IT may seem odd in an SA provincial event when Western Province are playing Central Gauteng that one of the key matches is contested by an Australian (Cameron Pilley) and an Englishman (Eddie Charlton).
Yet the view of several provincial players is that the wave of foreign professionals taking part in the Investec SA squash interprovincial, which ends in Port Elizabeth today, has so many positive factors that they far outweigh any negative outcomes.
Provinces are allowed to use one foreigner in their teams. All six men’s A section teams have pro players this week, with Australia’s world No13 Pilley heading the field, while there are four women pros in the A section, topped by Denmark’s Line Hansen, the world No21 who is turning out for WP.
Leading SA players Steve Coppinger and Siyoli Waters are in no doubt about the value the pros add to South African squash.
“In SA squash, you don’t see too many international stars and it’s great to see these players in action,” SA No1 Waters said. “We have to be careful of getting into a comfort zone and for me, it’s great to have them here. They set a benchmark that we mustn’t get too comfortable with our own games.”
Her views were echoed by Coppinger, who endorsed the Squash SA decision to allow the provinces to field foreign players.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Coppinger said. “It’s really exciting. Every single province has invested in bringing someone out.
“There is not one South African player who has pushed on [to the world circuit] who has not had some help from one of the pros through the contacts they have made at Jarvis Cup. A guy like Tim Garner helped me when I was overseas and he and others have looked after a lot of us in the UK.”
Perhaps unknown to many SA squash fans is that the country’s interprovincial has built up a massive reputation among foreign players, with overseas pros virtually lining up to play in the event. Garner, 43 (England), first played for Border in 1992 and has done much to spread the popularity of the event among his colleagues.
“All the overseas players absolutely love this event,” Garner said. “It’s world renowned for being one of the great team events that take place.”
Squash SA president Steve Doeg said the national body backed the provinces in choosing foreign players. “There are some reservations, perhaps from provinces who don’t have the money to get them, but we feel it is a good thing, especially if our younger players can learn from it. [But] some feel it should be a purely SA event.”