Dane Vilas in action for the Cape Cobras during the 2016 Sunfoil Series. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

DURBAN - The word "Kolpak" is a loaded one in South African cricket. Most people associate it with betrayal, a lack of patriotism and money-grabbing. Indeed, the Kolpak player is actually an endangered species, because even English cricket has started to look at them with a suspicious eye.

And yet, the system of acquiring experienced players who are unlikely to play for their countries ever again, to be the senior pros to mind over upcoming prospects, has been proven to work.

From Malcolm Marshall to Franklyn Stephenson and Desmond Haynes, the influence over a generation of players is still noted to this day.

For Dane Vilas, the latest acquisition at Kingsmead, the challenge over the next few months is to share all he knows on and off the field, as he was expected to do at Lancashire.

“As a Kolpak player over there, I would say there is definitely a lot of pressure,” he said of the climate.

“You don’t get a Kolpak deal unless you have played international cricket, so they expect you to contribute with runs and catches, but also to share a lot of info off the field,” he explained.

Vilas did admit that he was quite surprised by the number of South African players who suddenly followed him to the UK, even in their prime.

“Yeah, it was a bit surprising. But there are not a lot of spots in that South African team. If you are not playing international cricket, the next best thing is county or franchise cricket,” he pointed out.

In his case, there was no shock when the wicket-keeper/batsman announced his decision to join Lancashire. In his way for international honours was a younger, more prolific and very gifted young man. His decision made sense, from every angle.

“It is a very tough side to get into, the Proteas. For me, Quinny (de Kock) was just playing so well, and he is still so young. I didn’t really see a gap, so it was a good option for me to go to county cricket and test my skills there.”

No-one would argue with that, because the shelf-life of a cricketer is only so long. Vilas maintains that players like him can add significant value, as he hopes to do with the Dolphins.

“You have played at an international standard, so I would think that you are only going to make the franchise stronger.

“When you look around the world, international standard players generally help to raise the standard of the leagues they go to.

“And playing against good players helps you as a young player to improve. It elevates your game when you are playing against quality players.”

The tag of senior/overseas pro, Vilas admits, comes with a lot of expectation. You are supposed to stand out, to score heavily and justify the billing.

He says there is an added edge when he crosses swords with familiar faces in county cricket.

“Kyle Abbott, Simon Harmer; there are quite a few guys playing over there. Of course, when you play against them, you want to have one over them.

“We have all built a nice bond over the years in South Africa, but you want to share a beer knowing that you got one over them on the field,” he chuckled.

Much of the same will be expected of Vilas in Durban, and it is a challenge he is relishing.

“I see the Dolphins as a bit of a sleeping giant, and I would love to play a part in helping them to play to the best of their abilities.”

Vilas will make his Dolphins bow on Friday, against the Lions in Pietermaritzburg.

It is a long, long way from the north-west of England where he has been based in the winter, but that is the lot of a cricketer of all seasons.

Naturally, he will be expected to hit the ground running.

The Mercury

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