So, there is a very real possibility that Craig Kieswetter (born in Johannesburg, South Africa) will make his England debut in one day international against Bangladesh tomorrow. Fair play to the lad, he is English qualified, holds a British passport and, most importantly, has earned his place on merit.
I don’t go in for all this moaning about the amount of players born abroad in the England side. We’re a nation that has for thousands of years had been built on immigration. I just so happened to be of Anglo Saxon stock, with a bit of Irish mixed in, and believe me you don’t want me playing in the England team!
The England cricket team has a proud history of including foreign born players who are qualified to play, yet it has depended on the prevailing public opinion of the time whether anyone has chosen to criticise this. I’m not sure anyone sensible ever does.
When there was almost an international incident over England’s selection of Basil D’Oliveira (Cape Town, South Afica) for a tour of South Africa, I’m not sure they were too many people on this island that suggested it was inappropriate for him to play for us.
Likewise, the likes of Allan Lamb (Cape Province, South Africa), Robin Smith (Durban, South Africa) and Graeme Hick (Salisbury, Zimbabwe) were judged according to temperament and ability, rather than their southern African upbringings. Players of West Indian heritage were also more than welcome, Devon Malcolm (Kingston, Jamaica) was seen as the great hope for fighting the fire of the West Indies pace attack with some fire his own variety. Gladstone Small (St. George, Barbados) and Phillip DeFreitas (Scotts Head, Dominica) both had respectable England careers, which included an Ashes win in Australia. Today they would have MBEs. Oh, and of course there was Nasser Hussain (Madras, India).
There was of course the controversial article included in a 1995 issue of Wisden magazine, which questioned the commitment of foreign born cricketers born of immigrant parents. I remember this causing quite a stir at Derbyshire, then the home county of both Malcolm and DeFreitas, and it took quite a while for the tag of racism attributed to the publication that held the same venerable name as cricket’s yellow bible to be lifted.
So, why is there such a stir today? Granted there are a few England players born in South Africa. Kevin Pieterson (Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa) and Jonathan Trott (Cape Town, South Africa) both took the decision to progress the cricket careers in England, and pinned their colours to the mast early on. Not for them the slightly dubious practice of playing county cricket as a British player, but being unsure as to which country to represent until one of them came calling. Andrew Strauss (Johannesburg, South Africa) has an English mother and move to England at six, while Matt Prior (Johannesburg, South Africa) has an English father and has been here since aged 11. I’m not sure there was ever any doubt about which international side they would both wish to play for.
That there are so many South African born players at this point in time is a bit of a quirk, but if they are the best English qualified players, then I really don’t have a problem. We’ve been including cricketers born overseas for years, but that more reflects the multi-cultural nature of the UK, rather than a cynical attempt to pinch the talent.
If anything, I’d suggest that the media have been trying to whip up a bit of a storm to see if they could get some of the colourful comments that create some of the easy stories of the type they got when KP first played for England.
Kieswetter did the interview bit in the week stressing his dual heritage, which was a bit unnecessary for me, but didn’t feed the media machine by knocking the Saffas. Hopefully, the focus from tomorrow will be on the way he bats. Should he be able to step up to international level he will bring a bit of sparkle to the English top order.