Faf du Plessis was a surprise exclusion from the Proteas T20 squad for the tour of the West Indies, but the former captain could still find himself jetting over to the Caribbean, plus a new contractual arrangement for free agents is on the cards.
Apart from adding experience to a rebuilding batting line-up, Du Plessis was one of the best batsmen in the recently-suspended Indian Premier League, so why wasn’t he chosen? It turns out his omission was due to him not having a contract in place with Cricket South Africa, and, according to their current policy, that would mean he would not get paid for the tour but would earn match fees, which are just top-up amounts for those players who do have national deals.
It is a gap in CSA’s contracting system which director of cricket Graeme Smith is trying to fix in consultation with the South African Cricketers Association (the players’ union).
In the meantime, there is a chance that Du Plessis can reignite his T20 World Cup hopes by getting a late call-up to play in the West Indies.
For that to happen, the national selectors would have to agree to add him to the squad and Du Plessis would have to agree to special financial terms offered by CSA.
The organisation budgeted for 17 national men’s contracts for the season but only awarded 16 of them, and some of the money from that extra ‘salary’ is believed to be on offer to Du Plessis.
With the rise of lucrative T20 leagues there are likely to be many more free agents in future, but they currently fall outside of the Proteas contracting system in what one CSA official described as “the elephant in the room that everyone has been avoiding”.
The policy at the moment sees the players being ranked from No 1 to No 16, depending on the balance of Test, ODI and T20 matches in the next season, using scientific data methods. But free agents are excluded from this.
It’s another problem that Smith has inherited as director of cricket. Checks and balances obviously need to be in place to ensure the free agents are not just using the Proteas to score lucrative T20 contracts elsewhere, but are actually contributing to the national team’s culture and success.
There is also the danger that if players are given format-specific contracts, then many could opt out of Test cricket and just play the white-ball formats.
On the other hand, the Proteas need to have marquee players that the top teams want to play against and that people want to watch in action.