The news that Kolpak players might be stopped from inundating the English domestic game in the near future is not just a boon for those who think that this particular foreign legion is stifling local talent. The home countries hit hardest by the migration of cricketers to the old country may just find that the steady erosion of their talent base will slowly begin to cease.
We all know that South Africans are kings of the Kolpak. Journeymen Aussie pros without an international future are also most welcome by struggling county setups looking to get ahead. A couple of New Zealanders such as Hamish Marshall have been happy to abandon their country too. Unexpectedly, however, it has recently been the West Indies who have suffered most from losses to the English game.
It’s hardly surprising when one thinks about it. Cricket in the Caribbean has all the factors ideal for fermenting the seeds of Kolpakitis. Trading agreement with the European Union: check. An inept cricket board with little to no regard for its players: check. Utter lack of financial security for anyone not currently playing in the national side: check. The only surprising thing is that it’s taken this long for the exodus to begin. Considering counties such as Leicestershire and Northamptonshire have shown a willingness to hoover up just about any halfway competent, willing and available international cricketer under Kolpak (non)regulations, this perhaps says more about the lack of depth of cricket in the islands than anything else. In the past few months however three prominent former West Indian cricketers have begun to ply their trade in England as Kolpak signings.
The situation is an odd one. Pedro Collins and Corey Collymore are busy bagging plenty of victims in the English domestic season whilst at the same time across the Atlantic Darren Powell and his 47 average continue to plug away with little success in the Test side. The aforementioned Collins is a huge loss. The only active bowler from the West Indies with over 100 Test wickets, Collins has been excellent in first class cricket both in the Caribbean and in England since overcoming health problems a couple of years ago. Bizarrely taken to South Africa in the winter only to be used solely as the water boy, Collins decided to cut his losses and signed on with Surrey for a stint as a non—overseas player. Given the treatment he has received at the hands of the WICB and selection panel, one can hardly blame him.
The West Indian attack fared reasonably well in the recently concluded test series against Australia, but one can’t help but think that at times it lacked a little variety. The consistently threatening pace and aggression of Edwards and Taylor was a huge fillip for the side as was Dwayne Bravo’s ability to make things happen, but a left-arm seamer would have fitted in very nicely into the overall jigsaw. Watching Phil Jacques and Simon Katich pile on the runs in their monstrous and decisive second-innings opening partnership in Barbados, one couldn’t help but wish Chris Gayle had the wherewithal to throw the ball to the man who destroyed the Aussie top-order with devastating swing the last time he faced them in 2005. As it was he was otherwise engaged, opening the bowling for Surrey in a twenty20 game at the Oval.
Ironically, opening the bowling for the opposition that day was his Barbadian team-mate Corey Collymore. Since joining Sussex as a Kolpak player Collymore has taken 14 wickets at an average of 24 whilst conceding a distinctly miserly 2.52 runs per over in the County Championship. Amazingly Collymore was only overtaken last week by Jerome Taylor as the highest-ranking Test match bowler from the West Indies in the official ratings, despite having not played international cricket in over a year. A model professional possessing good control and an ability to extract movement from almost any pitch, Collymore could no doubt provide an effective foil for the quicker men in the West Indies setup. Furthermore, his test bowling average of 32 is lower than any bowler currently in the starting eleven.
Wavell Hinds is another discarded West Indian to have gone down the Kolpak route, signing for Derbyshire last month. Considering the number of inadequate opening and middle order batsman tried, recycled and discarded by the West Indian selectors in the recent past, one wonders why Hinds, a cricketer who can do both jobs adequately, hasn’t pulled on the maroon cap in almost three years. A test average of 33 may not be spectacular, but it’s a damn sight better than Darren Ganga’s 25, Devon Smith’s 24 or Runako Morton’s 22. Five centuries, including a double, indicate an ability to negotiate international attacks not shown by the above-mentioned trio. Consistency has perhaps never been a forte, but if that particular attribute was a pre-requisite for making the national side the batting line-up would consist only of Chanderpaul and perhaps Sarwan. The surprise selection of Xavier Marshall for the second and third tests against Australia may have been a success, but such punts surely shouldn’t be the norm. Evidently Greenidge, Roberts and Butts think otherwise.
It will be interesting to see whether Kolpak deserters are welcomed back by their home boards if the situation does arise. Unfortunately given their track record of player management one imagines the West Indies Cricket Board are more likely to burn their bridges rather than mend them. If that does turn out to be the case, it’s too bad: considering the relative inexperience but definite promise exhibited by the current side, the presence of a few competent seasoned campaigners amongst the youngsters would be invaluable.