Two of the NCU’s longest-serving overseas cricket professionals are said to be “devastated” after being told on the eve of the new season that they are no longer eligible to play in Northern Ireland.
Niranjan Godbole of Lurgan and Indrajeet Kamtekar of Armagh, who have been playing in the NCU for much of the last two decades, have effectively had to call time on their careers in the NCU after yet another twist in a confusing registration row.
The NCU contacted both clubs to say that thanks to new interpretations of rules from the UK Home Office, any overseas cricketer who previously played first-class cricket would no longer be eligible to play in games outside the top flight of the NCU.
Farcically, this has ruled out both Godbole, who last played first-class cricket in 2003 and Kamtekar, who hasn’t featured at that level in the past 14 years.
A spokesman for Armagh Cricket Club, who have been in contact with Kamtekar in recent days, said the veteran Indian all-rounder had now effectively retired from the game.
“He is absolutely devastated that it has ended like this after all the years he has played in the NCU,” said the spokesman. “He will be putting a post on social media to thank all of his former clubs and team-mates.”
Armagh, like Lurgan, had already obtained a visa for Kamtekar, and booked return flights costing over £1,000, which they are now resigned to losing.
Godbole is still expected to visit Northern Ireland in a non-playing capacity with his family but Lurgan have identified an amateur cricketer in India as a possible replacement. A visa application is expected to be made.
Armagh have yet to make a decision on their intentions with the new season less than a fortnight away. Donacloney-Mill, the only other remaining Section One club considering an overseas option, have signed Rahul Desai, who is eligible to come on a Standard Visitor Visa because he has no first-class experience.
Even though the majority of NCU Section One clubs had decided against bringing overseas professionals this summer, it is understood that both Lurgan and Armagh were previously advised by the governing body to continue with their applications and that there was no need for alarm.
However, after learning of the case of Oraine Williams, the West Indian cricketer who had signed for North West Championship club Glendermott before making his debut in first-class cricket for Jamaica recently, the NCU retracted its advice that it was safe for Section One clubs to continue with overseas signings with first-class experience. Glendermott were told Williams would not be granted a visa because he now had first-class experience.
Neale Matthews, speaking on behalf of the NCU Domestic Cricket Directorate, said: “Within the past two weeks, the Union has been made aware that the Home Office is interpreting ‘professional cricketer’ as including anyone who has ever played first-class cricket, regardless of how long ago, or how many or few times. In these circumstances, the Union has concluded that it cannot permit the registration of any such player who is in the United Kingdom on a Standard Visitor Visa.
“Clubs should understand that if a registered player has his SVV revoked for reasons of which a club was, or should have been aware, then the Union is likely to consider the club to have committed a disciplinary offence for which the potential penalties are set out in the Disciplinary Bye-laws.”