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Will the prodigal sons of South African cricket return home?

South Africa's Lungi Ngidi celebrates taking the wicket of Australia's Aaron Finch earlier in 2020
South Africa's Lungi Ngidi celebrates taking the wicket of Australia's Aaron Finch earlier in 2020

Cricket South Africa is an organization that has constantly undergone changes since its inception. It’s hard to think of another sporting association that has had to adapt so often to the will of the country’s political system. Of late, the unfortunate truth is that the administrators and custodians of Cricket South Africa haven’t been up to the task of reforming at the same speed as that of the rest of the country's sporting codes.

This is an organization that is very much on its knees after years of mismanagement. A lengthy investigation over the last eight months has seen the former CEO Thabang Moroe sacked with the prospect of criminal charges to follow after the commission's damning findings of embezzlement.

Needless to say and with the bombshell report now released to the public of the goings-on at the top table of South African cricket, it's easy to see how winning matches games hasn’t been at the top of the agenda. This has prompted the rainbow nation’s best players to seek pastures greener with a host of the country’s best players taking up Kolpak contracts in England, which has made them unavailable for selection of the country of their birth.

For South African cricket fans, it has been enough to make them weep as they watch their country’s best players win trophies for their adopted nations as they go without any international success in ICC events. The bad times never last though and a butterfly that flapped its wings on the 23rd of June 2016 is about to set off a hurricane in South African cricket that will shake it up, but ultimately make it a lot stronger.

The event in question that will cause sweeping change for Cricket South Africa was the Brexit referendum that concluded with the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union. This means that any South African player who has signed a Kolpak agreement will have their contract terminated at the end of 2020 when the UK officially leaves the EU.

They will still be eligible to play in England for the domestic sides that they are registered to but they will no longer be ineligible to play for South Africa. At this moment in time, some 17 South Africans fall under the Kolpak agreement, and of those 17, at least four would walk straight into the Proteas starting 11 and make it a formidable team capable of winning a World Cup.

Interestingly and despite all the current rain clouds hanging over the country’s cricket association, current South African head coach Mark Boucher has also recently said that he is enthusiastic about the Proteas' new way, which reading between the lines surely means he is looking forward to welcoming back some long-lost faces into the national setup.

News of this upcoming development has already started to influence the betting markets for the 2023 World Cup, with the best cricket betting sites for 2020 starting to drop the odds on South Africa winning the World Cup. Punters who want to bet on the world’s biggest cricket events will see South Africa now at 8/1 to be crowned champions in India in 2023. There is naturally still a long way to go before the showpiece in India, but the feeling is that South Africa are finally beginning to get their house in order in time for the tournament.

The question is: will the ex-Proteas players answer the country's call when it comes in the new year?

This will be a fascinating story to watch unfold over 2021 but with the right tailwind and some expert diplomacy as well as negotiating skills, the Proteas could be back at the summit of world cricket sooner than most expected them to.

©Cricket World 2020