Goodbye Europe! Goodbye Kolpaks!


It’s been a big week in politics. But what does this mean for cricket? Vale, Kolpak!

We’re unashamedly a bunch of political nerds here at Mind the Windows, and between referenda and elections it’s certainly been a busy week on that front. England has voted to leave the European Union, dragging the rest of the (apparently still) United Kingdom along with it, while Australia goes to the polls this weekend to determine whether Malcolm Turnbull has to pack up The Lodge and give Bill Shorten a go.

What does this mean for cricket? Well, the #brexit may well come as a blow to Southern Africans everywhere, with the Kolpak option disintegrating quicker than the Labour Party. Meanwhile, nobody’s really paid much attention to which of the prospective Australian leaders would pick a better Prime Minister’s XI.

So we’re paying tribute to both.

Mind the Windows Prime Minister’s XI of Kolpak Players

1. Neil McKenzie
Hampshire (2010-2013): 2898 runs @ 47.50

When Neil McKenzie signed a Kolpak deal with Hampshire in 2010, it was a classic change of scenery-turned-retirement package. He’d played the last of his 58 Tests for the Proteas during the 2008/09 season, was captaining the Lions in franchise cricket, and had put together a very solid career as a top order batsman. Coming in with a reputation as an experienced, resilient campaigner (and well-known for his extensive superstitions), McKenzie was an extremely solid member of Hampshire’s side before opting to leave the club in 2013.

2. Jacques Rudolph
Yorkshire (2007-2011): 5429 runs @ 52.20

From the Denness Affair through the Ontong Affair and finally to Bangladesh, Jacques Rudolph’s journey to the international arena was rather tumultuous, and certainly unique. After ‘debuting’ in 2001 against India, in the Centurion Test ruled unofficial, he was denied another debut against Australia in 2002 when racial politics within the CSA resulted in Justin Ontong’s selection instead. When he finally got there, he slammed an unbeaten double ton against Bangladesh in 2003, and hit the ground running. After such a bizarre beginning, Rudolph would have wanted to make up for lost time…but after being dropped in 2006, he signed a Kolpak contract with Yorkshire. It was never supposed to be the end, rather a chance to refresh and redevelop his game to kick onto further success.

It worked, at least to begin with. Over 5000 runs with Yorkshire led to a return to South Africa in 2010 and a speedy recall to the national side. His stint opening quickly slid to a middle order spot, then fizzled out of the team entirely as his performance once more fell short of the standard he’d set earlier.

3. Murray Goodwin
Sussex (2001-2012): 14572 runs @ 49.22
Glamorgan (2013-2014): 1610 runs @ 43.51

Zimbabwe must still kick themselves at the loss of Murray Goodwin, but Sussex certainly benefited. He was one of many bright talents in that late-90s team, but life in Zimbabwe didn’t quite match his plans and, in the context of an increasingly dire political situation, Goodwin opted out. He performed well for Western Australia and demanded attention as Sussex’s overseas player — including a famous knock of 335* that won them their first County Championship. In a forthcoming chat with MTW, Goodwin said that “winning that first Championship with Sussex was amazing, to be a part of the history of the club […] that was like the World Cup for Sussex.”

He shifted into a Kolpak deal in 2005, and the status change did nothing to stop the flow of runs. Goodwin batted on for almost another decade with Sussex and later Glamorgan, only hanging up the pads for good at the age of 42 — yet never feeling as if he’d overstayed his welcome.

Oh how sweet it is to go out on top.

4. Martin van Jaarsveld
Kent (2005-2011): 8028 runs @ 46.67

It’s 2002. Graeme Smith has just shown up; Gibbs and Kirsten are yet to leave. Jacques Kallis is at his brilliant best, and there’s no shortage of support: Rudolph, Dipenaar, McKenzie and Prince. Oh and Justin Ontong.

It’s 2004. Smith is captain, Gibbs still there. Kallis hasn’t changed, and the support act now includes Amla and de Villiers on top of the quartet of future Kolpaks. No Ontong in sight, though.

Martin van Jaarsveld plays nine Tests in this period. He doesn’t disgrace himself, but he doesn’t excel. He knows his time is up. He retires from international cricket. He packs his bags. He moves to Kent. He scores two centuries on debut. He scores 8000 runs.

As Lawrence Booth says, he is the Kolpak refugee.

5. Riki Wessels (wk)
Northamptonshire (2005-2009): 2962 runs @ 31.17
Nottinghamshire (2011-): 4463 runs@ 35.99

Compared to some of the others in this list, the stats don’t look as impressive. But the sheer agility of Riki Wessels, the pure innovation, the entrepreneurial spirit to circumvent the rules and remain a Kolpak are worth, in themselves, a spot in this team.

