Monday, February 6, 2012

Africa's cricketing influence

African cricketers continue to influence the world game
With one African side currently in New Zealand trying to resurrect their flagging international fortunes and another, more powerful unit, soon to follow, it's timely to reflect on the influence Africa is having on world cricket. For the New Zealand summer, Zimbabwe is simply an entree to the South African main course, but their circle of influence is far wider than just the two playing sides.

We are regularly told the BCCI holds the balance of cricketing power courtesy of the game's largest fan base, swelling coffers and the prominence of the IPL. But do they? Africa's influence is deeper at a pure cricketing level - their players and coaches are making a heavy impression across a number of countries, not just at home.

African players plying their trade abroad are nothing new. Basil D’Oliveira was one of, if not the first. He was offered a contract in England league cricket when people believed his talent was wasted in South Africa where he was given no opportunities because of the colour of his skin. He went on to represent England and brought attention to the apartheid issues in his homeland. Similarly, Tony Greig emigrated and went on to captain his adopted country in the 1970s  - he was born in South Africa, played for England, now resides in Australia and has connections to the Sri Lankan tourism board – an eclectic gentleman.

A number of others left for greener pastures and an escape from the injustices of apartheid. Mike Procter, Garth le Roux, Barry Richards and Clive Rice all had a telling impact on the county scene where they had an opportunity to play against a number of the world’s best cricketers when their motherland was exiled from international cricket. Likewise, Peter Kirsten had a lengthy county career but was lucky enough to finish his playing days in South Africa after sporting sanctions were finally lifted. Kepler Wessels on the other hand has the distinction of playing test cricket for Australia early in his career before returning home to captain South Africa on their return to international cricket.

Robin Smith, Allan Lamb and Graeme Hick all left Africa for England before being promoted to the senior side. Hick’s change of allegiance (Zimbabwe did not yet have test status) is interesting in that he first ventured to England on a Zimbabwe Cricket Union sponsored scholarship.

In 2003, the Kolpak ruling opened the floodgates for more African (and Windies cricketers) to earn their keep in county cricket as it allowed players from countries with a European Union associate agreement to effectively play as EU residents; it’s far more involved than that, but this is quickly becoming a novel. A number of counties should be sending anonymous brown envelopes to Maros Kolpak as he won’t be in the riches playing second division handball whilst they are utilising the ruling to grow their stocks.

Kolpak has allowed a number of Africans to forego their national allegiances, prosper in county cricket and earn handy coin doing it. Players like Neil McKenzie, Andrew Hall, Murray Goodwin and Dale Benkenstein have brought their hard-nosed approach to the county game over long careers, though it is debateable if England would have been better served promoting home grown talent. Current England internationals Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott (it’s worth noting he already held a British passport) are two of the younger generation switching allegiances who have developed formidable influence for their adopted nation and have been integral to its recent success. Would the same results have been realised without them?

For those not convinced of Africa’s influence on world cricket, take a further look at the current England set-up. The side is captained by South African born Andrew Strauss, and coached by an ex-Zimbabwean captain in Andy Flower. Flower’s ascension in the England set-up has aligned with them moving to number one in the test rankings – coincidence? South African born youngsters Jade Dernbach, Craig Kieswetter and Stuart Meaker are all forging limited overs careers in the national side and more of their ilk will likely follow.

But it’s not just England who have been blessed with the African influence. Gary Kirsten continued the good work of John Wright in India but moved on before the current issues affected an ageing side, and returned home for the South African job. Mickey Arthur was recently appointed the first foreign-born coach of the Australian side and with the recent 4-0 test drubbing of India is looking to restore the once champion side to its past glory. The coaching ranks of my own New Zealand were temporarily bolstered with the acquisition of Allan Donald to mould our young quicks before he too returned home – our loss.

Given the growing migration of Africans, both Zimbabwean and South African, to New Zealand’s shores the prevalence of Afrikaans names in our national and domestic sides is set to grow. Grant Elliott arrived in New Zealand a decade ago and was rushed straight into the national side once he had met the residency requirements – his tenure was short but he has shown a path for others.

Kruger van Wyk was in a two horse race for the New Zealand wicket keeping duties against Zimbabwe, and will get his chance in the future. Likewise, Neil Wagner, a sharp left-armer, looks set to get a run when he is eligible for New Zealand in April if his domestic feats are any indication. After representing the Zimbabwean U19s Colin de Grandhomme will make the step up to New Zealand’s T20 side against his former countrymen in the next fortnight. There is a sprinkling of others throughout the domestic scene, while former Zimbabwean leggie Paul Strang has held the coaching reigns of the all-conquering Auckland side for the past three seasons.

Different patriotic pundits around the globe could put forward persuasive arguments for the merits of their country being the most influential in world cricket, but even as a West Indian cricket loving Kiwi, it is hard for me to go past the two African nations. Zimbabwe is currently struggling to find their feet after a long test hiatus, but ask England if they would give up their coach for all of Mugabe’s stolen riches – not a chance. Likewise, many an Englishman secretly applauds Mr Kolpak and in years to come I’ll not care a jot where New Zealand talent was born.

Consider this: with England in the throes of defeat in Dubai there is the possibility they could lose the number one test ranking to the South Africans if they can sweep New Zealand 3-0. Before you fret, those in the MCC long room can mop their furrowed brows; New Zealand won’t let that happen, driven by a love of queen and country…..

2 comments:

  1. I had no idea about Africa influence in the cricket, but somehow I understand many things about the sport now, that was a very informative post, thanks buddy!

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