As the fifth Ashes Test drew to a humiliating close, Channel Nine’s resident irritant James Brayshaw had a rare moment of clarity.
He asked Mark Nicholas whether it was concern that so many foreign players had donned the Three Lions for England.
Nicholas nonchalantly replied that it wasn’t, and then gave a flimsy explanation about how there was talent in England’s county system, and players had earned the right to represent their adopted country.
The easy argument against the influx of foreign players into English cricket would be to target Kevin Pietersen and the many controversies that have dogged his illustrious career, including the infamous ‘Textgate’ of 2012.
For all of Pietersen’s talent and charisma, he will always be introduced as ‘South African-born’.
But this isn’t purely about Pietersen, and this will not focus on the same rhetoric that continues to be spurted out regarding his talent/ego/lack of humility etc.
This is about highlighting what this scribe perceives to be a serious problem in the English system, which is that it is only English through the location of the system itself.
You have to go back to December 2003 to find an English Test side which has a full 11 players who actually came through the system, let alone were even born in the country.
For those curious enough it was a Test against Sri Lanka in Galle, when Michael Vaughan took over the captaincy from Chennai-born Nasser Hussain.
This isn’t an attack on Andrew Strauss, Matthew Prior or Ben Stokes, among others, who were born outside of the Mother Country but moved as children.
This is about what should be a worrying trend that is growing in English cricket, whereby promising players are poached through loose ties to England, having not even gone through the proper junior system.
Consider the English squad for the recent Ashes tour, where six members were born outside England, four of which came through other systems:
Matthew Prior (vc)
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and moved to England with his family aged 11.
Grew up on a tobacco farm in Harare. Aged just 16, Ballance appeared for Zimbabwe at the 2006 Under-19 World Cup, and had already set sights on playing for England.
Born to an English mother and an Afrikaner father Jannie, Pietersen attended Maritzburg College, Pietermaritzburg, and made his first-class cricket debut for Natal’s B team in 1997, aged 17, where he was regarded predominantly as an off spin bowler and a hard-hitting lower-order batsman.
He switched allegiances to England after a lack of opportunities and cited the racial quota system as one of the premier reasons.
The Northern Irishman from Londonderry represented Ireland at every age group from under-13 upwards. He switched allegiances in 2010 in the hope of playing Test cricket.
The son of rugby league player and coach Gerard Stokes. He moved to England at the age of 12 after his father was appointed head coach of Workington Town rugby league club. His parents have since moved back to New Zealand.
Born in Cape Town to a South African family of English descent. Educated at Rondebosch Boys’ High School and Stellenbosch University, he played for South Africa at both under-15 and under-19 level.
Trott is eligible to play for England as a result of his grandparents being English.
Consider also, the England Lions squad that hit Australian shores this summer, which contained Barbadian Chris Jordan and Australian Sam Robson.
Jordan was born in Barbados and completed his education at the prestigious Dulwich College through a sporting scholarship.
His maternal grandparents are British Citizens and he has British citizenship, via a British passport.
Robson was born to an Australian father and English mother who played U-19 cricket for Australia. He left Sydney after school as he was stuck behind schoolmate Usman Khawaja, Phillip Hughes, and others in the NSW pecking order.
He started to play for the Middlesex second XI in 2008, and played his first List A match for Middlesex against Worcestershire in the NatWest Pro40 League in September of that year.
Cricket Australia changed their rules in August 2013 to allow dual nationals to be treated as overseas players in Australia, in a ploy that could have led Robson to playing for the Australian Test side had he not chosen to represent England.
For every Joe Root, there’s a Gary Ballance – a Zimbabwe-born batsman who is a relative of former Zimbabwean skipper Dave Houghton.
He took up a sports scholarship at leading English school Harrow the same year of his Zimbabwean appearance and his relationship to Houghton helped secure several appearances for Derbyshire as a schoolboy.
He has been tipped to follow in the footsteps of another Zimbabwean-cum-English batsman Graeme Hick, who was selected in the Zimbabwean squad for the 1983 World Cup, but didn’t play a game.
For every Stuart Broad, there’s Boyd Rankin, who shot to prominence in the 2007 World Cup by snaring three wickets in Ireland’s remarkable win against Pakistan.
Rankin’s inclusion in the Ashes squad appeared to be at the expense of experienced seamer Graham Onions, who had a career-best county season for Durham.
Hindsight being the wonderful tool it is, Rankin’s selection was an abject failure.
Eoin Morgan and Ed Joyce are two other Irishmen to make the switch. Morgan captained England in an ODI against Ireland, while Joyce ironically moved back to Ireland after failing to regain his spot in the English side.
Joyce’s to-ing and fro-ing of allegiances cannot be overlooked here, and it’s something he divulged to Cricinfo in 2010 after he moved back to play for Ireland, having received special dispensation from the ICC to do so.
“When I made the decision in 2001 to try and play for England, it was with a view to trying to play Test cricket which is the pinnacle of the game and which of course Ireland doesn’t play,” Joyce said.
“While I strongly believe I’m good enough to play Test cricket for England, I’ve taken the decision now to try and play for Ireland again.
“There are a few reasons for this, with the most obvious being that I’m a born and bred Irishman. Secondly, I feel I have a lot to offer to Irish cricket.”
The move to play for England wasn’t for love of the badge, or love of the country. It was a career opportunity, nothing more. When that opportunity dimmed, Joyce moved back.
This is hardly an uncommon theme in English cricket. Scottish all-rounder Gavin Hamilton played one Test for England in 1999, after being impressing the English selectors (and then-coach Duncan Fletcher, a Zimbabwean) with his performances for Scotland in the 1999 World Cup.
Hamilton was discarded almost instantly, and was forced to then re-qualify for Scotland in order to resume something of an international career.
Fletcher’s complete disdain for Hamilton’s career is a mystery, and as we speak, it is possible that something similar could happen to Rankin. who is 30 in July.
Foreign players see England as a land of opportunity, as a way of bypassing their own system to play Test cricket.
There seems to be a psyche embedded in the English system where if an overseas player scores the runs and takes the wickets, all he needs to do is bide the time, cross the ‘T’s and dot the ‘I’s and he’s in the side.
Robson is another beneficiary of this mentality who could make his debut for England in the upcoming Sri Lanka series.
A consistent opening batsman, Robson – like many Australian grade players – decided to ply his trade in England through the use of his dual citizenship courtesy of his mother’s English heritage.
This mentality is rife in England, while it is absent across other countries. Staunch English supporters rebut with tired examples of Dav Whatmore, Kepler Wessels or even Fawad Ahmed, but they’re rewriting history to suit their argument.
It should worry English cricket that so many talented home grown youngsters are shunted to the side while imports are allowed to bide their time. It has made England the laughing stock of the international scene.
Simply put, you can’t have England as a cricketing nation when as many as half the team’s development has been harnessed elsewhere.
Consider this. England’s ratio of foreign imports to home-grown talent is probably only matched by associate countries such as the Netherlands and Italy, which is largely due to players harboring the same dream to establish an international career and the lack of a quality domestic system.
But in England, the bevy of counties across two tiers dilutes the talent, while making it an attractive prospect for middling overseas cricketers to make a living through the game they love.
In the process, it gives them the opportunity to defect once their talents are noticed, and by and large that is the essence of the English team at present.
With English cricket at its lowest ebb in decades, this is an issue that needs to be sorted under new managing director Paul Downton.
But it is one that may just be swept under the carpet.
And if it does, then the curse of the Foreign Legion will linger.