September 20, 2009

The keeper who could be KP

Jeremy James
Somerset's wicketkeeper is a South African import who Marcus Trescothick thinks is the real deal

Selecting a wicketkeeper was once a straightforward affair. The best technician was chosen, regardless of whether or not he could score runs, for cricket was an art for individuals of specialist talents. It has metamorphosed, partly as a result of the amount of one-day competitions and fewer overs bowled by spinners, into a game in which run-making is seen as of equal importance. The very role, then, for Craig Kieswetter.

Kieswetter, the son of an Afrikaner father and Scottish mother, qualifies to play for England next February. There is little doubting that he will do so - and soon. Marcus Trescothick, who will be his captain next year and who is not a man given to superlatives, compares his batting to that of Kevin Pietersen for strokeplay born of hard pitches in the southern hemisphere, and there can be no higher praise.

James Whitaker, an England selector, watched Kieswetter at Taunton earlier this month. There is work to be done on his wicketkeeping, which is why Somerset are planning to ask Alec Stewart, essentially another batsman-keeper, to give him some tuition. And James Foster was generous with his time earlier this summer.

To score 1000 runs for the first time, as Kieswetter has done at the age of 21 this season, is a laudable achievement and to have dropped a straightforward chance given by Daryl Mitchell, who had made 28 at the time, in the last first-class match of the season at Taunton, could be put down to tiredness. Or, then again, to not being ready to play international cricket. When he was eventually out, Mitchell had made 298.

What happens if South Africa seek him as the successor to Mark Boucher? "I have no interest in that," said Kieswetter. "For the first 18 years of my life I was chosen by my folks to live in South Africa and when I turned 18 I decided I wanted to live here and make my career here - just for the opportunity and fairness of opportunity compared to what is happening in South Africa. I love living in Somerset and playing for them. I hope I can be selected for England somewhere along the line."

Kieswetter does possess that ideal qualification for a Somerset cricketer in that he was educated at Millfield. Only for a year, but the headmaster and Richard Ellison, the former England allrounder and master at the school, chose wisely in bringing him over from South Africa. County cricket was a seamless progression and his coach, Andy Hurry, is but one close observer who thinks international selection will shortly follow.

In fact Hurry puts this at a year "at a conservative estimate". Boys growing up in South Africa often possess a maturity and self-confidence beyond that of their English contemporaries and Kieswetter is as ambitious to make a name for himself in his adopted country as, well, Pietersen was. There is a difference, he stresses, between his position and that of Kolpak players from the Republic, some of whom, he says, come for the money. "I realise my accent does not qualify me to play for England, but I feel English and England offered the fairest opportunity.

"I am not angry about the system there, but I was disappointed at the way I was handled. Western Province, for whom I played at junior levels from 13 to 18, did not tell me why they felt I should go and play club cricket and come back to them two or three years later"

"South Africans say they want players to stay in the country and fight for their places. I am not angry about the system there, but I was disappointed at the way I was handled. Western Province, for whom I played at junior levels from 13 to 18, did not tell me why they felt I should go and play club cricket and come back to them two or three years later. It could have been because they preferred to give opportunities to players of colour. I did not tell them I was going to leave but said I was going to England for my education.

Keeping is not a role that has come easy to him. "Wicketkeepers are all nuts with smelly kit. Who wants to stand behind the stumps all day and catch 1000 throws and talk and run around?" he asks. "I was never big on shouting and making a lot of noise but Justin Langer, my captain, and Andy Hurry want me to keep the momentum and the over-rate going. I am slowly learning what my game is and I'm looking to try various things to see what makes me a better player. Justin has suggested kick-boxing and martial arts and I am seeking advice from dieticians and am keen to go to the spin clinic in India to further my performances."

Hurry emphasises the importance of working on his fitness. "The ECB is very keen on that now. As a wicketkeeper, he is catching the ball better and more cleanly. He needs to make sure he is technically so sound that he scores runs consistently. Craig is very South African in that he likes to hit the ball behind square and we worked on him punching the ball back down the ground and on his pulling. He needs to score lots of big hundreds so the selectors can't ignore him."

Nor will they, according to Trescothick. "I spoke to Duncan Fletcher when Somerset played Hampshire, and he was really impressed with how he batted and reined himself in when we lost an early wicket. Batting-wise he is fantastic. I see little things that I see in KP. The odd time he flicks the ball or picks it up over the leg side, or the way he can smack it out of the park. Not many of us can hit it like KP, and he breaks a lot of bats, like him. He just has a natural talent with fast hands and fast wrists."

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • mahjut on September 22, 2009, 15:56 GMT

    StaalBurgher - of course they have the right (and the financial mobility/luxury they inherited) to play whereever they want. I have never felt otherwise. They don't, however, have the right to, like you, cajole us into looking past the opportunistic reasons (that, as I said, they're entitled to), by stating that it is due to "racist" policies, without expecting comeback. What % of those saffers who leave are white males - because I imagine it's about 1/2 of those you're talking about (the other 1/2 being white females)? I ask because the stats show that white males still dominate top business positions in SA (by quite a margine) which also means they have serious means to influence where the country is headed. Or maybe they prefer the unfair advantage they were accustomed to ("boys growing up in South Africa often possess a maturity and self-confidence beyond that of their English contemporaries "), by being SA boys in the UK. OR, as you say, maybe they just prefer the weather.

