Oi! Get your own players, mate!

2009-08-08 00:00

JONATHAN Trott’s selection to the squad for the Headingley Test confirms that England are incapable of producing enough good players of their own. He is the fourth African-born-and-raised player to feature in the home team’s top six — joining Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior on the list. And the coach is from Zimbabwe. Ryan Sidebottom’s addition to the party indicates that cricketing families made of the right stuff can survive even the weakest systems — county cricket is littered with sons of former players.

Accordingly, England might as well close down its numerous academies and replace its large collection of coaches and start afresh. Vast resources have been invested in setting up institutions that fail to produce players of high calibre. Huge sums of money are bestowed upon smooth-talking impostors with vague job descriptions, and most of it is wasted.

Trott was educated in Cape Town at a school that tries to turn brats into citizens. Nor was he the only African contender; Stephen Moore is pressing for a position as an opener while Ryan Mclaren and Craig Klieswetter are highly regarded. Before long, a batch of second-generation Africans will be considered.

Among locals, Paul Collingwood is the son of a factory worker and comes from Durham, the main source of English cricketing talent. In its pomp English cricket depended on blue blood and blue collar, nowadays these sources have run almost dry. Luckily, settlers have filled the gap.

According to a rough count, there are 119 foreign-born players on county books. 119! Admittedly England is a cosmopolitan country whose immigrants mostly come from cricket-playing countries of the former Empire. Even so, it is a mind-boggling number. Surrey and Kent, founding members of the championship, lead the way with 19 between them. At the other end of the scale, Nottinghamshire have two foreign-born players on their books. The numbers brook no argument. English cricket has experienced an overseas invasion. And the reason is simple: these players outshine the locals. Despite all the spending and clipboards and vogue phrases, England is not producing cricketers to match them.

Incidentally the 119 does not include the 23 locally-born Asians signed by counties, most noticeably in the midlands and north-east. Their rise is welcome and long awaited and England will be richer for it. Already several members of these communities have represented their country, including batsmen, pace bowlers and spinners. Along the way they have helped to break down barriers.

Nor does it include the Welsh, Scots or Irish — two Irishmen are pushing for Test places. Ed Joyce has just scored 186 for his county.

Nor are many of the 119 imported stars. The vast majority belong on the second rung. They are stickers and stayers.

Thirty years ago, most top cricketers joined counties. For some it was a finishing school; others appreciated the extra income. Times have changed and these days counties search not for great players but good ones. Some are Kolpak players, taking advantage of lax European employment laws. An English grandparent is enough to allow them to seek contracts on equal terms. Others, especially white Africans, belong to settler families seeking to avoid crime and skewed selection policies. If England was turning out the right sort of cricketers they’d not be needed. Instead, 119 secure places.

Of course the influx is also an outflux.

At present, South Africa is strong and not unduly concerned about its losses. Mclaren and especially Klieswetter are substantial performers, but most of the rest are unknowns or veterans seeking sterling.

Africa’s numerous well-disciplined schools will keep producing fine cricketers of all colours, and most will stay. Anyhow South African cricket and rugby cannot match the money offered by English clubs enriched by lucrative television contracts. Other ways of keeping promising players are needed. College is not supposed to be uplifting English cricket.

Australia are just starting to worry about their position. Already Darren Pattinson, a Victorian, has played for England. Now Stewart Walters, a handy cricketer from Perth, is captaining Surrey. More pertinently, Sam Robson, recently an Australian under-19 player, is opening the innings for Middlesex. Cricket Australia needs to monitor these developments.

Unable to produce cricketers of their own, the Poms seem intent on pinching everyone else’s players. Instead, English cricket ought to seek its own excellence and to that end could study Spain, Sweden, South Korean women’s golf and local rowing and cycling. It can be done. But it won’t happen as long as soft options are taken.

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