Thursday, 8 December 2016

A new English hero?

24 year old Keaton Jennings today became the 19th England cricketer to score a century on his test debut with a score of 112 against India. After a fantastic piece of luck, being dropped when yet to score, it was a fine innings that has already seen him being hailed as the future of England's top order, and you wouldn't be criticised for calling it a dream debut. But was it the test debut that he would have dreamed of when he was growing up in South Africa?

Born in Johannesburg to a South African father and English mother he signed to play for Durham and made his debut in 2012, and with the required four year residency period behind him he is now eligible to play for England. He's by no means the first foreign-born cricketer to play for England either. In fact, with his inclusion on the list, four of the last five to make three figures on their England debut were born in South Africa (the others being Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior), and you can add Kevin Pietersen, Allan Lamb, Graeme Hick, Andy Caddick and Robin Smith to the ranks to name just a handful.

It's a trend that isn't unique to cricket. Tennis has seen Australian born Johanna Konta and Canadian Greg Rusedski cheered as Brits, and Tour de France winner Chris Froome was born and raised in Kenya. It's also not unique to English sport. In last year's Rugby World Cup 135 players represented countries they were not born in, with Samoa leading topping the table with 13 of their 31 man squad born in New Zealand.

It doesn't always work out as well as it has so far for Jennings either. Remember Zola Budd tripping up Mary Decker in the 1984 Olympic 3,000 metre final having had her British passport application rushed through to allow her to bypass the apartheid boycott, and New Zealander Shane Howarth, who played rugby 19 times for Wales on the grounds that his grandmother was Welsh before it was discovered that in fact she wasn't?

However, as long as no rules are broken then no-one is doing anything wrong, and who are we to judge how much it means to a sportsman or woman to represent a country other than the one of their birth. After all, who would suggest that the 9 English-born members of the Wales squad that reached the semi-finals of the European Championships felt less pride in their achievements than those who were born in Wales?