DUANNE OLIVIER has described the chance to join Yorkshire as the “deal of a lifetime” after turning his back on international cricket to sign a three-year Kolpak contract with the club.
The South African quick, who this week broke into the top-20 of the world Test bowling rankings, is the latest to quit the South African system after the likes of Hampshire’s Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw.
Olivier, 26, has shot to prominence in international cricket this winter, taking 24 wickets in the 3-0 clean sweep of Pakistan that saw him named man-of-the-series, following it up with another seven wickets in two Test matches against Sri Lanka.
His loss is a big blow to South Africa, who fought hard to keep him, but with competition for bowling places fierce and with the country still operating a quota system, whereby the target is for an average of six players of colour in the first XI, he has chosen the comparative security of English domestic cricket.
“I would be lying if I said this wasn’t a difficult decision to make,” said Olivier, who will shortly link up with Yorkshire on their pre-season tour to Potchefstroom.
“It’s giving up playing for my country with no guarantees of playing international cricket again. But, at the end of the day, I needed to be true to myself.
“I’ve only got this one chance to see where my talent can take me, and Yorkshire just felt right to me.”
Yorkshire say they beat off competition from “a number of other counties” to sign Olivier, who had not played Test cricket for almost 15 months prior to returning against Pakistan for the Boxing Day Test at Centurion after Vernon Philander fractured a finger.
They hope the arrangement will continue beyond three years, although they say there is uncertainty as to whether Brexit will affect Kolpak negotiations going forward.
Kolpak deals allow sportsmen from countries with associate trade agreements with the European Union to be afforded the same right to free movement as EU citizens. They also circumnavigate the need for them to be classed as overseas players.
It’s giving up playing for my country with no guarantees of playing international cricket again. But, at the end of the day, I needed to be true to myself.Yorkshire signing Duanne Olivier
Martyn Moxon, Yorkshire’s director of cricket, said: “We hope it’s going to be a long-term signing. It’s for an initial three years, but we’re hoping it will be for longer than that.
“To get someone of Duanne’s ability is a huge boost, and we’re all looking forward to him joining us.
“I think the fact he’s giving up international cricket for South Africa to play here shows his commitment, and I think he’ll be a great asset.”
Olivier, who has taken 399 first-class wickets at an average of 21.85, including 48 wickets in 10 Tests at 19.25, said he had not been seeking a Kolpak contract.
However, he did want to return to England after enjoying his time as an overseas player at Derbyshire last year, where he captured 31 wickets in seven County Championship games at 27.48.
“To be completely honest, I wasn’t looking for a Kolpak offer,” he said. “I came over on my first county stint last year and I absolutely loved it. I was originally looking to come back as an overseas player, but, when I got the offer from Yorkshire, it was a deal of a lifetime.”
Olivier went on: “I would say I’ve been in good form for the last few years. It has definitely been my most consistent period, and I think my stats could attest to that.
“I have definitely enjoyed playing Test cricket. The Pakistan tour was by far my standout tour. I loved every moment of that tour. It’s definitely one I won’t forget.”
Yorkshire view Olivier as someone who can bring extra firepower and depth to their pace bowling ranks. He views himself as an adaptable operator with more to his armoury than out-and-out pace.
“I can be whatever type of bowler the team needs me to be,” he said. “I think there is a lot of stigma around the fact that people think I can only bowl short balls because that is what I’ve done in Test matches. And it couldn’t be further from the truth.
“If my team asks me to bowl short, that’s what I’ll do. I will fill the enforcer role if needed and sometimes the team will need me to be a backup where my job is to tire out and frustrate the batsmen so that another strike bowler may come and take the wicket.
“I think my strength lies in my flexibility to fill whatever role is required of me. I do like to be the guy the captain goes to when things get tough, and I prefer bowling longer spells.”
Andrew Gale, the Yorkshire first team coach, said: “Duanne has been on the radar for a while. “We’ve kept our eye on him, and he’s obviously had a fantastic time over the winter in South Africa.
“To sign someone of his quality will be a great addition. To be successful, particularly in Championship cricket, you need to have seven or eight front-line seamers.”
Olivier is set to play in Yorkshire’s first game of the English season against Leeds-Bradford MCCU at Weetwood on March 31.
“He will meet the lads in Potchefstroom for about six days, and the plan is for him to get over here in time for the Leeds-Bradford MCCU game,” said Moxon. “We’re just really excited to have him on board. He’s a proven wicket-taker, as we’ve seen in the series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka recently.
“He’s also got genuine pace, so he gives us a different dimension within our seam bowling attack. We’re mindful that we’ve got some talented young seamers, but several of them have had injuries, so we have to manage them carefully over the next couple of year.
“It gives us that strength in depth to compete on all fronts.”