England's unfair foreign advantage


Also See: One Cricketer, Two Nations

What a wonderful few days it has been in London for the legendary captains’ dinner organised by the Lord’s Taverners.

Brian Downing, who has been chiefly instrumental in arranging such fundraisers in the past, did another fantastic job, and the Lord’s Taverners charity benefited quite handsomely from the turnout of almost 900 people at the dinner.

It was an absolute pleasure and privilege to be back with some of the cricketers who one had grown up idolising, and to be able to be in the same room as them was a blessing indeed.

There was Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell, Mushtaq Mohammad, Ali Bacher, Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, David Gower, Mike Gatting, Andy Flower, Andrew Strauss and Shaun Pollock to name a few.

There was also the Sri Lankan group of Arjuna Ranatunga, Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara and my favourite batsman Mahela Jayawardene. There was our very own ‘Dada’ Sourav Ganguly, but above all there was the one and only, the incomparable Garfield Sobers.

To be in Sobers’ company is to be in cricketing paradise. The man is still so charismatic that one can’t stop looking at him, and when he speaks one is all ears. He had a fund of stories that came out along with his good friend Ian Chappell and those were the best times.

Those were the moments when the players were by themselves and so could tell some great funny stories and one wished the night would never end.

The day before the dinner, we were at a reception at 10 Downing Street, the residence of the British prime minister where John Major, a major cricket fan, hosted the captains and wives who were present. Then when we were all taken to the cabinet room where the UK cabinet meets, we also met with David Cameron, the present prime minister, who also is a huge cricket fan but couldn’t be with us all the time because of the crisis in Nairobi, Kenya.

He did explain why the table in the cabinet room is shaped like a coffin and then exhorted Mike Gatting, who takes over as the MCC president on October 1 to sit in the chair that he occupies for the cabinet meetings.

Yes ‘Gatt’ did manage to squeeze himself into the chair, much to everybody’s amusement.

Andy Flower, the former Zimbabwe skipper and now the coach of the England team that just won the Ashes was also there, and with the England tour party also announced, he was asked a fair bit about the team by the other skippers, but he was quite understandably reluctant to talk much about it.

What the selection has shown is once again the advantage that England has when it comes to choosing its team.

We have already seen how so many South Africans and Australians have managed to play for England seeing that it was going to be difficult to get selected for their country of birth.

So the next best thing has been to go to England, find a grandparent or great-grandparent who was English and so qualify to play for England. As easy as that! The other thing that goes England’s way is being able to poach players from Scotland and Ireland.

So we now have Boyd Rankin, who played in the 2011 World Cup for Ireland, being chosen in the squad for Australia.

Even that can be understood, as a player would want to test himself in a much greater competitive environment, but what does seem incredible is that if he does not hold a regular place he can go back to Ireland or Scotland.

Surely that is a bit unfair, for once having made a choice of playing for a Test country, he cannot go straight back to an associate member country and play.

There is a qualifying period of four years to play for a Test nation for a player from another country, so Graeme Hick who was selected for Zimbabwe for the World Cup in the past had to wait four years before he could play for England.

While four years would be a bit harsh for players reverting to an Associate Member, maybe a period of one year at least should be kept before he can play for the Associate Member country again.

Otherwise it becomes a joke, as many who have gone to play for England and failed have come straight back to the Associate Member country in the same year after realising that Test cricket is an altogether different cup of tea.

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