Would you adopt a new country to play at the highest level?

Lisa Sthalekar Columnist

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    From when I first took up cricket, and even tennis, my goal from a young age was to represent Australia by playing at the highest level.

    I was lucky enough to get that opportunity with cricket, but not everybody has that opportunity.

    And for those that do, it isn’t always for the country they have called home most of their life. So what takes precedence? Representing your country (being the country where you have lived the most) or giving yourself every opportunity to play at the highest level?

    Last week I saw Luke Ronchi, a Western Australian boy at heart, don on the gloves for the Kiwis against England at Lords.

    Having moved to Western Australia with his family at a young age, he became the No. 1 keeper for Western Australia after Ryan Campbell announced his retirement in 2006.

    From 2008 – 2009 Luke was also seen as the No. 2 keeper for Australia behind Brad Haddin and when injury or resting took place Luke got the opportunity to represent Australia in 3 x T20’s and 4 x ODIs against the West Indies and South Africa.

    In those five games he performed well, including scoring 36 from 22 on debut opening the batting and in the final game of the series against West Indies he recorded the third fastest fifty scoring 64 off 28 balls.

    Over the next few years it became evident that the Australian selectors were looking at the likes of Tim Paine and Matthew Wade as the next generation of keepers and presumably this forced Luke to consider his options.

    From a distance, it seemed as though his choices were to remain playing for Western Australia making a decent income as a state cricketer, or consider playing for another country to give himself the chance to see if he was good enough to mix it regularly with the best players in the game.

    At the age of 31, to up and move his family a year ago to return to New Zealand wouldn’t have been an easy decision, but as he said “if I didn’t try it in New Zealand I’d regret not doing it.”

    I expect it was a tough decision, but arguably the right one as he walked out on Lord’s, a ground he had only ever watched cricket at.

    Although he scored a duck he did take three catches behind the wicket and became the first player since Kepler Wessels to play for two full members of the International Cricket Council and the first to represent Australia and New Zealand.

    At the other end of the spectrum we have Sam Robson. Sam, the son of Jim Robson a current employee of Cricket NSW and a former selector for the Blues, is currently carving it up over in England for Middlesex.

    Sam who had represented NSW at an U17 and U19 level headed over to England after he finished school.

    Like most club cricketers, the appeal of heading over to England to play cricket for the winter was to too good an opportunity to miss.

    So when he stumbled across a mate who was pulling out at late notice he jumped at the chance to replace him.

    Once there, to increase his development as a cricketer, Sam began contacting counties to see if he could get extra matches during the week, it was soon discovered that he had an English passport thanks to his mother, therefore allowing him to play as a local player.

    This meant his passage into county cricket was a little smoother as a county wouldn’t have to use one of their overseas player spots to contract him.

    Sam received his break at the county level when he was offered a rookie contract with Middlesex, soon after being offered a rookie contract with Cricket NSW.

    In choosing to accept Middlesex’s offer, the deciding factor was that he would be given more opportunity to play with Middlesex, than he would with Cricket NSW, so England it was for him to develop.

    Sam, at 23, has developed quite nicely and is currently sitting on the most scored runs at 652 at an impressive average of 81.50 in Division 1 of the County Championships this season. Chris Rogers his opening partner at Middlesex is sitting right behind him on 552 runs at 61.33.

    With Australia heading over to play in English conditions and the fragile nature of our current batting order, it is players like Robson that are starting to pop up.

    Having passed his father in the hallways of our office, I managed to grab him and ask him what his son will do.

    “He is going to have to weigh up all the options. He currently is just in the Middlesex’s County side and wants to be seen as a player who can play all formats”, said Jim.

    As Jim pointed out to me, they play more longer format matches, 16 compared to our 10 Sheffield Shield and in a sport where there are hundreds of young athletes trying to make it to the top and make a living, it isn’t an easy decision.

    With his current form, I am sure that there are plenty of States interested in obtaining his services for the coming season, but Sam’s situation is quite different.

    He is currently playing for Middlesex as a local player (they only are allowed a small number of overseas players), therefore if Sam was to return to Australia he would have to also play here as a local, therefore giving up his contract at Middlesex as their overseas player is Chris Rogers.

    Not the easiest decision to make for a young man who is finding some lovely form at the moment. With his parents heading over in July it will be nice to have their support as he sits down to make some tough decisions.

    At the end of the day I believe elite athletes want to challenge themselves and see if they are good enough to compete at the next level, if given the chance.

    I think gone are the days where athletes sit tight and wait for their opportunity.

    After all, there are only so many contracts being offered that you would be ridiculous not to take one, even if that means you have to forgo your dream to represent your country that you have always called home.

    The Ashes is almost here, and we want to know who YOU think should line up for Australia against England in the first Test.
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