Does it matter if half our side are from South Africa?

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What’s the appropriate number of South Africans to have in the England side? No-one objects to one or two of them, but we wouldn’t want all eleven. So where’s the cut-off point – three, four, five? And how do we define an Englishman as distinct from a South African?

The answer to both questions  – like so many in cricket – involves an arbitrary, subjective judgement. But they’ll become increasing pertinent, especially when, as soon seems inevitable, Somerset’s keeper-batsman Craig Kieswetter makes his England debut.Of the twenty two players on show in Wednesday’s England v England Lions T20 in Abu Dhabi, Kieswetter, with an ebullient 81 from 66 balls, provided the best performance. It was his first match in England colours, just one day after he qualified to play for the side.

If Kieswetter were to play in the test team as a specialist batsman – in place of, say, Bell – five of the side’s top seven would have been born in the land of biltong and boerewors. To some, the increasing South African-isation of England is a pernicious trend, especially  as home-grown young players are being leapfrogged by ‘foreigners’. But the reality is more complex – each of the players involved has their own, differing, personal circumstances.

Andrew Strauss was born to English parents, and moved here as a toddler. Matt Prior’s family relocated to England when he was eleven. Kieswetter went to school in Somerset, and has played all his first-class cricket here. Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen have played the great majority of their first-class cricket in England. Both Trott and Kieswetter played for the South Africa under-19 side – but should we really hold that against them? They were only teenagers at the time, not hardened journeymen pros. Should they have renounced the thrilling prospect of international cricket for the sake of – maybe – one day playing for England?

That said, the cynics’ charge of carpet-bagging, as applied to the likes of Trott and KP, would not have stuck without some basis, however slight. If you met Jonathan Trott in real life, without knowing who he was, you’d think – he’s a South African:  in accent, background, and outlook. But how does that help us decide who’s entitled to play for England? What test can you apply which is logical, consistent, and fair?  How is nationality defined, in sporting terms?

Dozens, if not hundreds, of England players have come from hybrid backgrounds. Colin Cowdrey, that quintessence of English classicism, was born in India – as were Nasser Hussain, and Douglas Jardine (whose parents were Scottish). It’s easy to forget that Tony Greig, the South African who lives in Australia, was once captain of England.

International cricket exists because the British empire took the game to its colonies. It also took British people, who settled in those nations, and whose descendants retain connections to the UK. In the twentieth century, indigenous south Asians and West Indians travelled in the opposite direction, and made Britain their home. Their children and grand-children now share a similar sense of dual heritage to Kieswetter and Trott. Andrew Strauss was born in Johannesburg to English parents. Monty Panesar was born in Luton to Indian parents. And what about England’s Irish players? As the mother country, we can’t complain if the waters of nationality have been muddied by the very vehicle – empire – which created cricket in the first place.

In practice, England supporters usually welcome anyone who makes the side better, and as time passes forget where they came from. It’s similar to having a ringer in village cricket: deep down, you have your doubts about the probity, but you’d hate to make do without them. KP is classic ringer material – an outsider, and not really one of the lads, but by far the best player.  Some ringers are useful but don’t constitute an unfair advantage – like Allan Lamb or Andy Caddick. And some look great on paper but turn out to be completely useless – like Martin McCague.

The same test will apply to Craig Kieswetter. If he scores runs, keeps well, and generally fits in, his origins will fade in the memory. He can take both comfort and fright from the principle which applies to our nation’s leading tennis player. If Andy Murray loses, he’s Scottish. If he wins, he’s British.

Maxie Allen

14 comments

  • As somebody who would qualify to play for England, Wales (if they had a side) and India (my Mum is half Indian and was born near Jaipur), you’d think I wouldn’t mind having a cosmopolitan team. However, something just doesn’t sit right with having too many South Africans in the team. I think it could be that we’re such bitter sporting rivals with them. In the 1990s we had Craig White as an aussie, but he was the only one (I count McCague as Irish!). But what if we had beaten Australia with say, three aussies in the team? It just wouldn’t have felt right.

