Cricket in South Africa is about to undergo a revolution.
After so much unrest among so many of the country’s players over the past decade, the SA20 tournament, which begins on Tuesday, marks the beginning of a new era.
Sportspeople from countries that have associate trade agreements with the European Union, such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Caribbean nations, were granted the same right to free movement as EU citizens for years thanks to Kolpak deals, which caused a talent drain.
A number of the best players in the country left their eligibility to play for South Africa in exchange for better contracts and opportunities in England.
As a result of Britain’s exit from the EU, this practice has ended, and players are now free to play again for their home nation.
Wayne Parnell, a left-arm pace bowler and all-rounder who had played 111 games for the Proteas before traveling to England to sign a contract with Kolpak, was one of the most well-known departures.
Parnell, on the other hand, made his decision gradually, as opposed to quickly.
“There was a thought of going back to 2016 or 2017, but evidently I still felt like I could play international cricket. “I didn’t commit to anything in 2018, but that thought was there, and that was the turning point,” Parnell says.
“I talked to Moeen Ali, and he asked me if I would like to play for Worcestershire in the Blast. Moeen is obviously someone I really respect.
“The whole Kolpak thing wasn’t really a proper discussion when I got over to Worcestershire; it was just playing Blast and a couple of County Championship games,”
The conclusion that Parnell reached in 2018 was one that was one that made sense for both him and his family due to the fact that he had already had a taste of county cricket through a couple of stints prior to his term at New Road, that his wife was pregnant, and that he had big money, IPL-owned teams, and English stars.
Parnell recalls, “The decision came just based on the fact that there would be a bit more stability in our lives” when his wife was very close to giving birth. It is evidently extremely challenging with international cricket due to tours and other factors.”
“I was trying to lay good foundations in terms of family life as well, obviously this career is very short.”
He would no longer be able to play for his country, but that was the price to pay. Parnell was able to accept the difficult decision, despite it.
“I didn’t think, “This will be my last game, I might never play for South Africa,” when I played the game that ended up being my last. However, “I was also content and happy with that I might never play for South Africa again,” he admits, “when I made the decision to go Kolpak.”
Due to the Kolpak contracts expiring in 2020 due to Brexit, a return to the South African team was possible in a few years.
Because the outcomes of the deals remained a mystery for some time, that may have thrown some players off guard.
Parnell claims, “It was a massive gray area.” Before the ECB made a decision, numerous alternative scenarios were considered. Evidently, the entire Covid period exacerbated the situation, adding uncertainty.
“I did think that I would probably have to come back and play here [South Africa] or play in county cricket as an overseas pro when it was kind of up in the air,”
He talks openly about how he thought during that time, saying that he was never “closed off to anything.”
The fact that Parnell was playing domestic cricket for Western Province in South Africa brought him back into the running for a spot in the T20 World Cup squad in Australia, which ultimately secured him a spot there.
“At the beginning of the 2021 South African season, we participated in a T20 knockout tournament, and I also participated in some domestic red-ball games. “I think they maybe saw that it was a conversation worth having because I was playing back in the system and I did alright with our team,” Parnell stated.
“At the end of 2021, the selectors called and asked me first if I was still interested in playing international cricket. It’s important, in my opinion, not to assume that players from the South African team still want to play international cricket.
“Thinking that I would never have that experience again made having that experience again different and probably more special.”
Not only does Parnell stand to benefit greatly from the SA20 tournament, but also cricket in South Africa as a whole.
Being able to captain Pretoria Capitals, another opportunity that might not have come to him if the Kolpak deals had not been in place, is both a pleasure and a burden for him.
We will never know whether that would have been the case, but one thing is certain: Parnell is thrilled to have the chance to lead his team in the inaugural season of the tournament.
“I think we’ve been waiting so long for a tournament of this size and nature. It’s great to be able to play in this SA20 league first, and it’s also great that Pretoria Capitals have believed in me to lead the team in its first season.
Even though Parnell’s decision to leave Kolpak was not based on money, others were. The fact that South African domestic players are paid significantly less than English players is hard to ignore.
However, a tournament of this magnitude demonstrates a trend in the right direction for South African cricket. The tournament receives significant financial support, which is a huge benefit that has the potential to grow the domestic game and, as a result, strengthen the Proteas’ international teams.
Parnell explains, “If you’re not a top-tier player, I think it’s difficult to earn a decent living in the South African system.”
“I think it’s huge, especially for local players, to have this competition because it gives them a taste of playing at a high level and in a very competitive tournament with quality overseas players on every team. This will first help cricket.
“From my perspective, the financial aspect is always a benefit. Everyone, I believe, is anticipating the first season’s competition and the outcome.