Jason Smith batting for North Devon in 2013 - now he is a South African Test player

NORTH Devon chairman Mark Ansell wants to slash Home Office red tape that prevents talented young cricketers from overseas spending a summer playing in this country.

There may be little prospect of cricket in Devon until late June or early July – and when games to start being played it is hard to imagine too many clubs funding the costs of an overseas player.

Mark Ansell, the North Devon CC chairmanAnsell is already looking ahead to next year and a return to normality, although what he wants to see is at odds with the Home Office’s view of the sporting landscape in this country.

Overseas sportsmen don’t always go home on time at the end of their UK season – that’s all sports, not just cricket – and the Home Office takes the view they are illegal immigrants trying to stay under the radar.

Ansell feels passionately that that current rules and regulations in place for the past three years are too strict – ‘crass stupidity’ is how he describes them – and is looking for the ECB to support some relaxations.

The current regulations ban any young cricketer on the player pathway – that’s Provincial, District or State cricket – coming to the UK to play cricket.

Young South African cricketers, who have been regular summer visitors to North Devon CC, face further limitations as they cannot get a work visa enabling them to pay their way while over here. 

Ansell says young cricketers from the UK and South Africa have benefited from the two-way traffic over the years, dating way back to the early 2000s when young South African all-rounder J P Duminy spent part of the 2003 summer with Exmouth.

Duminy went on to play more than 300 times for his country across all three formats before retiring in late 2019.

Devon can still send young players on the player pathway to South Africa to gain experience that will enhance their careers at club and county level, but reciprocal arrangements are hampered by the Home Office rules and regulations.J P Duminy, who played for a Devon XI against Somerset 2nd XI when this picture was taken

Said Ansell: “The current, stupid situation is no good for anyone.

“Clubs spend more money on less good overseas talent, the great bonds developed from supporting a young overseas player at a crucial stage in his development are broken and the international cricket family is weaker. 

“I have no idea what on earth the reason behind is. It is crass stupidity.”

Jaques Rudolph (Paignton), Kyle Abbott (Lewdown), Jason Smith and Kyle Verreyenne (both North Devon), Johannes Wessells (Lewdown), Beuran Hendricks (Tavistock), Vernon Phillander (Budleigh Salterton) and Zubyar Hamza (Paignton) are among the South African players to graduate to Test cricket after a summer in Devon.

Ansell said Smith, who assisted North Devon in 2013, was typical of the young cricketers who returned to South Africa as better players.

Barney Huxtable“Jason, who also came over to play in the Devon League as an 18 year old, and holds the record Devon Premier Division opening partnership with Barney Huxtable, is a regular in the Cape Cobras team,” said Ansell.

James Burke (Budleigh Salterton), Max Curtis (Exmouth and North Devon), Huxtable (North Devon) and Jack Dart (Heathcoat and Budleigh Salterton) have all played for Devon after spending time in South Africa. Burke played professionally for Surrey, Somerset and Leicestershire.

Until a player can satisfy the UK Home Office that he is a full-time cricketer, he cannot obtain a professional sportsman’s visa.Neil Murrin (left) welcoming Vernon Phillander to Budleigh Salterton in 2004

Ansell said that regulation was a further obstacle for players to overcome.

“Young South African players who most benefit from this exchange programme, namely talented 18-20 year olds who have recently left school, cannot come to the UK to play club cricket at the moment,” said Ansell.

“Hopefully these crazy rules will change soon.”

Ansell said younger cricketers in the 14-17 age range from both countries also benefit from strong ties built up over the past 20 years between Devon and South Africa.

Devon’s under-15 squad have been touring South Africa since 2001. South African teams and individuals have been visiting the UK in exchange.

Ansell said a programme supported by Shebbear College from their Beawowrthy campus had proved fruitful to students from both countries.

Simon Weale, until recently headmaster of Shebbear College and a club cricketer at Hatherleigh, said the under-15 tour to South Africa had been the catalyst for a long-running exchange programme.Zubyar Hamza

“My son was fortunate enough to be picked in 2015, which was a wonderful experience for him, and under Alan Swift’s guidance he came back a more resilient character and a better cricketer,” said Weale.

“As a result of the tour I was able to foster a link with Rondebosch High School and the Newlands Cricket Academy, two remarkable institutions that both help promote cricketing excellence in Cape Town.  

“As a result we have been able to welcome cricketers from both schools to Shebbear - and to North Devon and Hatherleigh CCs – and several Shebbear students have undertaken stints at Newlands. 

“There is so much more to this experience than a cricket tour.  The boys will be treated as guests rather than tourists and, if their minds are open, their lives will be changed forever.”

Ansell knows taking on the Home Office will be tough and has started recruiting friends to assist his campaign for change.

“I feel very strongly about this and will be writing to Paul Bedford at the ECB with the support of Nabeal Dean, CEO of Western Province Cricket Association, as soon as we find the time,” said Ansell.