Settler’s son makes his mark

2011-10-01 00:00

STUART Meaker has been included in England’s squad for the T20 section of its forthcoming tour of India.

Meaker was educated at Cranleigh School, one of the country’s most exclusive establishments. He takes the new ball for Surrey and by all accounts can work up a fair lather.

So what, you might say. Ah, but the 22-year-old was not born in Rotherham or Pudsey or Birmingham or some other desperate English city.

He took guard and until his 12th year resided in a remote location going by the name of Pietermaritzburg. Yes, the City of Choice has struck again! Not content with bestowing Kevin Pietersen upon an unsuspecting but grateful nation, PMB has now given England another helping hand.

But it begs the question — why is the country that built an empire and invented the game so dependent on players from hereabouts? It is a point the scribes are reluctant to address because it is forces them to confront unpalatable topics. The facts are undeniable. Of the current crop of England players almost half were born and partly raised in Soutgh Africa: Andrew Strauss, Matt Prior, Craig Kieswetter, Pietersen, Jonathon Trott and, more recently, Jade Dernbach and Meaker.

At the very least the rise of South Africans in English cricket requires explanation. Moreover, it reaches into the entrails of both nations.

Certainly these players did not follow exactly the same path. Pietersen and Trott arrived in England as accomplished players seeking opportunity or else feeling injustice (take your pick). The rest attended English schools and cricket camps and worked their way through the ranks. Accordingly the host nation is happy to claim them and does not look deeper into it.

Little attention is paid to the extraordinary fact that a smallish group of settler families manage to produce so many international cricketers, while, with the exception of a few with famous cricketing parents — Stuart Broad, Ryan Sidebotham, Chris Tremlett and more recently Johnny Bairstow — locals come up almost empty-handed. Therein lies one of the explanations. By and large white South African families play or played cricket and some are steeped in it. More than any other game, too, cricket is handed down the generations. Probably the Pietersens and Meakers played cricket in the back garden. By the same token the difficulty in producing lots of high-class black cricketers in this country can partly be put down to a lack of Zulu and Xhosa parents familiar with the game.

But it’s not only about parents. Strauss and company were raised in immigrant families and they seldom lack motivation.

Most of them are starting from scratch and know it is not enough merely to match the locals; they need to hit them for six. They attend the same schools as a million born-and-bred Englishmen, but in their chosen fields they outdo them.

And it goes even deeper, into the culture and outlook of the peoples.

South African youngsters are raised by a different code than their counterparts in England. Resilience and hard work are instilled at an early age so that the child learns to work. It is a question of lions and pussycats. If some of the Englishmen were lucky enough to attend one of PMB’s fine schools they too might be better placed to make the grade.

Not that all Englishmen are softies — far from it— just that the culture is indulgent, and that creeps into every facet of life. But the rise of Africans in English cricket also draws attention to the game’s continuing inability to attract the black population.

Not one of the South African players mentioned is a black.

If anything, too, the England team has fewer black players now than 30 years ago, when Gladstone Small, Wilf Slack and Devon Malcolm were making their mark. Black sportsmen contribute enormously to English soccer, athletics and even rugby. It is a dreadful waste of resources. Every modern nation and every ambitious game yearns to make the most of the talent at its disposal.

Nowadays colour, religions, background and location are much less important and the world is richer for it. And still English cricket cannot tap into its African and Caribbean communities. And not England alone, for few things these days remain on dry land.

As a result of these forces the England team is at once diverse and narrow. Some members of the Asian community complain of neglect, but that’s a different matter. At least they are playing the game and the rest is in their hands. If the results have not been forthcoming they need to look inwards not outwards. It is not a question of prejudice, a sentiment to easily detected and too often blamed.

Perhaps all these communities, Asian and English, are the extra ingredients that properly raised and fully committed Africans bring to the games they take up.

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