It’s been one of the main talking points of the winter – the Kolpak signing. In particular the number of South African cricketers who have chosen to sign deals in county cricket at the expense of their international careers.
Kyle Abbott, 29, and Rilee Rossouw, 27, were the most high-profile players to do so, as the duo signed Kolpak deals with Hampshire. But another man to walk away from the South African setup was 31-year-old Dane Vilas, with the keeper-batsman signing a two-year deal with Lancashire.
Speaking at the club’s pre-season media day, just 48 hours after touching down in the UK, Vilas reflected on the tough decision he had made, but says he felt it was in the best interest of his career.
“I think it’s a bit difficult at this stage with the guys who are signing Kolpak and obviously some people feel that you’re turning your back on the country,” Vilas said.
“For me I don’t have any bad words or any negatives about South African cricket. I really loved it and the the time I had there and the opportunity to play. But for me it was about the opportunities here.
“I looked at the way Quinton [De Kock] was playing and for me to get in the side was going to be really difficult over the next couple of years. I just thought this was an opportunity at this stage of my career that I couldn’t pass up.
“It’s not really a financial thing. Obviously that does help but also just the opportunity to play at a high level here in England.
“A lot of people want to play county cricket. It is one of the best leagues in the world to play and challenge yourself. I’ve always wanted to play county cricket and this was a way for me to play. Hopefully I can have a long career here.”
Vilas has six Test caps for South Africa, the last coming when he was drafted in at the last minute to play against England at the Wanderers at the start of 2016. He’s also played 100 First Class matches, boasting a batting average of 38.80.
He is primarily a wicket-keeper, though Lancashire coach Glen Chapple has confirmed Alex Davies will keep wicket, at least to start the season, but Vilas says he’s happy in the field.
The decision to leave behind the South African international side was a controversial one for the players who have signed Kolpak deals, and Vilas admitted it wasn’t without criticism.
“There’s some mixed emotions on it,” he said.
“Some guys are really disappointed and you get abuse. Social media makes it easy for some people to abuse you on those platforms.
“The other side is that I have a lot of support as well and guys do understand. I haven’t hidden why I’m doing it, I’ve made my reasons clear and I think the guys who have looked at it properly do understand.
“For me, my focus is on playing here for as long as I can. I think it’s extra pressure being a Kolpak.
“I know it’s going to be tough. There’s lots of challenges I haven’t faced before and I’m really looking forward to it. Hopefully I can grow into those challenges and come out on top.”
It was a promising start to Vilas’ Lancashire career, with a half-century in the pre-season match against Cambridge MCCU at Fenner’s.
While this is his first experience of county cricket, Vilas is no stranger to the British Isles and is relishing the prospect of performing for Lancashire.
“I played club cricket in England about nine or ten years ago down in Notts. Last year I played for Sunbury Cricket Club in London. On both occasions I had a great time and a great summer.
“Definitely I’d like to stay here long term. We can’t play cricket forever and I’d like to play as long as I can. I know Lancashire have invested in me for two years at least.
“To play in Division One, at a place like this with great history, it was an easy decision to come to Lancashire. I’ve never been here but I’m looking forward to experiencing Manchester and everything it has to offer.”