Simon Harmer left South African cricket for English county Essex in 2017 disillusioned.
He’d been dropped by the Proteas after just five Tests, despite taking 20 wickets at a very respectable average of 29, and was staring the ignominy of not getting contracted by the Warriors in the face.
Since his departure, the 30-year-old off-spinner has been magnificent in the UK and, currently, boasts an incredible haul of 194 first-class wickets in just three campaigns (the third isn’t even finished yet).
That’s an average of 65 wickets per season.
Yet Harmer isn’t hopeful or even planning on making a comeback and in a frank interview with ESPNCricinfo, he explains why.
Here are the four striking themes to emerge from the discussion.
His decision to go the Kolpak route wasn’t about money
“I signed a six-month, £30,000 deal with Essex to come over and it was basically a shop window, whereas other players signed long-term deals for a lot more money. For me, I wasn’t offered a contract back in South Africa – if things didn’t go according to plan at Essex, I’d have gone back to South Africa unemployed, and was probably looking at life after cricket.”
“It wasn’t about the money, it was about opportunity. There’s zero security in South Africa – that’s the reason players sign Kolpak deals, because of the security and the opportunity. Yes, the money is part and parcel of it because the rand is weak against sterling, but I can guarantee you now, for 95 percent of the guys that have signed Kolpak deals, it’s about opportunity and security.”
Cricket South Africa’s quota regulations are ‘hurting players of colour’
“It’s affecting players of colour because they’re forced into a role and they’re not allowed to develop their skill. They get thrust in and then thrust out, and then they find the next person to come in.
“If I were to lose my place for a player of colour then I don’t have an issue with that. But as a sportsman, I need to maximise my earning potential, and to commit in South Africa where the transformation targets are constantly evolving … your opportunities do get less and less.
“It’s the nature of South African sport. It’s always going to be there, it’s never going to go away. It’s such a sore topic and taboo to speak about, but it is what it is.”
He believes his the best off-spinner in the world (maybe)
“You always wonder, only playing five Tests, then looking back and thinking ‘well, what if?’ and wondering if you were good enough, then coming over here, performing, and winning trophies with Essex.
“In myself, I know that I’m the best off-spinner in the world, but how can I say that when I haven’t bowled at international level? Seven out of 14 games I’m bowling at Chelmsford, where the wicket turns, I don’t go to Australia or New Zealand or India where wickets might not turn, or turn more, so it’s difficult to judge.”
Harmer wouldn’t say ‘no’ to playing for England
“I know that I’m good enough to play for England, but I think that there would be a lot of difficult decisions to make if my name was to be in the hat. But I do want to play international cricket. I understand that it’s a long shot, and it’s maybe a little bit unrealistic, but I feel like you’ve got to have goals and dreams.
“I’m going to keep pushing myself. If it happens and things work out – happy days.”