Losing Private Ryan

It is inconceivable that a fit, strong, young, healthy and patriotic cricketer should be prevented from representing his country because of a contract which stipulates that he should continue to play at a lower level.

Ambition is the fuel which drives sportsmen to reach the prime of their careers, to chase victory and glory as though their lives depended on it before the realities of nappies and school fees make them realise that the monthly cheque doesn’t just mean they can buy a fast car.

Kent County Cricket Club is well aware that Ryan McLaren, for all his honour, respect and commitment, will barely bowl or strike a single ball next season without thinking that he could, or should have been doing so with a Protea on his chest rather than the prancing horse of the county.

But they are making a point by taking such a principled stand, and understandably so. They have taken the trouble of securing the services of a proven match-winner for the next two years and it has cost them plenty of money. Critical to the signing of that contract was a sworn declaration by McLaren that he had no intention of playing international cricket.

At the time of the announcement of SA’s one-day squad, which included McLaren, not a single person from South Africa, let alone Cricket South Africa, had made even a token effort to contact Kent. The arrogance required to select a player in the full knowledge that he would consequently be in breach of contract is breath-taking.

Cricket South Africa, which should have recognised McLaren’s international potential three years ago, now find themselves in the sh*t without an allrounder and called upon McLaren to take an approximate 50% pay cut to play for his country, which he was prepared to do. They also expect him to break his contract and sort out the repercussions himself. Wow.

To compare McLaren’s situation with that of Paul Harris three a couple of years ago is inaccurate because Harris’s short term contract with Warwickshire was almost finished anyway and, besides, he had never been required to sign the ‘no intention to play international cricket’ declaration.

The great irony is that South Africa have their clearest winter for 15 years in 2009 – the only international commitment is the World Twenty20 in England in June for three weeks – so Kent could have allowed McLaren to fulfil his international dream and still had him for 90% of next season if they had been prepared to change his registration and make him their overseas player rather than a ‘Kolpak’ player. Presently, their overseas player is Yasir Arafat. Exactly. It shouldn’t be a hard choice.

Finally, if Cricket South Africa and its leadership expect players to break agreements and breach contracts with other employers in order to work for them, then they should not make such a fuss when players like Andrew Hall and Justin Kemp walk away from contracts with CSA. After all, a breach is a breach – or are some breaches more important than others?

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