County cricket’s leading spinner has no doubt he would have played for England by now but for one small, yet significant, problem.
“I think I’m good enough,” says Simon Harmer. “If I had a British passport I would have been playing for England. But I have a South Africa passport.”
Brexit closed the Kolpak loophole and coincided with a crackdown on players using cricket to qualify for citizenship, ending Harmer’s hopes of bowling off-spin for England and becoming British.
Now he continues his career at Essex this week – they begin the defence of their Championship crown at home against Worcestershire on Thursday – as an overseas player for the first time. It cost him a £30,000 Hundred contract, too. He would have played as a Kolpak last year but with the tournament delayed due to Covid he was not signed as an overseas player.
It has allowed Harmer to restart his domestic career in South Africa (where Kolpaks were banned), and now wants to play for Essex for as long as he can while studying for a law degree in the hope a legal career will help him qualify for a British passport and make his permanent home in the UK.
“I sent a heartfelt personal email to the ECB explaining my situation and where my fiance and I stand. I outlined how difficult it is for us to put down roots if every six months I have to pack up and go back to South Africa,” he tells Telegraph Sport. “I was made to believe they were going to allow us to get a tier-two visa which would have given us a pathway to remain but then basically at the last minute they shut the door and said we are not going to allow anybody to claim citizenship through cricket. So the rugby players can do it, corporate guys can do it but, sorry, cricketers are not allowed.
“As a cricketer in England on a tier-five visa the only thing you can do is play cricket. I can’t start up a company, I can’t play club cricket. I can only play county cricket. The list goes on and on. Now that door has closed it has given me clarity.”
Harmer has taken 255 first-class wickets in four summers at Essex, at an average of 19.55, helping the club win the Championship, Bob Willis Trophy and Vitality Blast.
He was Wisden Cricketer of the Year for his performances in 2019 and bowled at the England team in the Lord’s nets that summer to help them prepare to face Nathan Lyon. His dominance of county cricket has ensured he will be in high demand next year when his contract at Essex ends. His ability to tie an end up in the early season before pitches become drier and turn later on in the summer has made him an integral part of Essex’s success.