Kieswetter the latest Cape crusader to come to England's rescue
South African-born batsman shone on debut yesterday but his success is not all good news for the ECB
Another England cricket team, another player made in South Africa. Craig Kieswetter, the latest of the vintage, made a blistering 143 yesterday against a Bangladesh Cricket Board XI in his first match for England. The warm-up fixture was not an international, but the nature of his performance suggests there will be plenty of those to come.
Kieswetter, born in Johannesburg and schooled largely in Cape Town, was not in the squad until four days ago. This was partly because he became eligible for selection only on 17 February, and partly because he strung together a sequence of innings which would have been difficult for any selection panel to ignore. Picked for England Lions on their brief sojourn in the United Arab Emirates earlier in the month, he made scores of 77, 40no, 50 and 81, the latter against England.
That form continued yesterday and although he was dropped four times, the conviction which suffuses his approach was patent. The innings lasted 123 balls and contained 13 fours and six sixes. He shared stands of 127 with his captain, Alastair Cook, for the first wickets and of 125 with his vice-captain, Paul Collingwood, whose 109 took only 73 balls. So he knows how to impress those who count, too.
England, who scored 370 for seven in their 50 overs at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium, won by 112 runs. The bowling was not quite as impressive, though Graeme Swann took 4 for 44.
Potentially prodigious talent though he may be, Kieswetter seems merely to confirm the suspicion that England's selectors, who once, it is said, stood at the top of northern pits so they could shout down for fast bowlers, may as well now spend their time camped out on the high veld or at the foot of Table Mountain, looking for likely lads with dual passports.
Kieswetter, who is also a wicketkeeper though he did not fill that role yesterday, has joined Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott in the current England squad as players who were born and educated largely in South Africa. Like Trott he played for South Africa under-19s. But Geoff Miller, the National Selector, conceded when the Lions squad was announced that there had to be a limit to the number of South African players that England could import. Kieswetter, whose mother is British, came to England as an 18-year-old to finish his education at Millfield. If Somerset did not know of him before, they soon did.
The county's chief executive, Richard Gould, said yesterday: "Millfield and Somerset can claim a lot of the credit. As soon as he came over here he was looked after and made to feel wanted. He immediately felt everyone was going to help him become the best cricketer he possibly could. Perhaps he hadn't experienced that before. Right from the off he wanted to play cricket for England."
Kieswetter's family links meant that he had spent long holidays in the United Kingdom before he arrived at Millfield. To call him English, however, would be a stretch, not least because his mum, Belinda, hails from Edinburgh. But when South Africa came calling late last year he resisted their overtures.
Graeme Smith, South Africa's captain, is clearly fed up with his compatriots leaving for what he sees as the English counties' shilling. Naming Kieswetter as a target, he said that money was no longer such an issue because South African players now make a decent amount.
But Kieswetter, ensconced at Taunton by now – his home is opposite the county ground – was unmoved. For whatever reasons, he had thrown in his lot with England and was sticking by it. He has protested his love of the old country, however, as doubtless he must continue to do in the next few years.
"Being born with both passports put me in a fortunate position," Kieswetter said on the eve of his debut. "I've always loved the country, the culture, the people. I moved over four years ago and it's never been a concern of mine to move back."
There could be no finer words were he to be invited to take a test of Englishness sometime in the future, and if he scores runs as he has been doing the unmistakeable origins of his accent may yet be forgotten. For Somerset, he has made inexorable progress: 337 championship and 410 limited-over runs in his first season, 524 and 702 in 2008.
"I would dispute that he learned his cricket in South Africa," said Gould. "A lot of cricketers represent their country at under-19 level and then don't go on. Millfield made a great effort with him. When he registered as a cricketer in England he had to sign an affidavit that he would not play cricket elsewhere, and that he has kept to.
"He is confident and self-assured but he is an extremely well-balanced and well-rounded individual. He has had the advantage of a solid background and I shouldn't think because of the astonishing form he has shown in the past fortnight he will expect it simply to continue like that."
Kieswetter has presented England with a conundrum they might say they like but could have done without. Do they open the one-day batting with him and use him as wicketkeeper? Whither Prior, whither the 13 opening partnerships already used since the last World Cup? When will the next South African knock on the door?
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