Son of South African-turned-Australian-turned-South African batsman Kepler, Riki Wessels was born in Australia and grew up in South Africa, before migrating even further north to ply his cricketing trade in England. It feels like he’s been around forever, and yet he’s still only just turned 30 — having spent 11 years in the daily grind of county cricket, jetting around the Shires in team buses and playing cards in rain delays.

Yet it wasn’t quite smooth sailing. In 2010 the Kolpak rules changed and his work visa was revoked, but Wessels made sure the interruption was fleeting — and got a county upgrade out of it too. Forced to leave Northants, Riki concocted a scheme to slip through a loophole, getting back into the UK as a Kolpak using an Entrepreneur Visa.

The loophole was summarily closed by the Home Office, but Riki Wessels was back! And his new status as an entrepreneur-slash-sportsman seemed to do him good, with his game improving after the drive up the A46. It culminated in his career highlight “oh hey you’re around” BBL contract with the Sydney Sixers.

6. Greg Lamb
Hampshire (2004-2008): 684 runs @ 21.37; 13 wickets @ 66.61

He was the Kolpak so committed to being a Kolpak that he never actually was one; so dedicated was Greg Lamb to the cause of being a Zimbabwean playing in England as a domestic player, he actually went to the trouble of qualifying as a local first.

Greg Lamb is a hero that we well and truly do not deserve.

He batted middle order and bowled off spin. And after going to all that effort of qualifying as a local without having to actually be a Kolpak, he got dumped by Hampshire anyway. So he went back to his native Zimbabwe, dominated their domestic competition (which bizarrely featured Chris Harris, who was surely in his mid-70s by this point), played a few ODIs, made his Test debut, and was promptly dumped by them too.

But never fear, not even being dropped by Zimbabwe could quench the spirit of Greg Lamb. He continued his career as a solid domestic performer (and captain) for the Eagles franchise. He signed off in March of 2015 with a duck, falling to the terrifyingly shite part time bowling of Vusi Sibanda.

Even the greatest of heroes have their breaking points.

7. Andrew Hall (c)
Northamptonshire (2008-2014): 5046 runs @ 37.37; 231 wickets @ 30.25

There are few tougher cricketers than Andrew Hall. The guy does everything: he opens the batting, he closes out one day games in the middle order; he opens the bowling, he acts as a workhorse containment bowler; he gives you everything in the field, he takes the wicketkeeping gloves when someone gets knifed (well, knifes themselves while attempting to slice biltong). Plus he’s the kind of guy who cops a bullet in a carjacking, shakes it off, and is back playing cricket two weeks later.

Seems like the kind of guy you want on the frontlines, in the trenches. He was the jack of all trades.

Speaking to MTW last year, Hall knew that his versatility simultaneously counted for him and against him, making him the permanent reserve of sorts:

When I first started out, I was playing as an opening bowler and batted lower down the order. And the next time I played for South Africa I actually opened the batting with Gary Kirsten. So, in the space of a couple of years, I’d gone full circle from playing as a bowler to playing as a batter […] It did make it difficult for me to cement one specific role, which probably in the end was a factor in why I didn’t play as many games as, I suppose, I had the promise to.

So aged 32, after being screwed around in the lead-up to the 2007 T20 World Cup, Hall gave up on international cricket and shifted off to Northamptonshire as a Kolpak. There, his versatility didn’t make him the permanent reserve, filling in wherever it was needed. Rather, his versatility made him the entire team, serving as a genuine all-rounder who batted in the middle order, opened the bowling, and bowled insane amounts of overs every season; his workloads would make John Inverarity recoil in terror.

Yet he did it for season after season, gluing the team together even as it threatened to crumble around him. Then, in 2014, it finally did. Now it was Hall’s turn to be knifed.

8. Andre Adams
Nottinghamshire (2007-2014): 344 wickets @ 24.18; 1894 runs @ 18.38

Why did he only play one Test in an era when New Zealand tried everyone? Nobody knows, probably not even Andre himself. The only Kiwi in this team, Adams counted as a Kolpak when he re-signed for Nottinghamshire in 2008 through his West Indian parentage, closing the door on international cricket some five years after his solitary game at the top level. His 42-match ODI career brought mixed results: 5/22 against India set against that double bouncer against Australia at the 2003 World Cup, but it was in England that he found his home.

Maybe his military meds were too dibbly-dobbly for Test cricket. Maybe English conditions suited him. Maybe he thrived on the daily grind, on the overs under the belt. Maybe he was too reliant on Doug Cowie.

He rarely aimed to bat for a long time, preferring a good time (or a strike rate of 1200) instead. But whatever endurance he lacked in that discipline he well and truly made up for with the ball. Between Andre and Hall, nobody else is going to get much of a chance to bowl.

