Dane Piedt ends South Africa career to chase American dream

South Africa

Dane Piedt, the nine-times capped South African Test offspinner, still harbours hopes of playing at a 50-over World Cup, albeit not for the country of his birth.

Piedt will move to the USA in the next few months to be part of the new Minor League T20 tournament, which is due to launch this summer, ending his career at home.

And he intends to meet qualifying criteria to play for the USA national team and hopes to be part of their campaign to appear at the ICC’s flagship event.

“The USA were given ODI status last year so it’s not completely out of the question,” Piedt told ESPNcricinfo, from his home in Kenilworth in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, on the first day of a three-week nationwide lockdown aimed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

It may be far from the ideal occasion to sign an employment contract that will take Piedt thousands of kilometres away but for him the timing was right. “I just signed the deal this morning but no-one really knows when I will be able to travel. It was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up, financially and for lifestyle reasons, but it was still a tough decision to make.”

In opting to move abroad, Piedt has not only taken himself out of contention for national selection but he has also ended a decade-long association with the Cobras franchise, where he has played throughout his career and is entering the complete unknown. He has never travelled to the USA and doesn’t even know where he will be based in the long term. “I’m a massive basketball fan, so that helps,” Piedt said. “I will have a choice of four cities – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or Seattle – to live in but the rest will be a surprise.”

Piedt has been taking tips from former Warriors seamer Rusty Theron, who helped him secure the deal. Theron has been living in the USA for several years, studied teaching in Miami and made his ODI debut for the country last year. “He has given me some information, especially about the cricket scene there. It’s a decent set-up and I know they have some good cricketers like Xavier Marshall and a few Australians and Indians who played in national Under-19 teams and then moved.”

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Marshall played seven Tests, 24 ODIs and six T20s for West Indies and he along with Theron is the only other former international in the American squad. All that means that Piedt has a realistic chance of pushing for a place in the American national side, something that he can no longer say with regards to South Africa. Despite leading the wickets chart in first-class cricket last summer and finishing in the top 10 in the two seasons before that, Piedt has lost ground to other spinners and sees himself quite far back in the queue.

“Shammo [Tabraiz Shamsi] has really made a mark in white-ball cricket and Keshav [Maharaj] has done exceptionally well for the Test side, he has done exactly what the team needs,” Piedt said. “And if you look at the schedule, South Africa are not due to tour the subcontinent again soon and that’s the only place where I might get a game.”

That is exactly what happened when Piedt was recalled to the South African side to tour India last September, more than three years after being dropped. Like most of the squad that were blanked 3-0, he had a tough time but returned home to captain the South Africa A side against England and was hopeful of still being in contention for the national side. “Enoch [Nkwe] was the coach at the time and he gave me a call and said I was still in the plans,” Piedt said.

Without an Mzansi Super League (MSL) deal, that was the last sliver of hope for Piedt to cling to until it became clear everything was changing. In the last two weeks of 2019, South African cricket was overhauled and it became apparent to Piedt his ship had sailed. Unlike the last time he considered walking away – three years ago when he flirted with the idea of a Kolpak contract – this time he waited for an opportunity to come to him. When it did, the Cobras management were the first people he told.

“I did it the proper way. I gave the coach [Ashwell Prince] a call and explained it to him and he was very understanding. I explained that this is an opportunity to further my cricketing career,” Piedt said. “It’s something different, a new challenge. I have always been someone who goes against the grain.”

Piedt has identified Zubayr Hamza, who led the Cobras in the domestic one-day cup this season and finished as the tournament’s top scorer, and Kyle Verreynne, who made his ODI debut for South Africa against Australia last month, as potential successors for the franchise captaincy. “I’d really like to see the younger guys step up,” he said. And although he will not be around to mentor them, he knows there are some veterans who will. “Someone like Rory Kleinveldt who retired this season, I know will still be involved in cricket here in the Cape when we start up again.”

Though the sport was about to head into its off-season in South Africa, the season was clipped right at the end, with the playoffs of the one-day cup and the last two rounds of the first-class competition canceled, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. No teams are training at the moment, leaving professional sportspeople to do “home gym,” as Piedt put until at least April 16, when the lockdown is scheduled to end.

Piedt, like millions of other South Africans, is confined to home but his period of isolation did not start too badly. He celebrated 11 months since his wedding with his wife Misha today and is taking the opportunity to enjoy some “quality time,” with her after a busy summer.

“I had a lot of commitments this season because I was also working as a commentator so I was away a lot, so now we can have some bonding time,” he said. “We’ve bought five board games and my wife beat me at Scrabble yesterday. Today, we are playing a game called Sequence and my wife thinks I will win at this one because it’s all about luck. And we are trying some new recipes, same as everyone else.”

But there’s a cruel twist in all of this. Piedt used to have a dog called Corona, a Husky, named after the beer, who was taken from him two years ago after suffering a stroke. “When I heard the name of the virus, I thought maybe she was paying me back for all the walks I didn’t take her on,” he said. “It’s sad but it’s life. You never know where it will take you next. Like a cricketer’s life. You just never know.”

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