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October 31, 2013

Cricket's transnational era is upon us

Roger Sawh

Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott steadied England with a solid third-wicket stand, India v England, 3rd ODI, Mohali, October 20, 2011
England find themselves engaged in cross-national representaton more than others, and it is fascinating © AFP

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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Posted by Roger on (November 7, 2013, 0:08 GMT)

How could associates expect to be able to afford to attract any sort of talent in this open border scenario? All their best players would be bought out by the top countries who have all the money, leaving only the dregs to remain.

Posted by Don on (November 6, 2013, 7:57 GMT)

I look forward to new powers like Japan, China and the USA joining test cricket ranks someday.

To help the process along, there should be matches in which the Associate nations pool their playing talent in combined teams, with a star guest player or two if necessary, and take on the established test nations.

Posted by David on (November 6, 2013, 2:33 GMT)

So, in 10 years we could see the Moscow Maulers playing the Beijing Bangers in test cricket followed by a ODI and T20 series including the Dallas Destroyers. The players will all come from Aus, India SA, Pak, Eng etc. Is this good for cricket? Fast forward another 50 years or so, how many kids in Russia, China and USA will be playing cricket and how many home grown players will they have produced? Would make many of us purists cringe but which is best for the game - continuing the limited global appeal or opening up the game to the whole world?

Posted by Dummy4 on (November 4, 2013, 0:53 GMT)

That'd break my heart.

I have zero interest in IPL's and "Big Bash" leagues.

As Jerry Seinfeld once said about major league baseball, when players come and go to and from different teams, essentially you are barracking for the uniforms.

I love the game of cricket, but to me, the pinnacle is representing one's country in a 5 day test match. A triumph of skill, tactics, luck, and physical and mental endurance unlike any other game on the planet.

Pair that with a long and proud tradition, and a history of champions and quirky characters, and I can't imagine loving another game more.

Please leave it be!

Posted by Mark on (November 3, 2013, 5:06 GMT)

There is no doubt there will come a time where cricket, like most other sports in the world, will become "franchise" based, with labour moving around freely. John Buchanan said as much a few years ago. I love supporting my country and indeed state - Australia & Victoria, but there are heaps of Victorians playing interstate - 18 at last count - and several guys from interstate playing for Victoria. Does not mean I support my team any less. How many players are from Manchester than play for Manchester United? Or Boston in the Boston Red Sox? We could go on, but those teams are still hugely supported. One could only but think it would be good for the game that if say Mitchell Johnson was not required for "Australia" then he be traded and play for Bangladesh. This might sound ludicrous, but I don't think it is all that far fetched. Can we get Rohit Sharma to bat 5 in our test team as part of a 3 way trade??? :-)

Posted by Dummy4 on (November 1, 2013, 16:34 GMT)

It would perhaps be one of the worst things to happen to cricket, if that happens. Cricket then will essentially lose its national flavour. The game will turn into a farce, with many cricket fans turning . As it is, English importing players is something which is not ideal for the game.

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