Whatever happened to…?

Some of the most interesting features and articles in sports magazines and on websites are those which explore the lives of the game’s participants once their time in the spotlight has expired.

Recently I saw an article about former EP batting stalwart, Vlam Michau, who was a particular favourite of mine because he hit the ball much like I imagine a medieval executioner would have beheaded his victims.

Apparently Vlam has absolutely no connection with cricket whatsoever these days and rarely even watches the game on television. Not because he’s bitter or disillusioned, or has a particular hatred for any individuals who are involved these days, but just because he has moved on to the next phase in his life. I was left with a feeling of ‘good for him’ rather than one of regret.

Some stories are sad, some are happy and still more are simply strange. Some cricketers adapt to ‘normal’ life very well after a long playing career but others find it hard to exist without the camaraderie of the change room that was such a huge and important part of their lives.

For some players, the need to adapt to ‘real’ life comes at 30, while others reach almost 40. Some never have to make the adjustment…they become commentators!

But just occasionally, and usually very sadly, cricket disappears from a players’ life at a really early age, without any warning. And that can be extremely hard to cope with. This is a tale about one such man. Fortunately, he is good enough to make a come back to the game and probably will, but right now, at the age of just 23, he sits on the outside of the game where once, barely six months ago, the international scene beckoned.

It would be easy to accuse him of causing his own demise through selfishness, but that would be an over-simplification of the situation. At his age, there can be no accounting for the quality of the advice he received – or how he reacted to it.

Six months ago Vaughn van Jaarsveld, blinded by the prospect of earning over three times his Lions salary with English county Warwickshire, announced that he was turning his back on the country of his birth to qualify for England. However he intended the message to be conveyed, it came across as “get stuffed, teammates, countrymen and everyone who ever invested any time in me whatsoever.”

Life was good. Or so it seemed.

Then the problems started. Warwickshire struggled to get a work permit for their new signing leaving him playing league cricket for Birmingham team Mosley where, according to his teammates, he borrowed money which he never repaid.

Enticed by Warwickshire’s offer of riches, Van Jaarsveld had simply walked out on his legally-binding contract with the Lions and alienated himself from people who had sustained him through a career containing more awkward moments than usual. Lions chief executive, Alan ‘Don’t Mess With Me’ Kourie, was enraged and threatened to have a court order served on the player.

Six months later and, somehow, Van Jaarsveld seems to have angered the good people of Warwickshire – for whom he also signed a contract – in much the same way.

Suddenly, he was all alone.

When he returned to the Lions he received a welcome straight from the Arctic. The players did not want him. Neither did the officials. And who could blame them? Warwickshire didn’t want him either: “More trouble than he’s worth,” a senior official said.

Even if the Lions did take him back they would have a problem fitting him into the starting XI because they already have three Kolpak players ineligible for South Africa in Garnett Kruger, Friedel de Wet and Claude Henderson. There is, supposedly, a CSA rule which says Franchises can play no more than two such players each although that was, bizarrely, overlooked when Steven Harmison pitched up at the Wanderers.

The situation now is that Warwickshire have presented the Lions with a ‘compensation payment’ offer. Unless they pay it, Warwickshire will keep Van Jaarsveld under contract and refuse to allow him to play for the Lions. Why should the Lions pay? Why should Warwickshire relent?

Van Jaarsveld, meanwhile, sits on the sidelines. Unable to play and earn a living doing the only thing he is capable and qualified to do.

Whatever happens to him, and this may never, ever be of consolation, he may help prevent other young South Africans from chasing the pound without giving serious and thorough consideration to the consequences.

Hopefully, in a year or so, he might get back on his feet and persuade people to trust him again. He’s a very good cricketer. And, as Boris Becker once famously said, “I screwed up. But I didn’t kill anyone.”

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