India tour caused mental scars, Kolpak deal hurting the Proteas: Faf

Kolpak deal, Cricket South Africa, Faf du Plessis, Virat Kohli, Hashim Amla, AB De Villiers, South Africa tour of India, third Test
In the aftermath of the 0-3 series loss to the hosts, Du Plessis pointed out that they were missing out on their best players due to the Kolpak deal and hoped the situation would favour the Proteas post-Brexit. Photo: PTI

South African skipper Faf du Plessis on Tuesday (October 22) after facing a ruthless defeat from a dominating Indian side rued loss of their players to county cricket under the Kolpak deal and said: the team will go back with ‘mental scars’.

In the aftermath of the 0-3 series loss to the hosts, Du Plessis pointed out that they were missing out on their best players due to the Kolpak deal and hoped the situation would favour the Proteas post-Brexit.

“It’s sad for South African cricket not to have the option of their best players. Simon Harmer has had an unbelievable season. And it would be great for South Africa to be in a position where they could go, ‘He’s done well overseas. Let’s bring him on tour with us’,” Du Plessis said of the off-spinner who has done well for the Essex in the past two years.

“You are missing out on all your best players and your talent pool is all of a sudden a lot smaller. So that’s something that we’ve tried to identify to stop. But it’s been very difficult to stop.”

South Africa could not pose a fight against formidable India, losing all the matches by heavy margins.

“A tour like this reveals that there’s a lot of mental scars that can happen and then obviously it’s difficult to come out of that hole,” Du Plessis said after they conceded their heaviest defeat on day four in the third Test.

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“It’s just a relentless, ruthlessness the way they put big totals on the board every time. The effect it has on you mentally as a batting lineup, it takes a lot of energy and it takes a lot of toll and that’s why you could see towards the end our batting was mentally weak. You don’t want to be mentally weak,” the skipper added.

Blaming Cricket South Africa, the visiting skipper further said the tour exposed the lack of planning as they did not think for future after greats like Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers retired.

“It shows that our structures are not where they need to be. The gap between domestic cricket and International cricket. If you look back three or four years and if someone had the vision of saying, in three or four years’ time there will be a lot of inexperienced guys. A lot of 34, 35, 36 year olds could possible retire. So what do you do to make sure you get yourself ready for when that time comes? ,” Du Plessis questioned.

“And possibly we are guilty of not planning or when these guys going at the same time. And now you’ve got to replace not only one player but four or five of your best players. Perhaps we could’ve been a little bit smarter in our planning phase, and the phasing out of the great players,” he said.

Harmer is one among the 60-odd players from countries around the world to have taken advantage of the European Union residency rules so that they could join county teams without being considered “overseas players” as per Kolpak accord.

But Kolpak deal also prevents them to represent their respective countries, leaving Cricket South Africa without the services of Harmer alongside pacers Duanne Olivier and Kyle Abbott who also opted to play in England.

In fact, recently retired South Africa great Hashim Amla is also set to sign for English county club Surrey with a Kolpak registration and Du Plessis saw it as a loss-loss scenario. Pacer Morne Morkel, who retired last year, is also playing county cricket.

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“Even the guys going there post international cricket, like Hashim Amla, those guys, they won’t be playing domestic cricket back home. So you lose all of that experience, which would have helped the young guys so much.

“Playing with Hashim Amla is the greatest learning curve that you can get. Playing with Dale Steyn, playing with AB de Villiers, all those guys… so it’s about making sure that you can bridge that gap and finding ways to do it.”

“So that’s the situation where we need to get to. Because at the moment we don’t get the option of all the best players, you know. So that will always be a concern for us.”

“Obviously, from a financial point of view, the Pound is stronger than the Rand… But the lesser of those things that there are for players to go overseas, obviously, that that will be much beneficial for cricket in South Africa, because at the moment, we’re losing our experience in international cricket.”

But the no-deal Brexit could mean “Kolpak” cricketers are gone from the English county circuit by 2021, according to updated guidance from the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Post-Brexit, the Kolpak deals would likely to cease at the end of the 2020 season as the ECB has issued an email to the 18 first-class counties noting a series of potential implications.

“So maybe, post-Brexit, guys will still go and play there, but you can still pick them for your country. Brexit will be one thing that will stop obviously the Kolpak players. So yes that would benefit SA cricket tremendous amounts,” du Plessis said.

The skipper however still believed that the counties may still find a loophole around by saying they have another overseas player.

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“It will still mean that players will go and play there and will just be under a different name tag. Because opportunities are there for players in the domestic circuit in England,” he feared.

Barring their first innings in the opening Test in Vizag, the Proteas never really troubled India in the three-Test series as their batting slumped in every match.

At Vizag, Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock’s century-plus partnership helped them post 431 in reply to India’s 502 for seven declared but in Pune and Ranchi they cut a sorry figure.

“We played our best match in the first Test and the consistent pressure that was on us made us weaker every Test match that we played. That therefore tells me that we’re not mentally strong enough as a team and that some work is required on that department.”

Having lost their last series in 2015 in spin-friendly conditions, South Africa also got a big jolt as it was the Indian pace battery which came up trumps despite the absence of spearhead Jasprit Bumrah.

During the 2015 series, Indian fast bowlers only picked up a total of eight wickets across the four Tests but this time, Umesh Yadav finished the series with 11 wickets with an average of 12.18, while Mohammed Shami took 13 at 14.76 apiece.

“They were spot-on. I thought the way the Indian seamers showed us how to bowl. The pace that they bowled, the consistency that they bowled, the skill that they showed, outclassed us as a fast bowling attack. There is learning for us in that when we playing the subcontinent that our style of bowling is not successful.”

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He further said they badly missed Dale Steyn.

Du Plessis said it was a really a tough challenge for him to see through a smooth transition as the team lacks experience.

“We’ve had a very mature Test team for a while. All guys who played 30-40 Test matches, and now you look in the dressing room and it’s 5, 6, 7, 8 or 10 Test matches.”

Asked about the way forward, Du Plessis said they have to find the right people to build the side.

“It’s a rebuilding phase. You have to start identifying characters that will drive the team forward. You look for personalities within a team that you see in 3-4-5-6 years to come. And then the process starts. It’s a tough place to start right at the beginning.

“The process will probably take a little bit longer. So for me, our next journey now is trying to make sure that we get a lot stronger as a cricketing team mentally. So if there’s work that needs to be done in that department, then so be it.

(With inputs from agencies)