HARARE – The inclusion into England’s Test squad of a white Zimbabwean farmboy, forced off the family’s plot in his homeland at the height of farm invasions, should generally draw sympathy from a lot of English folk, or we have been brought up to believe that way.
But it seems that has not been the case following the selection of 23-year-old Zimbabwean-born prodigy Gary Ballance into the England’s Ashes squad to tour Australia in November.
England has for many years fed on naturalised Britons — with such top-notch players as Basil D’Olivieira, Robin Smith, Devon Malcolm, Graeme Hick, Kevin Pietersen, among an array of expatriates from different parts of the world — having dominated generations of English international cricketers.
Each of these players had their different story, their different circumstances, and their unique situations which found them in England.
Their situations were treated by the English media as some kind of fairy-tale story, and deepened the public’s compassion.
D’Olivieira, who died in 2011 aged 83, was classified as “coloured” under the apartheid regime of South Africa, and hence barred from first-class cricket, resulting in his emigration to England.
Smith could not play for his country of birth because of the exclusion of the apartheid regime from international cricket.
Pietersen claims he would not have had the same opportunities as he enjoyed in England if he had stayed in South Africa.
Zimbabwean-born Hick saw an opportunity to play Test cricket for England long before Zimbabwe was in the picture for admission into the Test arena.
All that seems to be changing, as the world evolves and people move with the times.
There seems to be a shift now with the English public, perhaps out of a long-term frustration which has turned into revolt against the assortment of foreign-based players who continue to qualify for England, and in the eyes of the English public, “at the expense of home-grown talent.”
This week, the majority of comments on British online publications from readers criticised the selection of three-foreign based stars into the English squad for the Ashes.
Zimbabwean-born Ballance joins New Zealand-born Ben Stokes and Northern Irishman Boyd Rankin in the England squad heading Down Under.
“There’s something charmless about this current England set-up, I’ll be supporting the Aussies,” commented Ronashe on the Daily Mail website.
“Sorry but we have so many home grown players, came over from a young age — 16 isn’t young — this is becoming an all too familiar trend for the England team,” said Dubai Exile in reference to Ballance, who arrived in the UK as a schoolboy, having represented Zimbabwe at the Under-19 World Cup.
“Agree Dubai Exile, I wouldn’t mind but it often seems that better homegrown players get overlooked because of the selectors’ obsession.” Hari-Jayne echoed Dubai Exile’s sentiments.
“Why do we keep doing this? We have plenty of English players,” Steve wrote.
“Shame Overton and Butler didn’t get selected. Some new young English blood would have been great to support the “automatic selections,” Mickey added his comment.
Will this apparent change of perception by a country which has always embraced foreign-based stars in their national side also change the way the ICC see its national team qualification rules?
Perhaps not anytime soon, but it does further bring the question of loyalty to one’s country of birth.