Cricket's transnational era is upon us
Imran Tahir, a Pakistan-born South African legspinner, recently helped the world No. 1 side South Africa defeat Pakistan in a Test match in the UAE. I read of his exploits and couldn't help but wonder to myself how Pakistan must have felt. I figured that the Pakistanis probably felt like the South Africans do whenever Kevin Pietersen, of England via Pietermaritzburg, or Jonathan Trott, of England via Cape Town, conjures (or, in Trott's case, painstakingly constructs) a century against their bowlers to set up an England win.
Across the globe, the phenomenon of cross-national representation is growing at the highest level of the game. It's a situation that some countries - I'm talking to you, England - find themselves engaged in more than others, and it is fascinating. The reasons that players end up under new national umbrellas vary, but the outcome of them playing under different flags adds a new dimension of intrigue to matches, rivalries and careers.
The case of Brendan Nash - a West Indies batsman of recent vintage who was born in Australia but who boasts a Jamaican bloodline - was one in which there was a clear intention to use national linkages to gain 'access' to alternative representation. Nash's story has many parts, but his Aussie grit and fair complexion made his presence noticeable in the West Indian side. Nash's journey was just one end of the spectrum, though; Neil McGarrell, an ex-Guyana and West Indies Test spinner, has been named the captain of USA's T20 squad. It isn't apparent whether McGarrell went to America in order to play for their cricket team. Intention, though, is not of great bearing here, for in the end everyone is entitled to do whatever's best for them and their loved ones. The more intriguing and overarching narrative is how cricket is becoming globalised - much like the world at large.
Multinational corporations are sprouting all around the world, and the sense of being rooted to one country or jurisdiction is being eroded by mass communication and ease of travel. No one, it seems, is necessarily limited to one place forever, and the effect is pervasive across all dimensions of society. So why is this particularly compelling in cricket?
The sport we love is one of the few in which inter-nation competition is the gold standard. Be that as it may, franchise cricket is budding, and it has already given a look at how much 'mixing' of varying nationalities cricket can potentially take. It seems inevitable that T20 will grow via franchises and highly mixed teams, but what about ODI and, I dare suggest, Test cricket? With borders becoming pliable, immigration becoming free-flowing, skills movement being at an all-time high, and demand still well ahead of supply, world cricket may soon feature a glut of regular player inclusion from non-native backgrounds.
This new status quo could be a far cry from the way things were up to only a few decades ago. Far from being anomalous and downright strange, having players originally from one country eventually end up playing for another may soon become the norm.
Cricket governance, therefore, needs to show leadership on this front. The choice of where to live must be understood in the interwoven contexts of individual players' lives, but the method by which they qualify for representation has to be backed by strong policy.
Should the powers in authority erect barriers to prevent transnational player movement in the interest of maintaining national distinctiveness on the field of play? Or should cricket be proactive and embrace (or even encourage) player movement, acknowledging the way in which the world is morphing and the influence of globalisation on all professions?
As radical as it may sound, perhaps India can 'import' a fast-bowling talent or two to allay their deficiencies on green wickets; Australia might try to poach a promising spinner one from a nation where there is an abundance. Most importantly, the nations on the cusp of international relevance, the Associates, could quicken their growth by attracting legitimate talents from other nations to join them. This, of course, can be a bit scary for some countries because the 'push and pull' factors of migration could lead to a talent influx to more developed nations and a 'cricket talent drain' from less developed ones. It's undeniable, though, that this sort of tension pervades all dimensions of the world economy and society at the moment. It's just how the world works right now.
The pros and cons of this emerging situation are abundant, but as our small world continues to contract thanks to the slew of options afforded to the global citizen, the idea of homogenised and strict national team structures becomes increasingly less tenable. Essentially, given the way people can move and skills can flow in the 21st century, the question for cricket in regards to international representation may not be 'if', but rather 'when'.
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