SA v Eng­land should be ‘us against them’ not ‘the best of us against the rest of us’

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

THE South African­i­sa­tion of English cricket took an­other step this week when Craig Kieswet­ter was named in their na­tional de­vel­op­ment squad.

The pun­dits are tip­ping the for mer SA Un­der-19 keeper, now play­ing for Som­er­set, to be fast-tracked into the Eng­land ODI team the minute he for­mally qual­i­fies.

In a year’s time the “English” mid­dle or­der could read Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pi­etersen and Kieswet­ter of Ron­de­bosch, Mar­itzburg Col­lege and Bish­ops re­spec­tively.

If se­lected, Kieswet­ter will re­place South African-bor n Matt Prior and he might be cap­tained by An­drew Strauss, who has Jo­han­nes­burg on his birth cer­tifi­cate.

Prior and Strauss are red her­rings in the de­bate this trend has gen­er­ated be­cause their for­ma­tive sum­mers were spent un­der the milky skies of Eng­land not the blaz­ing blue of Africa.

They are what they are as crick­eters be­cause of the MCC sys­tem. But the other three are a chal­lenge to the con­cept of in­ter­na­tional cricket.

They are wear­ing the three lions be­cause they per­ceived their ca­reer paths to a Protea cap were blocked. In do­ing so they’re fray­ing a pre­cious thread. SA play­ing Eng­land is meant to be about “us against them” not “the best of us against the rest of us”.

It should be a re­flec­tion of what our gene pool, schools, clubs, prov­inces, ad­min­is­tra­tion, cul­ture, weather and luck can pro­duce against what­ever they can throw up.

The im­por­tant ques­tion is why South Africa is such a vastly bet­ter train­ing ground for young crick­eters than Eng­land.

Our sunny, out­door life and the phys­i­cal­ity it nur­tures is one ob­vi­ous fac­tor, as is the greater, and of­ten un­healthy, parental em­pha­sis here on sport­ing prow­ess.

The pri­mary rea­son how­ever con­tains an un­com­fort­able truth for many politi­cians. As with rugby, it’s our elite schools that give us such an ad­van­tage.

The ed­u­ca­tional blood­lines of the Proteas are much broader than the Spring­boks (who could dou­ble as the Grey Old Boys) and they have ex­panded re­cently – Paul Har­ris from Fish Hoek High, Dale Steyn from Pha­l­aborwa’s Hans Meren­sky and Ash­well Prince from St Thomas’s in PE – but a hand­ful of tra­di­tional schools, both English and Afrikaans, with su­perb fa­cil­i­ties and ex­cel­lent coach­ing dom­i­nate the land­scape in each prov­ince.

Clashes be­tween th­ese pow­er­houses at ev­ery age are of a stan­dard and in­ten­sity which gen­er­ates hard­ened, high qual­ity crick­eters.

And the strong are be­ing strength­ened each year by the chan­nel­ing of bur­sary tal­ents.

The im­pres­sive Wyn­berg High, which ben­e­fits from old boy Jac­ques Kal­lis’ gen­er­ous de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme, is the best lo­cal ex­am­ple – they have 11 boys in the cur­rent WP age-level squads.

English play­ers usu­ally are drawn from a far wider range of schools and, as a re­sult, their teenage sport is dis­si­pated and sev­eral de­grees of com­pet­i­tive­ness down from ours.

They try to fill the gap with county struc­tures but Mid­dle­sex Colts v Sus­sex Colts can never match to­day’s Wyn­berg against Ron­de­bosch U-19 game as a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Which makes it a pity that such ver­dant lo­cal crick­et­ing nurs­eries are grow­ing English Roses as well as Proteas.

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