  • Yasir on September 21, 2009, 22:59 GMT

    I would like to add that these Saffers who move to England to have a 'bright and fair' opportunity, know that English team is easy to get in rather than the Proteas one. Furthermore English counties are just a place for the rejected and retired local and abroad cricketers to keep on playing and making some source of money. On the other hand the Proteas domestic structure is very competitive. So the players who make a move to England just want a shortcut to play and earn. One proof of uncompetitiveness of England counties is the number of English-born players in the current English squad. These players who leave their country for English glamor and showbiz life and easy-to-get opportunity are never accepted by either the English supporters or the people back home.

  • Louis on September 21, 2009, 13:50 GMT

    Please Mosse... pass their sell by date? They're in the no1 team in both forms of the game. how can they be past their seel by date. None of these players would make it into SA team. Kieswetter wouldn't make it into a provincial team, which is why he left. We have loads more young talent. In the first game of the season in SA, there were 3 centurions - all under 22 years old. Get your facts straight. These players leave because it's easier to play for England. They leave SA when things don't go their way once. Africa isn't for sissies

  • Mitchell on September 21, 2009, 13:49 GMT

    It's pretty hard to take the English cricket team seriously anymore.

  • Gerald on September 21, 2009, 12:36 GMT

    @SunAndSea - Exactly my point. Kieswetter would've had an uphill battle to be keeper for SA - quota or not. There are numerous other good wicketkeepers that can either bat a bit or bat pretty well. @ppenneke - If you are born in a country and they spend those years training you, instilling the love of that particular sport in you then you should be aiming to play for that country. That is why people are pointing fingers at the suspect makeup of England. They are failing horribly in instilling the love of cricket in the ethnic English youth. They prefer to go gaga over their football but then want to turn around and claim a right to honours in cricket on the back of other countries passion for the game! Same thing for the Asians playing cricket in England. They are most likely 1st or 2nd generation and it is their parents that imparted that love for cricket in their children. That love was NOT imparted to them by the English which has relegated cricket to a distant 2nd/3rd sport.

  • StJohn on September 21, 2009, 11:59 GMT

    I've never heard of Richard Ellison being described an an all-rounder before! A good bowler and a useful tail-end batsman - a sort of 1985 version of Ryan Sidebottom. But he was never an all rounder, surely?

  • Jack on September 21, 2009, 11:46 GMT

    Oh dear... the race card... again! Perhaps the reason WP told Kieswetter to come back in 3 years was because his 'keeping was not up to standard. But I suppose it's better to make yourself out to be a victim of some racist conspiracy instead - it's a more saleable story and could be fodder for a future autobiography.

    But nevermind, Kieswetter is free to play for England if he chooses. Though you have to question why he would forego the best team in the world to play for the 5th ranked team. Perhaps its an indication of his mentality.

  • Peter on September 21, 2009, 11:27 GMT

    Whilst I'll confess that the number of South African players in and around the England side is getting rather large, I've always had difficulty with arguments that people shouldn't be allowed to play for X nation. My own opinion is that players should be allowed to play for the country they want to live in, and that's that.

    Venturing into the case of SA - I saw someone mention Stauss as being different because he was born over here, well how many white people can claim to be 'really' South African? I'm pretty sure most could trace European ancestors if they wished. So then, if I emigrated to another country perhaps I wouldn't qualify to play for their team - Could my children? Or my grandchildren? How long would my family have to be in X country before my decendents could be considered native?

    Oh and - I find it strange that I've seen some comments about Kieswetter not being good enough for SA. He's still just a kid, how can anyone possible know how good he'll be in the future?

  • Gerald on September 21, 2009, 9:42 GMT

    Pietersen, Trott, Kieswetter left SA when it looked like they would not make the top tier team. Pietersen especially was a late bloomer, Trott didn't kick on for Western Province and Kieswetter... well he is very young and his glovework is suspect and thus wouldn't make the SA team. It is all fine and well to say they should stay in SA and put 100% into making the team, but when you have to live with the idea that you might be nudged out due to some racist policy I completely understand their reluctance. Besides it goes deeper than just their profession. Lots of Saffers leave because they feel unsure about the direction the country will take in the future. Being a minority is an inherently precarious position, especially in a country where there is little to no political responsibility. No matter how likely, or unlikely, a disaster in SA is they are just taking the "safest" path in a game where the stake is their childrens future. Or maybe they just prefer the weather.

  • mahjut on September 21, 2009, 7:55 GMT

    @mosse. with the fitness regimes of these professionals you expect a bit of a lifespan - I mean McGrath retired at 37 and that seems almost normal for batsmen; Gilchrist 36, Stewart 40, Hayden 37, Jayasuriya 40...and still going. Now, Smith is 28, Boucher and Prince are 32. Gibbs past his Test sell-by (formwise anyway) about 3 years ago and the loss has hardly been noticed. Kallis WILL be missed but no KPs or Keiswisearses would've replaced him anyway - AND, as a bat he could play another 4 years or more - he's only 33/34. On the other hand, the rest of the team are mostly mid-twenties and de villiers (who "will do what's best for the team") is actually a superb batsman, and, if, in 8 years they can't replace Boucher, a better-than-average keeper too. Now, it would be nice if these guys had stayed to make those places in the SA national team even more valuable, but usuing them as a reason to attack a system that's doing fine is desperate, where desperation is unnecessary.

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