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

Lisa Sthalekar Columnist

By Lisa Sthalekar,

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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 Socceroos' hopes of qualifying from the group stage at the World Cup are hanging by a thread after a 1-1 draw against Denmark. See how the match unfolded with our Australia vs Denmark match report, highlights and result.

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    The Crowd Says (27)

    • June 6th 2013 @ 7:38am
      Paul said | June 6th 2013 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      You only have to look at South African cricket, NZ rugby as prime examples of this. When one country has serious depth in a sport there is competition hence they will be quality players that do not get selected.It just the unfortunate thing about having depth. If you are constantly being knocked back by your own national selectors then you do rethink your career options.

      Australian rugby these days have become a haven for rugby rejects from NZ. Just look at the make up of their super rugby sides and Wallaby sides. South Africa is just a convener belt to English cricket which is sad considering how much funding and depth already exist in England.

      It also comes down to how the sports govening bodies sets out it eligibility rules because players are taking the option of playing for a country they were not born or raised in because the eligibility rules allow them to do so. If they tighten this up then you dont have this ‘globalisation’ of international sporting teams. We dont want to end up like Bahrain who just buy all their sporting talent.

      • Roar Guru

        June 7th 2013 @ 6:28am
        peeeko said | June 7th 2013 @ 6:28am | ! Report

        i dont know if the wallabies are kiwi rejects, didnt most of them move to australia before their careers were decided?

    • June 6th 2013 @ 10:06am
      Franc said | June 6th 2013 @ 10:06am | ! Report

      Interesting article. There is a subtle but significant difference between playing for one’s adopted country and adopting a new country simply to play at the highest level. My son was born in Australia, but to my career, left almost immediately after he was born. We are a passionate supporter of Australian national teams, but upon his recent return to Australia, he found his pathway to elite development blocked through a number of factors; amongst others, financial, logistical and simply being new to the sport in Oz. He is comfortable with the decision to play for the country he has grown up in. By chance, his team will play Australia in September, so just perhaps he will get identified and through time get the opportunity to play for his birth land. International representation is a privilege. Irrespective of the various, and sometimes convoluted eligibilitybrules,to simply adopt a country for the sake of elite sport erodes where the true value of international representation lies……..in one’s heart.

    • Roar Guru

      June 6th 2013 @ 10:24am
      HardcorePrawn said | June 6th 2013 @ 10:24am | ! Report

      A tricky one this, I often find myself sitting on both sides of this argument:

      On the one hand I detest the now-common practice whereby a sportsperson is “bought” by a rival nation, bides his or her time in a local league, becomes a citizen, then is called up for the national squad in their chosen sport. The proliferation of South American footballers that now call the Middle-East home being a case in question;

      But on the other hand I can appreciate that there are a number of sportspeople who choose not to represent their original home nation for genuine reasons.
      Whether they be a someone whose nation has little history or scope for progress in their chosen sport (Tim Visser, the Dutch Scotland rugby international springs to mind), or someone who refuses to represent their home nation in order to take a political stance.

    • Roar Guru

      June 6th 2013 @ 10:35am
      JGK said | June 6th 2013 @ 10:35am | ! Report

      Of course you would.

    • Roar Rookie

      June 6th 2013 @ 11:10am
      josh said | June 6th 2013 @ 11:10am | ! Report

      Sure.

      I’d like to think i could make the national XI of some country somewhere…

      • Roar Guru

        June 6th 2013 @ 11:43am
        HardcorePrawn said | June 6th 2013 @ 11:43am | ! Report

        I remember watching the Sri Lankan 7s team line up at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, and thinking to myself that thanks to my Kandy-born grandmother I’d probably be eligible to play for them.
        After they’d shipped 181 points in their first three games, scoring none in reply, then got me thinking that they’d probably welcome me with open arms…
        🙂

    • June 6th 2013 @ 11:29am
      James said | June 6th 2013 @ 11:29am | ! Report

      i see the two examples given as different ends of the spectrum. luke ronchi wants to play cricket at international level, couldnt get in the australian side, the side he wanted to play in, so then chose new zealand as a second choice. robson’s first choice is england, though middlesex may have a bearing on that. ronchi ten years ago may have never contemplated changing his allegiance and robson in 10 years if he doesnt get in the england team may swap to australia but making assumptions like this and then using them in our arguments only serve to help us prove the point we want to make so is silly to do. i believe both are ok to do and i wont harshly judge anyone who does them but i prefer those like robson who seem to have chosen to represent or at least try to because they love the country as opposed to ronchi’s choice which seems more mercenary.

      i think you should for the most part be able to choose who you represent so long as you have some familial link to the country and have spent a number of years in that country. simply because you are born in a country and lived there even up to your teenage years in some cases i do not think means you have to play for them. strauss was born in south africa but he was so damn english, you couldnt imagine andrew symonds playing for anyone but australia, greg inglis though qualified for nsw is a qlder all the way.

      only slightly down the patriotic tree are the likes of trott, prior and here i would put robson potentially. people whos whole life has been moved to their adopted countries, wives, children, life and who look settled.

      then beneath that and potentially equal to that one day are the fawad ahmeds. he seems genuine, he seems to love australia and really wants to play here with the only difference between him and the group above being that they chose rather than were forced to move. all these groups i think there are no grey areas for, they are, despite not being born in their countries of play are truly english, australian, qlder.

      then the pietersons and ronchis whos motives seem more mercenary with pieterson only getting points for doing it much younger than ronchi. they are still allowed and indeed encouraged to play for their adopted countries but if they beat our team we are allowed to make a couple of jokes about them, though hopefully we do so whilst still acknowledging that that is their right and they did adopt another country and move their lives there even if their motives were less patriotic than ideal.

      so its ok to adopt a new country to play at the highest level but if you beat us we are allowed to make a couple of jokes about it so long as we also realise that we look like bad sports when we do 🙂

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