|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Shop||Mobile|
By playing as a team in South Africa, Mike Gatting's side - sixteen including the captain and David Graveney, the player-manager - become ineligible to play for England for at least five years under the ICC resolution of January 1989. All but Graveney and Alan Wells have played for England, and eight - Gatting, Barnett, Broad, Dilley, Emburey, Foster, Jarvis and Robinson - represented England against Australia in 1989.
Each claimed he was exercising his right to practise his trade as a professional cricketer. And we were told again of the short lifespan of the professional cricketer. Both are valid points in their own ways, but I am inclined to think the argument devalues the professional in this instance.
I also feel that the South African Cricket Union has made a mistake - politically and tactically - in staging this tour. In recent years it has been improving its credentials, both as an opponent of apartheid and as a non-racial administration, through its cricket development programme in the black townships. Now it is gambling that goodwill on a venture that can be seen only as sanctions busting by the country's black leaders.
If, as a result of the tour, the community leaders turn against the township programmes, it will be a tragedy: not for South African cricket, but for those under-privileged children to whom cricket had offered a means of expressing themselves beyond their segregated environments. Had SACU waited a year, such is the promise of change in South Africa politically that the ICC decision of January 1989 might have been seen as coming too late to be meaningful. As it is, who knows what harm will be done.
The news that Gatting would take a team to South Africa broke at the end of the Old Trafford Test in which England surrendered the Ashes to Australia. It left me, l'étranger, wondering what playing for England had meant to them. And, narrowing it further, what did England mean. Which brings us back to Border's comment in the opening paragraph.
Maybe this is an old-fashioned, not to say unfashionable, concept, but it seems to me that playing for one's country should be an honour - every time. Border spoke of national pride, and it was there for all to see in his team last year. They were playing for themselves, for each other and for their country. Watching some of the professional cricketers who have represented England in recent years, I can't help thinking that they regard a Test match as just another working day.
It can be argued that there are too many Test matches; that they lost their significance. That can be said of many jobs. It is no excuse for poor workmanship. Moreover, Test matches don't lose their significance to those who follow the game or to those whose sponsorship keeps it alive. I suspect the attitude will be different under Gooch's captaincy in the West Indies. I hope so.
Meanwhile, looking ahead to the coming season, Chairman Dexter and his little troop of selection scouts have sixteen fewer players to bother about, along with the overseas players, EEC passport holders and those who spent their winter working in South Africa. It makes a nonsense of the Board's determination to reduce to one per county the number of overseas players under contract to each county. Some counties will be fielding regularly as many as three or four players ineligible for England.
Minor Counties' cricketers spotting a Porsche or a BMW motorbike around Bovey Tracey or Lincoln Lindum would do well to look to their forward defensives. Perhaps the TCCB will consider allocating its annual pay-out from international match and television receipts in proportion to the number of eligible cricketers each county plays during the summer.