On this day in cricket, 31 October 2009
The seedy Kolpak underbelly
As the number of recently purchased Kolpaks to die during pre-season this year rises to four, professional cricket clubs in Britain face renewed criticism over the continued importation of low quality non-England-qualified players.
Last week Nantie van der Berg, a 33-year-old cricketer, reputed to be of South African origin, collapsed and died during a training session with an undisclosed professional cricket club. He is the fourth Kolpak qualified cricketer to die due to poor health this year.
The latest tragedy occurred just one week after his uncle, Albie van der Berg, died whilst facing a couple of 'throw downs' at the same club.
Yesterday, an embarrassed club official admitted that: "Clubs are so Kolpak obsessed these days that there is nothing unusual about purchasing a player who has never played first-class cricket. Unfortunately this leaves you wide open to abuses from rogue agents, and as has happened here, you are going to get a couple of duds from time to time".
Nantie van der Berg is understood to have died shortly after attempting a catch during fielding practice. An onlooker who was at the pre-season training session claimed: "He was participating in that catching routine in which half a dozen people stand in a semi-circle fairly close to the bat.
Lance Koenig enjoyed unprecedented success in 2006 when he scooped five Best in Group awards and the much coveted Best in Show title at the Royal Kolpak and Gundogs Fair.
"I didn't see a thing as I was trying to remove a stamp that had somehow stuck to my trouser leg, but my friend who saw what happened said that Nantie just collapsed and died moments after putting down a fairly straightforward chance. According to my friend who is standing next to me now, he was really struggling out there so I wasn't at all surprised to hear that he died".
Lance Koenig, a retired commercial farmer from Capetown and distinguished Kolpak trader, knows a thing or two about Kolpaks. He exported the first herd of Kolpaks into Britain back in 2004, possesses a lucrative Royal Warrant of Appointment to purvey Kolpaks to the British Royal Family, and has won scores of Best in Show awards.
He claims that the Kolpak well is almost dry and low budget cricket officials are desperate to secure a bargain before stocks run out - and as always, criminal elements have been quick to seize upon the opportunities that supply shortages inevitably create.
"Kolpaks have long been seen as a cheap and cheerful alternative to local players and some of them are actually pretty good. The problem is that annual harvests have declined year on year since 2005 and measures have been put in place to protect our depleted reserves.
"Many reputable agents foresaw this and have been growing their own for some years now; but even intensive methods take time. If you get them before they start teething, feed them hormone laced biltong, keep the lights on and play loud music, you can probably start selling them after about ten years.
Fraud suspicions were raised when 'Edwin Du Plessis' was asked about his batting and bowling averages: "I average five bowls of rice a day and eat one fried bat every hour during the monsoon season".
"Unfortunately, ruthless dealers want fast money - they are not interested in long term ethical investments. So they buy cheap, exaggerate the prowess of very ordinary cricketers, and sell fast.
"They are especially interested in terminally ill cricketers as people are normally very polite when someone dies and less likely to accuse you of pulling a fast one. Deals are usually sealed over a long distance telephone line so how are you going to know if your new star bowler is in need of palliative care".
Some sources even suggest that the market is swollen with fake Kolpaks. An earnest club official even confessed that: "One of our members who is a vet, claims that as many as six of our Kolpaks are poor copies - mostly made in China. There's even an Inuit Indian called Nicky Prokter keeping wicket for the second eleven".
But Daisy Richards, a psychotherapist at the charity 'Kruelpak', dismisses such concerns: "Why should anyone care about a Kolpak's country of origin? Preoccupation with authenticity is misguided at best and very often wholly xenophobic.
"Some of the Kolpaks they are making these days in places like Thailand and the Philippines are even better than Australian overseas players. They are good for the economy and prepared to do the jobs that local cricketers won't such as fielding at short leg, match fixing, and ball tampering".
The man who almost watched Nantie van der Berg die agrees: "Nantie packed so much into that five minute fielding exercise that you would have to say he more or less achieved everything he wanted to do in life - aside from being happy, making friends, and beating cancer".