BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
ENGLAND-BASED fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani has opened the door for a sensational return to international cricket for Zimbabwe following confirmation that his Kolpak contract with Northamptonshire is set to be nullified at the end of the year.
The two-metre tall, 23-year-old seamer is bracing for his second season in the English County Championship after signing a three-year Kolpak deal with Northamptonshire in September 2018.
However, Muzarabani’s future and that of many overseas players plying their trade on Kolpak deals in England is in doubt after the England and Wales Cricket Board recently advised counties that Kolpak registrations would be terminated at the end of the 2020 season.
This follows Britain’s departure from the European Union (commonly known as Brexit) early this month.
English county sides are already permitted to have two overseas players in the T20 Blast — but have been restricted to one in all other competitions, including the Championship, since 2007.
Kolpak contracts like the one Muzarabani has with Northamptonshire are named after Slovak handball player Marius Kolpak, who won a landmark case at the European Court of Justice in 2003.
They allow sportsmen from countries with associate trade agreements with the EU, such as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Caribbean nations, to be afforded the same right to free movement as EU citizens.
Kolpak players are not classed as overseas players by the England and Wales Cricket Board under the terms of their contracts, but they become ineligible to represent their country at international level.
Muzarabani is currently the only Zimbabwean playing county cricket on such a deal, while former Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor and fast bowler Kyle Jarvis had stints in county cricket on Kolpak contracts for Nottinghamshire and Lancashire respectively.
The former Takashinga and Rising Stars Academy prodigy said he was aware of the likelihood of his Kolpak contract being nullified and was open to the possibility of making a return to international cricket for Zimbabwe.
“There has been some talk going on (around Brexit and its impact on Kolpak contracts), but, of course, it’s not yet finalised so we’re not really certain what’s going to happen, but if a an opportunity presents itself for me to play for Zimbabwe I would take it,” Muzarabani told The Sports Hub in an exclusive interview from his UK base.
“I love Zimbabwe very much, it’s my country and I would be happy to come back and represent my country. If the Kolpak deals are nullified, I would be eligible to represent Zimbabwe again,” he said.
Muzarabani had played one Test, 18 one-day internationals and six Twenty20 internationals for Zimbabwe, taking 27 wickets across the formats, before he put his international career on hold to join Northamptonshire.
Two months ago Muzarabani made a brief return on the local scene after featuring for the local franchise Eagles as an overseas player, an experience he says he thoroughly enjoyed as it brought back fond memories.
“It was a very good feeling to be back home and playing in front of friends and family at Harare Sports Club for Eagles. It was a great experience to share the changing room with my friends and brought back very good memories from my time when I was playing locally,” he said.
Muzarabani also benefited from the extra exposure with Eagles during the English county off-season. In addition to taking a few wickets, Muzarabani also scored his maiden first-class half century with the bat, which he attributed to the work he has been putting in the nets.
“I thought it was a really good stint for me, of course, I would have wanted to play more games, but needed to come back here for pre-season so I ended up not playing for the rest of the season,” he said.
“I played three games and I thought I did well with the ball. Of course, I would have expected myself to try to take a fiver or something like that but that didn’t happen, but I still felt I did well. I also did fairly well with the bat, which is always great especially when you’ve been working so hard in the nets trying to achieve something and then one day it just pays off. So scoring my maiden first-class century was great and I’m sure it’s going to help me and I’m looking forward to this season in the UK.”
After enduring some frustrating spells on the sidelines due to injuries, Muzarabani said he was looking forward to an injury-free campaign for Northamptonshire this season as he seeks to show the world what he is capable of.
“Last year I didn’t manage to play as much as I wanted because of injury but this year I’m fully fit, but then again you never know in sport, you can’t control injuries so the best that I’m just trying to is to do the best I can and control what I can. I just hope I won’t have any injuries and I’d like to achieve a lot of things this season because I would like to show the world how good I am because right now I’m not really well known around the world. I’d like to put my name around there and make people notice and show the world what I can do. I just want to perform,” Muzarabani declared.