Have bat, will travel …

2009-10-03 00:00

THE sticky issue of England’s cricket side resembling a United Nations delegation keeps raising its head, but it shouldn’t be such a surprising trend to cricket followers.

A glance at the numbers reveals why so many South Africans in particular find themselves furnished with county contracts and the long-term prospect, however faint, of international cricket for Her Majesty.

South Africa’s franchise system houses just six sides compared to 18 counties spread over two divisions in England. The historicall­y strong schools base in South Africa means there is always a surplus of talent, and many youngsters craving a career in cricket don’t take long to realise that the grass may well be greener in England.

And that is before the quota issue is thrown into the mix.

A look at the current national team sees AB de Villiers and JP Duminy firmly entrenched in the middle order. But look back to their schoolboy days, and they were jostling with the likes of Faf du Plessis, Wayne Madsen and Neil Dexter.

Duminy and De Villiers made it into the Proteas set-up at an early age, but the others didn’t make the grade. Indeed, Madsen and Dexter were considered surplus for the Dolphins, so instead of sticking around the fringe­s for 10 years, they exercised their perks of being part of the Commonwealth.

They all have county deals and some have even suggested they are future England caps.

When a decent county cricketer can earn upwards of £50 000 a season, it really does not take a genius to see where most people would go. Cricketers, much like doctors and accountants, are merely professionals. And the lifespan of a cricketer is considerably shorter than the aforementioned professions anyway.

Why do sportsmen who cross the big lake get subjected to questions of loyalty, pride and ethics? We don’t see paparazzi trailing highly “talented” bankers through airports as they make their leap of faith to the land of the sterling, the Stella and the sticky toffee pudding.

There will be those who say sport is different, because it is representational.

To borrow an English term, bollocks.

Soccer is representational, and we see players from every corner of the globe plying their trade in the English Premiership.

Of course, the real rewards of cricket are only reaped when one is an international, whereas soccer stars earn their very well-buttered crusts weekly at their clubs.

Perhaps the answer lies with the governors of the game.

Would an international licence silence this ever-present debate?

Soccer has always been more commerciall­y viable than cricket, but time and various innovations have seen the old village knockabout gain in popularity.

What if, for example, Graeme Smith was allowed to play his domestic cricket for Perth while being eligible to play for South Africa when the call came?

The IPL is a mini-model of that type of set-up, but what if it was extended to all domestic competitions?

The issue of different-sized wallets in the cricket world makes that sort of understanding highly unlikely, of course, but it would certainly make for a different dialogue.

The make-up of the English side, though, will always be multi-faceted because of its history.

The England squad that will be here in a month will include a South African-born captain, a Pietermaritzburg-schooled superstar and even a Cape Town-raised newcomer. Instead of lambasting them for their “defection”, perhaps it is time for this country to look at the real reasons behind their switch in allegiance.

Kevin Pietersen was massacred when he last came to these shores brandishing the Three Lions. That was perhaps as much to do with his own reaction as it was to do with the crowd’s lack of understanding of his situation.

A lot of water has passed under that bridge now, and certainly the Pietersen who tours this time has grown. And so too has his stature in the world game, and with it his bank balance.

He took a risk and it has paid off spectacularly.

And, truth be told, the Proteas have done well without him. Save for the compulsory wobble in every major competition, Smith’s side are regarded as the best in the world in Test cricket, and not far behind in ODIs.

But you can’t help but wonder what sort of beast they would be if the initials KP were scribbled alongside JP and AB in the batting line-up …

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