England have a lot to thank their cricketing colonial imports for

2012-08-24 00:00

PETER Oborne’s column in the Telegraph about South African-born Englishmen who use their country to further their interests is misleading.

He seems to forget how much they have given to the England cause when English cricket had nothing to write home about.

Whether a player leaves his country or not is purely up to him. The decision making behind his leaving will always be a talking point, irrespective of whether the departure was peaceful or fraught with violence. How he uses or abuses his adopted country will always depend on what he has given back. Hands do wash each other after all, as an African saying goes.

Which leads to Oborne’s piece about South Africans who have played for England and used their country to further their Test ambitions. In the cold, dark days of apartheid, South Africa’s talented cricketers bore the brunt of their government’s iron-fisted rule and had to seek the challenge of Test cricket elsewhere.

With Australian cricket being in rude health in the early to middle 1970s, England and their troubles with their cricketing partners were always going to be the prime target. Were those trailblazers, which would include the late Basil D’Oliveira, Tony Greig, Allan Lamb and the Smith brothers, Robin and Chris, mercenaries? Oborne’s piece rides on the distrust for our expats. Let’s look at their contribution to English cricket.

I was not old enough to witness their feats, but “Dolly” will always be remembered for his Ashes-clinching 158 and how his inclusion for the 1968/69 England touring squad accelerated South Africa’s already tarred path to isolation. Did he give less than 100% and put his needs before those of his country? I seriously doubt it.

History will never judge Greig fairly because of his involvement as Kerry Packer’s main World Series Cricket recruiter and his infamous “grovelling” statement, but would he have undertaken his crusade if the then Test and County Cricket Board knew that players had to be compensated properly? I don’t think he would have done so. The game, and ultimately England’s success in this decade, have a lot to thank for that timely kick up the backside.

Besides Lamb’s support for Kevin Pietersen, the attack on the Langebaanweg-born expat is very unjust. There have been countless examples of batsmen, notably Shiv Chanderpaul, who have little regard for tailenders. While the Old Trafford incident, where he exposed the injured Paul Terry to the might of the West Indies in 1984, may be isolated, Oborne has forgotten one thing: Lamb saved his best for the West Indies, as he scored six of his 14 Test centuries against them, a feat England greats like Sir Ian Botham and David Gower did not come close to achieving.

It was the same with Robin Smith, who took countless hits and suffered a broken cheekbone while battling the West Indies.

A fact that I think he has conveniently omitted is that English cricket has been reliant on its colonial imports to succeed.

If the late Bob Woolmer had not coached South Africa and introduced a worldly and innovative cricketing view to blend with the conservative, not-lose-first culture, it would be difficult to see our cricket advancing beyond the struggles that Bangladesh have struggled to overcome.

It was through the intervention of a Zimbabwean in Duncan Fletcher and an Englishman of Indian heritage in Nasser Hussain that England pulled themselves from the abyss to rise like the proverbial phoenix.

And it was a South African-born pair in Andrew Flower and Andrew Strauss who masterminded their rise to the top.

Will they also be branded as “South Africans first” should their legacy be tarnished, especially after Strauss was usurped by his countrymen?

It is a very fine line to cross, and as Kgomotso Mokoena penned in his column in the Sunday Sun: those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Oborne’s myopic, Magoo-like view of the cricketing world is sadly misguided as there are and will always be naturalised Englishmen who will die for the England badge. If they have done so in war, why shouldn’t they do so in sport?

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