9. Pedro Collins
Surrey (2008-2009): 43 wickets @ 37.86
Middlesex (2010): 36 wickets @ 27.75

32 Tests, over the course of seven years, brought Pedro Collins 106 Test match wickets. A left armer who swung the ball into the right hander, it was perhaps his fitness which let him down: struggling to bowl long spells, even at his relatively gentle pace compared to his West Indian contemporaries.

He controversially signed for Surrey in 2008, not long after he was recalled to the West Indian team for the T20 World Cup — and his Kolpak deal forced him to pull out of a series against Sri Lanka. He didn’t have as much success at The Oval as would be expected from an experienced signing, but his move to Lord’s in 2010 brought more wickets. Alas, his contract was not renewed and he faded back into domestic duty in the West Indies for one last hurrah.

Perhaps not the greatest performer to make this team, but given he also shares his name with a cocktail, I’m willing to put in a vote for Pedro.

10. Fidel Edwards
Hampshire (2015-): 48 wickets at 24.72

Fidel Edwards holds a thoroughly undesirable record. Of all pace bowlers with over 150 Test match wickets, it is Fidel who has the highest bowling average (just edging Ishant Sharma to the crown). In part, it’s his control: a round-arm slinger who places immense pressure on his back, Fidel has leaked nearly four runs per over across his entire First Class career. But when he gets it right, he can be well and truly deadly. And hey, an opening bowling combination of Fidel Edwards and Pedro Collins better be good — the two are half-brothers.

In and out for 55 Tests between 2003 and 2012, recipient of many chances while never quite taking them, eventually Fidel decided it was time to take a different route: signing as a Kolpak for Hampshire in 2015. He had immediate success, taking 45 wickets at a shade over 20 for the year, with 10 of them coming in the final game — bowling Hampshire out of the relegation zone.

His second season has been derailed by injury: after being battered by Jonny Bairstow to end with figures of 0/145 from 23 overs in his second game of the season, Edwards fractured his right ankle in warm-ups and, understandably, has yet to return.

11. Charl Willoughby
Somerset (2006-2011): 347 wickets @ 27.49
Essex (2012): 19 wickets @ 32.68

Another no-nonsense Saffa caught on the fringes of what was a highly competitive national side, after few chances to stake his claim at international level, Charl made the move to Somerset in 2006.

Having initially modelled himself on Wasim Akram, trying to bowl fast and swing the ball from left arm over, he gradually developed more subtlety and intelligence to his game. Less shock tactics, more learning how to get his man. And it paid off, consistently taking wickets throughout his career in South Africa and during off seasons in England. He played for Leicestershire as an overseas player in 2005, but it was the Kolpak signing to Somerset that would bring him the most success. Speaking to MTW in 2014, the man himself explains how it all came about:

“Brian Rose signed me after a recommendation from Graeme Smith, we played and lived together when at Western Province. He felt I would perform on the flat Taunton wickets because of my swing and ability to bowl loads of overs.”

And flat those Taunton decks well and truly are: the placid nature of the pitches there go a long way to explaining why James Hildreth has never represented England. But Willoughby thrived, bowling over after over, taking wicket after wicket, leading Somerset to promotion in 2007 and gradually taking them further and further up the table — 2009 brought a heartbreaking second place finish in the County Championship. For four more years he toiled, well into his late 30s. It was almost as if he couldn’t help but bowl overs and take wickets.

Not bad for a bloke who once got robbed and locked in a Nando’s freezer.


The Second XI:

  1. Alviro Petersen — the third partner of Graeme Smith to make this article.
  2. Ashwell Prince — make that four.
  3. Wavell Hinds — wave-ll goodbye and leave your international career be-hinds.
  4. Brendan Nash — from Queensland 2nds to a Kolpak in Kent via a Test career in Jamaica.
  5. Brendan Taylor (wk) — because there’s only so long you can put up with Mugabe and Mangongo.
  6. Sean Ervine — the Kolpak who un-Kolpak’d with an Irish passport.
  7. Ryan McLaren — is he a Kolpak or an international this time? Nobody really knows.
  8. Claude Henderson — the original and, perhaps, the best.
  9. Johan van der Wath — alongside Johan Louw, the king of the ‘South African fringe fast bowlers who are also handy with the bat in the late 2000s’ club. Membership: ∞.
  10. Nixon McLean — scathing from Cricinfo: “Tall and muscular, capable of delivering the ball at over 85 mph, Nixon McLean never made a great Test match bowler, possessing neither the pace, movement or consistency to bowl out teams on good tracks.” At least he has that name.
  11. Anthony Ireland — still more Irish than either Ervine brother…or James Franklin.

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