opportunities within the England setup. I would’ve liked to have seen him far more involved in the Lions setup and even being given opportunities higher up. England has four years to work towards their next World Cup after their disappointing exit this year. And there are some big changes that they need to make and they can’t be relying on the players that they have been for the last four or five years. Because the game has moved on, and they need players like David Willey to come through and basically lead the way for the next World Cup.”

One of the more exceptional young quicks coming through is Reece Topley of Essex. Is he international class in Hall’s eyes? “He’s suffered from injuries in the past, and hopefully he can get past them. But in the games he has played, he’s made impact. And that’s what you ask for, you want players who can come in and impact on the game, be it First Class, Test or One Day Internationals. So if they can get him really fit and strong and get him through a season where he can continuously play and take wickets, I think he will definitely be one of the guys they need to look at.”

“There’s a couple of guys out there who are just phenomenal players, who just don’t seem to be given a go. Look at Jason Roy of Surrey, he’s another guy that I believe they should have had into their national team to gain some experience, and to bring him through to see what he’s got. Other teams have done it in the past, they’ve taken guys on tour with them, to given them international experience before they look to play them in big tournaments.”

“Alex Hales is another one. He played one game in the World Cup, where he should have all of them.”

He mentioned the strange management of James Taylor and Gary Ballance leading into the World Cup, and said that Taylor’s ability to rotate the strike made him a perfect one day player, “difficult to keep down”.

On the bowling front, Jack Brooks was a name he singled out. “He’s a very good player. I’d like to see if he’s going to make his mark on the game, because he’s a good enough bowler.”

Speaking between the second and third Tests between England and the West Indies, Hall mentioned what many of us have thought – Alex Lees and Adam Lyth should both have been on that tour.

“Jonathan Trott should not be opening the batting, he’s always batted three, that’s his position, and that’s where they should keep him.”

But onto some of the more contentious issues surrounding cricket today. The ten-team World Cup – the axing of the Associates.

“It’s a bit upsetting, because those teams, if they’re not part of the World Cup – what’s going to happen to them?”

“I liked the fact that this year the Associate members came out and they were very competitive. They put a lot of Full Member nations under pressure, and in the past we’ve seen them being able to beat them. And that’s what we look forward to, seeing these smaller countries come to the World Cup and bring something to the party and cause an upset somewhere along the line.”

The next question I posed to Hall came from Kevin Wright – a South African friend of mine, and a fellow Mind the Windows! writer. His question concerned Wayne Parnell and Farhaan Berhadien, and why South Africa persisted with those two over David Wiese and Chris Morris.

“That’s a difficult one. South Africa have clearly stated that they have their ‘transformation’ rules and regulations. And even now, again, it’s come up in the news, that they want to have their four players on the field. So it makes it quite difficult for them to always pick the players that they want. It’s not as straight forward as being able to say, right, we’ve got fifteen players to pick from at the World Cup, and these are the guys we’re going to play. You’ve always got to look at making sure you’ve got your ‘transformation’ quotas covered, because as a selector I don’t think you’ll be in your position very long if you don’t. I think South Africa has one of the most difficult selection processes because of this.”

It’s always a touchy subject, the South African quota system. I asked Hall what his views on it were.

“It’s difficult. I believed, when I came through the game that yes it was necessary, because guys weren’t given the opportunities. It’s now 20, 22 years on from when it happened. And I’m sure that, by now, players come through and play on their own right. You look at somebody like Vernon Philander. I find it very difficult to look at him and say that he is a quota player. Because he’s the quickest South African bowler to 100 Test wickets. You don’t get that stat if you’re not good enough to be in that environment. I firmly believe that they could do away with that system in a sport like cricket, because the players that are quality come through and they show that every single day. Hashim Amla is Test captain at the moment, number one Test batsman in the world, and it’s funny that you still have to look at him as, yeah he’s captain and he’s playing because he’s good enough. But at the same time you have to tick a box to cover yourself on a quota with a player like that.”

Are the quota systems, especially in domestic cricket, leading to the South African player exodus to the likes of England and New Zealand?

“Oh definitely, we’ve seen a lot of guys leave South Africa because of the quota system and how it’s been done. Guys that are on the fringes, that are 50/50 on whether they’re going to make it or not make it, some of them do find it easier to just say, ‘right, I’m heading off to New Zealand or England where I have a contract waiting, and I know I’ll be able to play cricket for the next couple of years and prove myself. And if I’m good enough then I’ll continue to play, and if not I’ll have to find something else’.”

“You just feel for the players, because the fact that you’ve grown up your entire life in a country wanting to represent that country, and you’re sitting at an impasse where no matter how good you are you’ll most probably never get that opportunity. And because of that players are looking elsewhere to move their game forward and to improve their careers.”

The reason, Hall says, the players follow through with their cricket overseas despite disappointment back home is because of a love of the game.

“For the love of the game, they love playing it, and that’s why they’re doing it.”

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