Brendan Taylor and the Kolpak deal – Security over country?
As I began writing this article, Zimbabwe’s finest player in the 21st century had just finished playing a gem of an innings against defending champions India in the ongoing World Cup tournament. It is indeed his finest hour, but perhaps his final one as an international cricketer as well, for he has sadly chosen to retire from the big leagues in favour of a three-year contract at an English county side.
This decision opens up a healthy debate about many aspects, such as the Kolpak deal and the choice of security over country. However, it is easier to first understand the nature of the deal, the implications it has, and finally the reasons behind Brendan Taylor’s choice.
What is the Kolpak deal?
Named after former Slovakian handball player Maros Kolpak, the deal itself is essentially a ruling by the European Court of Justice that allows citizens of non-EU nations (that have signed European Union Association Agreements) to have the same right to freedom of work and movement as that of regular EU citizens.
At the time the ruling was passed, the player in question had been ejected by the German Handball Association, despite being a legal resident of the country and Slovakia having an Association Agreement. They had brought in Rule 15, which stipulated that none of its affiliated clubs could keep more than two non-EU players. Kolpak sought relief, and the European Court ruled in his favour, also utilizing its previous Bosman Ruling that guaranteed the Slovakian his due rights in terms of working in any part of the EU.
The judgment passed set a precedent in Germany and would soon send out certain ripples across sports like rugby. Cricket, at the time, was not expected to fall under this precedent since it was rarely played within the EU. Little did anyone know that it would go on to affect the game of willow and leather in a big way.
The cricketing angle
With the Kolpak deal firmly in place, it has allowed the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to bring in a large number of overseas cricketers, especially from non-EU nations. Most of such expatriates (I’m using the term very loosely) have come in from South Africa, which has seen a mass exodus in the opening decade of the new millennium.
Former Proteas Test opener Jacques Rudolph is one of them. In a nation where the racial quota was still prevalent, the southpaw was denied the chance of making his debut in the longest format. In 2007, he signed on with Yorkshire in a Kolpak agreement, effectively bowing out of international tours for the Rainbow Nation for four years.
Although he was recalled by the South African board for the 2011-12 series against Australia, he didn’t do all that well, and bid adieu to focus on his county career. Fellow countryman Colin Ingram is the latest import for Glamorgan in the new season, although his participation is subject to clearance from Cricket South Africa (CSA), the ECB and a visa.
The mention of Africa also reminds me of young Zimbabwean fast bowler Kyle Jarvis, whose talents were supposed to be used in order to restore the struggling side to its former glory. Unfortunately, he too chose international retirement at the age 24 for the greener pastures of county cricket.
His reasons, however, were more linked to the ongoing payment disputes between the national squad and Zimbabwe Cricket. At the time, his former captain Taylor had questioned the timing of his announcement. Now, he’s staring at a similar move, for similar reasons.
Taylor’s decision – is job security worth more than an international career?
Now, I agree that Zimbabwe Cricket are in serious trouble. They are riddled with debt, and the country itself is in a crisis with the brutal regime of Robert Mugabe. Despite the formation of a players’ association, there is still no concrete pay structure for those on the fringes – the ones who turn out regularly for the national side do have the benefit of a central contract. Safety concerns are still prevalent in the minds of the bigwigs from the Test-playing nations.
Given such a scenario, it is hardly surprising that the 29-year old wicket-keeper has chosen to look for better areas, where his talents could be put to better use, to secure a future for his young family. Perfectly human reasoning, as most would call it. But what about his own team, which is looking to rebuild after a rough-and-tumble tournament?
What about the fact that he’s the one man who could lead the side to regain their pride and respect among the world’s best once again? And without him around, how will the players’ association move ahead in its struggle to get a decent pay structure for all players?
Job security is a tricky phrase at best. It does take care of the economic aspect of life, but then cricket is more than just a route to safety. It is passion refined, something that has characterized Taylor’s career as well as his spell as captain of Zimbabwe. It is what sets him apart from others. Yet, job security and the fact that he has to provide for his family must simply take precedence – a true double-edged sword.
Perhaps, the Kolpak mechanism will allow him more freedom to express himself, measure himself in the exciting world of English county cricket. Nottinghamshire may have won a fine cricketer, but the international arena has lost a high-calibre performer named Brendan Ross Murray Taylor.
Zimbabwean cricket has much to ponder and rework, else they will keep losing such talent to other pastures.
Verdict – He’s taken the step for his family. He’s done right.