Monday, 25 November 2013

Bad luck, Trotty – but, let’s face it, you shouldn’t have been playing for England in the first place

Okay, England winning four of the last five Ashes series has been utterly wonderful. To an extent, it has made up for the sheer gut-wrenching awfulness of losing the eight before that. But, let’s be honest, the most ardent English cricket fan knows in his heart that it’s all a bit hollow, because at least three of the batsmen who have contributed to that recent record of success – Pietersen, Trott and (to a much lesser extent) Owen Morgan - aren’t English: they learned their cricket abroad, they didn’t arrive in this country until they were adults, and nobody listening to them would bother trying to figure out which part of England they came from. In short, they are un-Anglicised foreigners. Passports have got nothing to do with it.

Leaving aside the qualification rules for a moment, put your English hand on your English heart, and tell me that you feel that Kevin Pietersen is one of you. If his accent doesn’t suggest that he really isn’t, consider his demeanour, his approach to the game, his view of his relationship to his colleagues, his sense of humour (?), his concepts of loyalty and fair play – is there anything even remotely English about the chap? No: he’s a foreigner - an extremely talented foreigner who has won many test matches for England - but still a foreigner. So is Trott (a far more likable character with an engagingly dry sense of humour) and so is Morgan (a charmingly spry little Irishman). None of them were born or bred here, or were forged in any meaningful way by this country – and therefore shouldn’t be representing England.

I have nothing whatsoever against this trio – on a human level, I warm to two of them – and, as a supporter of the England cricket team, I’m deeply grateful to them for their great contributions over the years. But, although I’m not in any way English myself, I have lived here for 55 years, so I reckon I can tell a natural Englishman when faced with one.

I don’t think Englishness is entirely to do with race. I’m sure many would disagree, but, as I wrote last year, several of Britain’s black, foreign-born or mixed race Olympic medal winners – for instance, Mo Farrah and boxer Nicola Adams – struck me as thoroughly, quintessentially English. It’s something to do with their reaction to victory, their sense of humour, the way they look at the world, the things that evidently matter to them. Of course, it helps that they both - in very different ways - sound English: despite having lived and played here for many years, Pietersen and Trott could have just got off the plane from Joburg – let’s face it, they’re South Africans, and watching them play for England against their own country makes me feel distinctly queasy. It's wrong! After all, when England play South Africa at Rugby, do we seriously imagine that either of them doesn't support the Boks? And, if they were watching England play South Africa at cricket, rather than playing for the England cricket team in order to enhance their careers, do you imagine for one moment that they wouldn't be cheering on Kallis, Amla and Steyn?

What about Basil D’Oliveira, I hear you ask. I think that was different – D’Oliveira was barred from playing for South Africa because of his colour and, as far as I’m concerned, he was a refugee who had fled his native country after it had denied him his basic human rights. Besides, whatever D’Oliveira felt about England, England knew what it felt about him – deep affection. Something more than natural sympathy made the English regard D’Olivera as one of their own. They even gave him a cuddly nickname – Dolly - the ultimate accolade: all Pietersen has managed is the clinical “KP”.

I have some sympathy with Kevin Pietersen’s argument that the ludicrous racial quota system imposed on the South African cricket team until 2007 meant that he was being unfairly discriminated against on account of his colour: and, as Michael Clarke was right about nobody liking Pietersen, there would have been charges of disloyalty had KP skedaddled back to SA to play for his homeland when those restrictions were lifted (although he might still not have been picked, given the batting talent available) – but England cricket fans would have known, deep down, that he was doing the right thing.

(I’ll deal with the issue of foreign coaches another time – I still haven’t made up my mind on that one.)

I truly wish Jonathan Trott all the best: he’s one of the dullest cricketers I’ve ever watched, and a limited batsman in terms of technique, but he’s made the best of his talents through sheer force of will – an effort which, one assumes, has now taken its toll. But while I wish this admirable fellow a speedy recovery and great professional success in the future, I rather hope his England career is over (as long as it’s not for purely medical reasons). And even if it means England never winning another Ashes series during my lifetime, I’d prefer them to lose without Kevin Pietersen than succeed with him. If he should knock off a double century in each of the four remaining tests, thereby allowing England to retain the Ashes, I’ll be cheering along with the rest of the country – but it’ll still feel a bit hollow.


  1. This is a very fine post. Congratulations for saying what I feel, but was unable to articulate with such eloquence.

    Please add Tony Greig, Robin Smith and Allan Lamb to your list.

  2. My beloved Gators are being driven straight into the ground right now by a coach that doesn't know which way is up. He replaced a coach that won two National Championships in five-ish years.

    Even though he'd won all those wasn't upsetting to see him go. He was so thoroughly mid-western that it was impossible to warm up to him. There was no emotional connection.

    Eventually he couldn't take it he resigned...then decided to come back...and then resigned again after a disastrous season. Now he's at Ohio State University...where he's from. Where he belongs. The first championship game he coached was against Ohio State. His wife wanted to know if it would be OK to sing along to Hang On Sloopy (a song that the OSU band plays incessantly). He said no but, you can't blame her for asking...he kept a picture of a famous OSU coach in his office. Nauseating.

    The coach we've got now, grew up around Florida but, played for Georgia and many believe he's a Manchurian (after Saturday I'm starting to believe it myself).

    The greatest coach we ever had was Steve Spurrier. He played at Florida as a kid and coached the team like a fan. He still refers to the Gators as We, in unguarded moments, even though he's coached at South Carolina for 8 years now.

    He was us and it made all the difference in the world.

    Does anybody really love a mercenary?

  3. "Does anybody really love a mercenary?" You have nailed it, e.f.bartlam.

    I don't know about the levels of corruption and incompetence in the governing bodies of sports in the United States, but here in Europe it is rife. Putting aside the dodgey International bodies such as IOC and FIFA [both based in Geneva for some reason], the import of foreign mercenaries is basically destroying identification with your sports teams at both local and national level.

    You mention the coaching problem with your team. The English football team in recent years has been coached by a Swede [a sleazy drip] and an Italian [who was completely incomprehehensible]. They left the team in tatters, but walked away with astonishing pay-offs. The last two coaches of the English cricket team have come from Rhodesia. Rugby deserves a book of its own.

    In 1966 England won the Football World Cup with a team and manager who were solidly English. In 1967 Celtic won the European Cup with a team and manager who were all born in the same area of Glasgow. These were genuine accomplishments and meant something.

    One of our greatest football clubs, Arsenal, sometimes fields teams with no British players, has a French coach and its stadium now bears an Arabic name.

  4. I pretty much agree with everything you both say. Coaching's an odd one, though. I defintely think the England team should be coached by an Englishman, no question (ditto the cricket side). As for league teams, I'm just not sure - given they're full of foreign players, many of the clubs are owned by Russians, Arabs and Americans, it doesn're really seem to matter. As you say, thesse clubs seem to have nothing to do with their local areas, apart from having a stadium sited there - what does Chelsea (for instance) have to do with SW London these days? And Southampton has an Argentinian coach who has to be accompanied by a translator during post-match interviews!