With Kolpak deals set to be nullified at the end of the year, South Africa could find itself with a whole lot of new (old) players to choose from. Though many of the current Kolpak clutch are likely to become overseas players at their counties, like the South African rugby players who ply their trade at European and Japanese clubs, they would technically be eligible for national selection. Given how well it worked for the Springboks, who won the World Cup for the third time last year, Cricket South Africa will doubtless be under pressure to accommodate their internationally based players. If they do, here’s the super seven we’d like to see in the mix.
Those we’d pick, just like that
It’s a no-brainer – given his 182 wickets in three seasons in the Championship at an average of 18.62, the retirement of Vernon Philander and the current bowling stocks – that Abbott would walk his way back into the national team in all formats. South Africa have quick bowlers in Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi but need someone with the skill to move the ball at will. Abbott can do that, through the air and off the seam, and his experience would be a welcome addition to an outfit in transition.
With Nortje doing the job Olivier did in his breakthrough summer, it may not be as easy for Olivier to saunter back into the side but he would definitely cause a healthy selection dilemma. Olivier’s nous for striking regularly, his pace and the bounce he generates are reminiscent of the role Morne Morkel (another Kolpak, but at 35, we’ll leave him be) played and though Olivier may not be able to displace Nortje immediately, he would provide more-than-handy back-up and allow for workload rotation.
The ones we’d grudgingly welcome back
Having argued with many prominent figures in the current system (Ashwell Prince is the latest – again), and called himself the best offspinner in the world (what say you to that, R Ashwin or Nathon Lyon?) Simon Harmer is not everybody’s cup of tea, but his 212 wickets at 20.25 in three county summers simply cannot be ignored. South Africa tend to anoint only one spinner per generation and this time it’s Keshav Maharaj, who could use someone of real quality nipping at his heels. Harmer initially left with the intention to improve and come back, so now that he has done the former, South Africans may not be opposed to him trying out the latter.
That’s Rilee with one l, just so we’re clear. Like Harmer, Rossouw rubbed some people (most notably Russell Domingo, whose name Rossouw spelt with only one l in a goodbye email to his then-national coach) up the wrong way but his precocious talent could come in handy at a time when South Africa need more free-flowing batsmen. Rossouw was being primed to step into the gap left by AB de Villiers, who may yet return for the T20 World Cup but can’t lengthen his comeback forever, and although he seems a limited-overs shoe-in, his early red-ball career suggests he may also be a contender in the longer format.
The one who would strengthen the domestic game
While it was difficult to choose just one of the former domestic veterans – which include Heino Kuhn, Farhaan Behardien, David Wiese and Hardus Viljoen – to strengthen a system desperate for old hands, Vilas, the captain of the inaugural Mzansi Super League champions, the Jozi Stars, and a son of the Johannesburg soil, stands out. Not only does he have consistent batting form over several seasons but Vilas has the personality for mentorship. This may be a tough one to swing though, because Vilas has planted roots in the UK and is building a home there, but with family still heavily involved in the game in South Africa – his mother Anne has had a long-term relationship with the Gauteng Cricket Board and in sports equipment – perhaps he could be persuaded.
The ones who can coach
His reluctance to captain does not mean Hashim Amla has a similar feeling about coaching as roles with the Cape Town Blitz and now, the Peshawar Zalmi, prove. Amla’s ability to inspire is a must in the current South African set-up, which would also benefit from his level-headed and thoughtful approach to his game. No-one begrudges recent retirees their late-career Kolpak cash-ins but in Cricket South Africa’s new push to involve former players, securing Amla’s involvement would be a major coup.
The same would apply to Vernon Philander, who called time on his career last month, and has already been spoken about by acting director of cricket Graeme Smith as someone CSA need to find a role for in the set-up. While the current national bowling coach, Charl Langeveldt, has done a good job in upskilling the likes of Lungi Ngidi (for whom slower balls and cutters are now a regular feature of his game), there needs to be someone who can work with aspirant internationals and Philander would be a perfect candidate.