Cricket is played in a global village, and the quicker we get used to that idea, the better.
Ok … quiz question: What do Allan Lamb and Keaton Jennings have in common? Not much, apart from the fact that both were born in South Africa, and both played Test cricket for England. As did Basil d’Oliveira, Robin Smith, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Craig Kieswetter …
The point is, all of them, for various and widely diverse political and economic reasons, saw opportunities elsewhere and took them.
I have been quite surprised at the reaction on social media about the promotion of Jennings to the England Test side, which ranged from suggestions that he was less than loyal in seeking his fortune overseas, to a blame-game aimed at CSA for not ensuring he stayed. One very prominent cricketer tweeted: ‘Yet another one slips through our system. Well played Keaton Jennings’.
I am not entirely sure how he slipped through.
Certainly, Jennings was a successful U19 player, and showed great potential. But five years ago he tried his hand at 2nd XI cricket in England and came to the conclusion that he could make it there, and that it probably offered him more opportunities than playing in South Africa.
I think we need to be brutally honest: the cricket set-up in England is far superior to that in South Africa: there are more teams and the standard of play is much higher. Full England players turn out for their counties a lot more than Proteas players do for their franchises. And there is greater financial security.
Indeed, it is credit to the coaches and individual determination of players here that the Proteas are as strong as they are.
Nonetheless, I am not sure what Cricket South Africa could have done to keep Jennings here, apart from guaranteeing him progress and a lot of money. No one gets that guarantee. Not even in England.
Jennings has waited four long years to get his opportunity, and may even still be waiting but for the injury to Haseeb Hameed, who was looking very comfortable as an opening partner to Alistair Cook.
He had some mediocre returns in his early years – in his one season with Gauteng he scored 273 runs from 6 matches at an average of 27.3 – and no one at that stage was criticising CSA for not keeping him. Many other South Africans have committed themselves to making their careers in England, but no one is calling for them to come home.
Graeme Smith, now a veteran observer of the game himself says, ‘I think it’s nice that they have put themselves out there. Free agency is one of the greatest challenges to world cricket today, but Cricket South Africa have been open and honest about their transformation policies. I like that.’ What you see is what you get.
The answer, says Smith, lies in creating values that are strong enough to create dreams of playing for the Proteas, over and above the lures from outside.
Cricket really is big business, and we must accept the fact that players, as in any other profession, will go in search for higher remuneration and different employment opportunities. South Africa must look to their own.
Photo: Daniel Smith/Gallo Images