    I think the obvious solution is elocution lessons for all Anglo-boks aspiring to play for England. If we could get Pietersen, Trott and Kieswetter to talk in a posh upper class English accent, then we wouldn’t notice they were boks – and we could continue to pretend that the real issue isn’t the fact that our system doesn’t produce enough quality domestic players (probably because our nation is obsessed with bloody football).

    Talking of elocution lessons, Cook would probably be the prime candidate to play teacher. The problem is, nobody would listen to him.

  • Nice one ‘Tristan’.

    For me there is no problem where the players who represent me come from, provided they qualify through whatever rules are in place. To exclude them from your national sports team because of their heritage borders on xenophobia, and ultimately it is their choice to represent whomever.

    I do however have an issue with Morgan and Joyce being taken from the Irish team – once they played for the full Irish team they should have been a mandatory stand-down period before switching allegiance to England, regardless of their nataionality qualification.

  • To expand on that, we could ask what the purpose of international cricket is?

    If, say, England play Australia, what does it mean to fans? What are we witnessing, what are we judging?

    People might argue that what’s being tested is:

    i) The inherent qualities of the populations of each nation (talk of inherent genetic superiority is nonsense, but one might fairly talk of ethereal things such as ‘national character’ – what sort of person does each country produce? What traits does an upbringing in each country instil?)

    ii) The grass roots system – school and club cricket for children, the coaching, the environment in which we nurture our sport

    iii) The First Class system which turn amateurs into professionals and from which we draw our national representative teams

    iv) The national team set-up

    To give the debate historical perspective, one would eliminate (iv). Until recently, national teams were not entities in themselves. They had no coaches or strategists or fitness trainers, and no central contracts. The were representations of the first three.

    Players such as KP and Trott (and future players in their vein) test these criteria to the extreme.

    i) Coming to England as adults, they are clearly not a product of an English upbringing. Whatever ethereal qualities upbringing has instilled, they are the gift of South Africa.

    ii) Likewise, they are not the product of English junior cricket, the cradle of the game. They have learnt their game in South Africa, and it is the South African system which has prepared them for professional cricket.

    iii) This is more debatable. Both players began their careers in SA, but reached the standard required for international cricket in the English county system.

    This begs three questions;

    a) Did they reach the standard of international cricket because of the English system, or despite it. Would it have happened anyway, and regardless of where they played?

    b) If it was a result of the English game, is it enough? Is it all we require of someone who represents us?

    c) What’s the motivation of these players? Can anyone play for national pride for a country which isn’t theirs, and doesn’t this leave them as selfish mercenaries, purely concerned with their own record and their own income, and not the team? Isn’t this the primary suspicion concerning KP?

    To test it further, would we have picked Stuart Law or, more pertinently, Jacques Rudolph. Rudolph left South Africa for the same reason KP claims – that the quota system unfairly limited his chance of national selection – but is different in that he’d already played Test cricket for SA before he came to England. Now he’s qualified for England selection, should he be picked? Could we take another country’s fully formed Test player – a product of South Africa in every way – and claim him as our own? What fan could honestly say ‘yes’, yet he is every bit as eligible as KP or Trott.

    “To exclude them from your national sports team because of their heritage borders on xenophobia, and ultimately it is their choice to represent whomever.”

    This takes us beautifully back to the nub of the question. Can we remove the importance of nationality from international sport? Surely, if nationality becomes unimportant, and each team can simply hire in anyone who fancies playing for them for money, as with the IPL or EPL, how will national representative teams differ from franchise teams – The Royals, or Manchester United – and where does that leave international cricket? In the hands of Lalit Modi?

  • Perhaps ironically, these issues with the England team mirror current problems with English society:

    – too many Foriegners
    – Immigrants (such as Kieswetter) taking our jobs
    – A weak chairman of selectors/prime minister, who appears to have no coherent plan for the medium term.

