Maroš Kolpak — the man who started it all.
Maroš Kolpak — the man who started it all. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

Brendan Taylor’s signing with Nottinghamshire prompted him to retire from international cricket (at least for Zimbabwe). Abhishek Mukherjee lists eight crucial aspects about Kolpak cricketers.

So it happened again. The legacy of Maroš Kolpak has unknowingly claimed another victim, this time putting an end to the international career of Brendan Taylor — the middle-order lynchpin of contemporary Zimbabwe cricket. It will be a huge blow for Zimbabwe, especially since they have shown signs of being on the rise of late.

Taylor is not the only international cricketer to be inducted into the County Championship as a result of Kolpak ruling. There have been many overseas cricketers (including legends like Shaun Pollock — albeit after his career was over) who have played for counties under Kolpak ruling.

Here, then, are eight lesser-known things about Kolpak cricketers:

1. The man who started it all

Maroš Kolpak was a Slovak handball goalkeeper who played for Tatran Prešov, Dukla Praha, and VSŽ Košice at home. He had a successful stint with TSV Baden Östringen and SG Kronau / Östringen in German 2nd Bundesliga. He was released by SG Kronau/Östringen because of a quota for non-European Union (EU) players. At that point of time Slovakia was not an EU member.

But Kolpak did not give up. He filed a lawsuit at the European Court of Justice against the German Handball Federation. He won the case, and became eligible to play. In 2006 SG Kronau/Östringen were later promoted to Bundesliga.

Kolpak later became a successful handball coach. Kolpak players, however, are more common in English county cricket and rugby union.

2. Kolpak eligibility (in 2003)

Barring EU countries, members of African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) Group of States are eligible to be Kolpak players as per the Cotonou Agreement, 2000. The list includes about a hundred nations of which South Africa, Zimbabwe, and most West Indian countries are Test nations, while Papua New Guinea have One-Day International (ODI) status, as had Kenya till some time back. Additionally, Bermuda played in ICC Cricket World Cup 2007.

Additionally, the players (a) need a working holiday UK visa, and (b) could not have played for their respective countries for the past one year.

Cricketers born in British overseas territories do not require Kolpak eligibility. Born in British Anguilla, Omari Banks has played for Leicestershire and Somerset as a “local”.

3. The South African response

Cricket South Africa (CSA) chose not to bar Kolpak players from participating in domestic tournaments: they knew the Kolpak players would not give up their lucrative English contracts; they also knew that their own “quota system” was a significant reason behind the Kolpak cricketers. However, they put a restriction of two Kolpak cricketers per domestic franchise.

4. ECB’s efforts to stop the influx

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) were concerned, and had every right to be: a domestic circuit full of Kolpak players would be detrimental towards the growth of native talent.

ECB decided to impose fines on the counties in 2005. While the usual limit of two overseas players was still applicable, a county would have to pay £85 per Kolpak player in one-day matches and £340 in the County Championship matches. It did not seem to work, so they raised the bar to £275 and £1,100 respectively in 2007.

It did not work. By 2008 there were roughly 60 Kolpak players in English domestic circuit. In 2009 ECB inflicted a new set of restrictions on Kolpak players in 2009. Since then, only those with a valid work permit for four or more years would have rights similar to EU citizens, and would thus qualify to be Kolpak players.

5. 13 overseas players in a match!

The County Championship match between Northamptonshire and Leicestershire at Grace Road in May 2008 included 13 cricketers born outside England. Ten of these — HD Ackerman, Boeta Dippenaar, Jacques du Toit, Claude Henderson, Dillon du Preez, Riki Wessels, Nicky Boje, Lance Klusener, Andrew Hall, and Johan van der Wath — were South Africans.

The sixth wicket of Leicestershire’s only innings — Henderson caught Hall bowled van der Wath — was an all-South African entry.

6. The curious case of Wessels

Riki Wessels, son of Kepler, played for Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire as a Kolpak player. It all went fine, till ECB’s 2009 ruling came into force; Wessels did not have a work permit, which did not allow him to play, more so because his wedding with a British citizen — scheduled in 2010 — was called off.

However, as it often happens, a loophole emerged: Wessels acquired an Entrepreneur Visa, which made him eligible as per the Home Office laws. For this, Wessels needed to run a trade; a bank balance of £200,000 or more — an amount he could not acquire as loan; he also had to hire at least two people.

Wessels solved the problem by opening his own website and declaring it as his business. In a way he made the British Government change the laws: Entrepreneur Visas are no longer acceptable as Kolpak ruling qualifications.

7. Kolpak, renounced

Faf du Plessis was offered a Kolpak deal by Nottinghamshire in June 2005. He did not accept, but signed a deal with Lancashire three years later. Following the 2009 rule he was not eligible to continue as a Kolpak player anymore. He returned to South Africa, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Charl Langeveldt, who had played for Derbyshire as a Kolpak player (he signed up in 2008), renounced his Kolpak status to find a way back to the South African squad. He did not quite make it, but when he played for Kent in Friends Life T20 2011, it was as an overseas player.

Ryan McLaren, on the other hand, became a Kolpak player for Kent in 2007, and claimed a hat-trick in the Twenty20 Cup final against Gloucestershire at Edgbaston. He renounced his status and made his debut for South Africa in all three formats in the 2009-10.

8. The Gale expletive

Though the counties welcomed the Kolpak ruling, some cricketers were apparently not happy with it. As recently as in September 2014, there was a ruckus over a sledge by Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale aimed at Ashwell Prince in a Roses match (does the term still exist?).

During the controversial County Championship at Old Trafford, Gale sledged Prince with the words “‘f*** off back to your own country, you Kolpak f***er”. Gale faced allegations of racism following the comment and was handed out a two-match ban and made to attend an anger management course.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)