Olivier snubs international cricket in favour of Kolpak deal

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Olivier has played 10 Tests and two ODIs for South Africa. © Getty

South African Duanne Olivier has decided against furthering his international career by signing a Kolpak deal with Yorkshire County Cricket Club. The 26-year-old has signed on a three-year contract and, ironically, will meet his Yorkshire teammates at the start of a pre-season tour of South Africa next month.

Joining as a Kolpak will mean Olivier is not considered an overseas player in English domestic cricket. The ruling, named after Slovakian handball player Maros Kolpak, allows citizens of European Union Association Agreement countries, such as South Africa (as part of their Contonou Deal), to work in another EU country with the same rights as an EU citizen.

The England and Wales Cricket Board ratify each case on its merits and the proviso for all is that they give up the right to play for their national team. Olivier, for the time being at least, finishes his Proteas career with just 10 Tests and 48 wickets taken at an average of 19.25, and two ODI caps.

“I would be lying if I said this wasn’t a difficult decision to make,” said Olivier in a statement to the Yorkshire CCC website. “It’s giving up playing for my country with no guarantees of playing international cricket again. But at the end of the day, I needed to be true to myself. I’ve only got this one chance to see where my talent can take me and Yorkshire just felt right to me.”

The news comes as a shock, not least to Cricket South Africa, who offered Olivier a two-year contract through to 2021. The right-armer made his international debut in 2017 but it was over in five Tests over the last couple of months that he really showed his quality, taking 31 wickets against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He proved himself as a crucial part of the attack alongside Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada and also made his ODI debut against Pakistan in January and looked set to mount a late charge for the World Cup squad.

Given the nature of these types of deals, negotiations between Olivier and Yorkshire will have climaxed prior to this run of form. This time last year, a number of counties were rumoured to be trying to secure the player on a Kolpak deal, when Olivier felt he was unlikely to see regular international cricket.

Though nothing was forthcoming, he did join Derbyshire as an overseas player and took 31 first class and 13 List A wickets for the county. At the end of last year, those suitors returned to try their luck once more before Yorkshire won out.

“We find it extremely disappointing that Duanne has taken this step after all the opportunities we have given him, particularly over the past season and going forward, to live his dream of being an international cricketer,” said CSA Chief Executive Thabang Moroe. “He was upgraded to a national contract during the current season on the strength of his outstanding performances in our Test squad and we offered him a two-year contract which would have given him financial security through to the end of the 2020-2021 season.

“He was not short of opportunity either as he played in all six Test matches against Pakistan and Sri Lanka during the current summer and was also considered for white ball selection. If one looks at the bigger picture this is not good news for the global game either that a player who has just broken into the top 20 on the ICC Test match bowling rankings for the first time should opt effectively to bring down the curtain on his international career in favour of playing only in domestic leagues.”

Proteas head coach Ottis Gibson echoed Mr. Moroe’s sentiments. “We are naturally disappointed with Duanne’s decision to sign a Kolpak contract. He has been a key feature for us this summer and was without a doubt one of our standout performers. We held several meetings with him regarding his future with the Proteas throughout the summer and even offered him a two-year contract. To see him cut short a promising international career is disappointing. Ultimately, it was a decision we could not control despite our best efforts.”

Olivier will become the 14th active Kolpak player in county cricket, joining South African compatriots Simon Harmer, Stiaan van Zyl, Rilee Rossouw and Kyle Abbott. In fact, it was Abbott’s departure from the national set-up in March 2017 that led to Olivier’s Test debut.

The upside is clear for Yorkshire. They are signing a player at the peak of his powers – currently ranked 19 in the ICC Test bowling rankings – who has already adjusted well to county cricket. He also provides experience in the dressing room as the club look to put more faith in youth after a disappointing 2018 season, finishing fourth in Division One, losing in the semi-final of the Royal London Cup and failing to make it out of the group stages of the T20 Blast.

“We’re delighted that Duanne has agreed to join us,” said Yorkshire director of cricket Martyn Moxon. “He’s a proven wicket-taker as we’ve seen in the series’ against Pakistan and Sri Lanka recently. He’s also got genuine pace so he gives us a different dimension within our seam bowling attack. We’re mindful that we’ve got some talented young seamers, but several of them have had injuries so we have to manage them carefully over the next couple of years. It gives us that strength in depth to compete on all fronts.”

Head coach Andrew Gale added: “Duanne has been on the radar for a while. We’ve kept our eye on him and he’s obviously had a fantastic time over the winter in South Africa. To sign someone of his quality will be a great addition to our squad. We want the young, Yorkshire bowlers to come through, the likes of Ben Coad, Matthew Fisher, Josh Shaw and Matthew Waite, but at this moment in time I’m not sure they can handle the workload of playing every game. To bring in an experienced bowler like Duanne will take the pressure off them. We watched him bowl for Derbyshire last year, and he did really well. To sign a guy who is right at the top of his game, in his prime is fantastic, and he will fit in really well.”

Olivier is also another Kolpak secured before Britain’s impending “Brexit” on March 29, 2019. Upon leaving the EU, players will be unable to sign such a deal, though existing contracts will be honoured.