    Arthur

  • i suppose britain has always had a tradition of tolerance.So people regardless of their race etc. can come and excell in the uk in their chosen profession.This is clearly relevant because many white south africans come to work in the uk because they are discrimnated against in their own country.

  • If they’re qualified to play for England, whether by birth, parent(s) or residence / naturalisation, and they’re good enough, they should be picked for the national side – end of story. Adding any other criteria – written or otherwise – risks straying onto very dangerous ground. Indeed, would we be having this debate at all if a significant proportion of the side hailed, for example, from the West Indies?

    • You would need to work out how many times someone’s granny played for England first and then think stuff it who cares! I do! Born in a country play for that country. Simple, uncomplicated and Granny has nothing to prove.

  • @ Harmy’s Head

    What of someone such as Rudolph? He’s qualified to play for England, and has several thousand test runs behind him. But if we picked another nation’s Test players, how would it be the ‘England’ team?

    What if all eleven players came to England as adults, and all had strong South African accents? Would it still seem like the England team?

    When you say ‘If they’ve qualified to play for England…they should be picked – end of story’, doesn’t that give an undue weight to the judgement of the administrators who wrote the qualification criteria? Isn’t the nature of what constitutes an England player the very question being debated?

  • I really don’t like this concept of playing other nations players in your own national team.I liked the point made by ‘tristen’ there…he said whats the motivation of the players ? Do they have that national pride required to play for a country which isn’t even theirs.How will they play when they’ll come face to face with their origin’s team ?Will they feel guilty ? If not will they give out their best against them ? And this is the issue most common with England than any other team.They have got S.A,dozens of South Asians and what not ?..At times this also becomes the issue of mockery,people often say about such teams that they don’t have a very good system,they lack proper faith in their own national players and surely consider the outsiders better than their players.Maybe partial true and partial false but that’s my opinion !

  • ” Immigrants (such as Kieswetter) taking our jobs”

    Ha! Really?

    He has a BRITISH MOTHER – Which allows him a BRITISH PASSPORT – Therefore allowed entry to the England team. He also boarded at Millfield in Somerset.

    Honestly, are all the commneters above that ignorant regarding the makeup of white South Africa? Are you all that ignorant to realise that English speaking South Africans are of British descent? A Mother, a Father, a Grandparent … which allows them a British passport in the exact same way as Aussies, Kiwis, white Zimbabweans, white Kenyans, Canadians etc etc.. of British descent. It may be news to you but the British have been emigrating for centuries so don’t bitch when the offspring of those who emigrated come back to the motherland to play in it’s teams! These South Africans who have British passports through ancestry are British citizens – that little wine coloured passport makes them as British as a native born on this island & they receive all the benefits & protections that come with having that little wine book – including being able to play on the England cricket team, or England/Scottish/Welsh rugby team etc etc..

    1/2 South African 1/2 Kenyan
    With 4 British born grandparents!

  • MHA here – I wrote the original post. Willem, I more or less agree with you, as you can see above. Cricket, as an international pastime, emerged from the British empire – we colonised other nations, took cricket with us, and many British people settled in those colonies, often inter-marrying. The corollary is that British heritage is so closely intertwined with cricket’s demographic that inevitably there will be many players with dual (or even triple) claims to both Britain and another cricket nation. Ergo, we have South African-heritage players in the England team.

    It works the other way too, sometimes, for example Gordon Greenidge, who was raised in the UK, I believe.

  • I would take grandparents out of the equation. That would help a little.
    Remember the Irish football team a few years ago. Half of the team had never stepped foot in their ‘home country.’

    • Yes! But I bet the lads who were born, lived and played at various levels of their sport in THEIR country really appreciated being given a free ticket by their club to go and watch someone take their place in the national side. Ridiculous in the extreme! My grandmother was born in Tipperary. She never got picked for the Irish football team! Nor would I expect to either.

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