INTERVIEW: Big-hitting batsman Levi keen to extend his Steelbacks career
‘I will stay here for as long as I am wanted... I don’t want to be going anywhere else as this club is a big part of my career’
The summer of 2020 has been one of huge frustration for all cricketers up and down the country, and that’s certainly the case for Northants batsman Richard Levi.
The South African put pen to paper on a new one-year contract last October, extending his stay at the club to what will be eight years by the end of the 2020 campaign.
The 32-year-old was hoping to play a big role in all three forms of the game at Wantage Road, as Northants returned to the top flight of the County Championship, and chased silverware in the T20 Blast and Royal London One Day Cup.
But then came the coronavirus.
Not a single cricket ball has been bowled, with sport across the UK being suspended since the middle of March.
The earliest possible start date for domestic cricket is August 1, but there are no guarantees it will be up and running by then.
And that is not an ideal situation for a cricketer who is keen to get out on the pitch, perform to the best of his ability, and win himself a new deal at his club.
Levi is one of a clutch of County cricketers who will be out of contract this winter, with one of them, Rob Newton, already having been told this week he will not be getting a new deal and is free to leave the club.
Big-hitting batsman Levi is all too aware of the situation facing cricketers and cricket clubs across the land, but he is really hoping he will still be a Northants player in the summer of 2021.
“I will stay here for as long as I am wanted,” said Levi when asked about his contract situation.
“I am only 32, and with the sports science side of things and the medical side of things, guys are now playing until they are older than 40 now.
“I am purely a batter, I don’t have the ground and pound of the county bowler, so longevity wise I am still there.”
Referring to the Covid-19 issue, and how it may affect cricket in the medium to long term, Levi said: “It is unprecedented times, and guys are not sure what is going to happen, what they want to do, and how they are going to be impacted, especially with us being a county that doesn’t have the budget of some of the big counties.
“It is all about how they are going to manage things, and I don’t want to stick my nose into that issue.
“If it gets to the case where that conversation comes down the line, then so be it.
“But at this point in time, the club has been in contact with us with our furlough negotiations and whatever else, and I am not the only one in this situation (in the last year of contract).
“I think there are six or seven of us, and, put it this way, the county will always do its best to take care of us, we know that.
“I am sure that when the time comes, the county will obviously make offers, make suggestions, or come through with something, because the squad we have built has done well to get up to division one.
“The last thing you want to do is break that up.”
Levi first rocked up at the County Ground in 2013, signing on as a specialist white ball player.
He has helped the club to three T20 Finals Days in his time with the Steelbacks, winning the competition twice, and very much sees Northampton as home, particularly as he is now not playing play top class cricket in his native South Africa.
South African players who play for English counties through the Kolpak ruling are basically being frozen out of domestic cricket in their home country, and Levi said: “It is nice to come to Northants and just play cricket, as with the dynamic of where I come from, that isn’t always the case.
“It is a tight-knit group of lads at the club, and it’s an environment I haven’t necessarily been in anywhere else in the world, and it is one that I enjoy.
“I have bought a house here, I am settled and I don’t necessarily want to be going anywhere as this is a big part of my career.
“I am 16 years into that career now, and nearly half of it has been at Northants, so I don’t want to be going anywhere, but it is up to the club.
“When I came back in the T20 at the end of last year I was probably only 40 or 50 per cent fit (following a neck injury), but I still put performances together to help us win games.
“So now that I am back to 100 per cent, I can only imagine what I would be able to do for the club.”
In the past, Levi has spent his winters playing for Western Province and Cape Cobras in South Africa, but that was not the case last year.
“I am not technically a Kolpak, although in South Africa I am classified as that,” he said.
“Kolpaks have been playing in South Africa for the past 25 or 30 years and it hasn’t been a problem, it just allowed guys that aren’t playing international cricket to be able to qualify to get a visa or the eligibility to work here.
“Two years ago, Cricket South Africa turned round and said ‘we don’t want you guys in the system any more’, which technically turned us into overseas players.
“We would no longer be allowed to be paid from the Cricket South Africa payment pool, we would have to be paid from outside of that, technically pushing us into an overseas bracket.
“I would say that one franchise or maybe two is able to sustain itself, the rest rely on Cricket South Africa, so they don’t have any money to hold on to us.
“So you are taking 15 guys or however many it is, who have 10-plus years experience in the sport, out of the system. It has been tricky.”
That all means that his time at Northants is even more important to Levi now, and another frustration for him concerning the current suspension of the season is that he had returned the UK early, and was raring to go.
Levi was part of the pre-season tour to Singapore, and was aiming to hit the ground running.
“Last year, after I came back, it took me two or three games to get into it, instead of me being ready for the first one,” he said.
“This year, coming back here three weeks earlier, and including those 10 days in Singapore, was the right decision by all parties.
“It is always tricky being away from the team dynamic and then coming back into it, you have to slot back in and get playing and get used to things as quickly as possible.”
But for now, life for Levi revolves around keeping himself fit for whenever the call comes to get himself back to the County Ground to get ready for the season to start.
A call that can’t come quick enough.