Love not money drew me from land of my birth, says Kieswetter

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Whatever the reasons, no matter how plausible the explanations, there will be something distinctly odd about the World Twenty20 match here this afternoon. Nominally, England are playing South Africa in a Super8 match to decide which of them has the best cricketers on the day in this form of the game.

It is old-fashioned country versus country stuff, the foundation of international sport. Except that in this case 11 South Africans will be taking on an England top order – one, two and three – which consists entirely of players who were born in South Africa, were educated there and learned their cricket there.

Michael Lumb, Craig Kieswetter, and Kevin Pietersen have all pledged their troths to England, have served their qualification time and are playing as of right, having been deemed by the selectors to be the appropriate hard-hitting batsmen for this tournament. The match will bring into stark focus England's multi-national side, especially since Eoin Morgan, the No 5 batsman, is an Irishman.

Large amounts of cash have been ploughed into county academies of excellence; the Performance Centre at Loughborough, once the National Academy, was set up with the initial express purpose of honing home-grown players for England. Yet here, 10 years after its inception, the batting line-up is reliant on the excellence of cricketers from elsewhere.

Pietersen is long since established as the best batsman of the generation, a true star. Lumb, 30, has been selected as a specialist only for this tournament and may never be seen again in an England shirt after it. Kieswetter, 22, is a wicketkeeper batsman of special gifts – chiefly the one which allows him to drive the ball straight about 85 yards.

He has already made a one-day hundred for England after being called up belatedly to the one-day side in Bangladesh in February. It looks as though he is here to stay. South Africa's campaign to induce him to return never had a chance of succeeding – Kieswetter, son of an Afrikaans father, born in Johannesburg, educated in Cape Town, member of South Africa's Under-19 side, place of origin clear from his accent – has nailed his colours firmly to England's mast.

He insisted yesterday that playing against South Africa today would mean nothing to him, would stir no emotions. "For me it's another game, another opposition, trying to go out there for England and take the opposition as they come," he said. It's obviously about trying to play for England as much as I can, do as well as I can regardless of playing South Africa, Bangladesh, Australia. It doesn't matter who we're playing, it's about concentrating on my own game."

That he should have so few feelings for the country where he spent so long is his business and indeed he was able to have a bit of fun at their expense when he said that he did not know any of the South African team. "No, I'm a lot younger than them, they're all over the hill in that team," he said. "Only kidding, but I only know them from meeting in the hotel and that kind of thing."

Kieswetter was not motivated by money as, partly, might have been the case with Pietersen who recognised the greater financial opportunities that existed in English cricket 10 years ago. But nor was Pietersen enamoured of the quota system in South Africa at that time that favoured the selection of non-white players in domestic cricket to try to address the gross imbalances of the apartheid years.

For Kieswetter it is, he would have it, a love affair with the country pure and simple. He always held two passports and spent many happy weeks in the UK during his summer holidays – which presumably would be when it was dark and dank in the middle of winter, which is love indeed. When he was 18 he began to study A-levels at Millfield School, though was soon playing for Somerset.

"The place, the people, the whole culture I fell in love with when I was growing up," he said. "It's the place where I want to live and make a career for myself. Money had nothing to do with it. I am lucky enough to come from a family that is well off and settled like that, so it was a love of the game and a love of the country. It was never an issue of finances."

Kieswetter's father, Wayne, is a partner in the Benriach whisky distillery which he acquired in 2004, though Kieswetter junior was reluctant in the extreme to talk about it. He has his eyes set next on the wicketkeeper-batsman' berth in the Test team, and it will doubtless belong to him before long. Matt Prior, also born in South Africa but an emigrant at the age of 12, has the place for now but he must sense the breath on his neck, though Kieswetter, who scored four Championship hundreds last year, had a grim start this summer with 25 runs in four innings before coming on England duty.

Whoever wins today's encounter will almost certainly qualify for the semi-finals, both having already won the first of their three matches. England easily won a warm-up match between the sides last week but South Africa appear to have eased their way into the tournament and alighted on the best combination, as they showed in beating New Zealand on Thursday.

England have definitely got something – if not as much as they think. In the end today it may well come down to which side's South Africans perform better.

Match Details

Probable teams

*England: PD Collingwood (capt), MJ Lumb, C Kieswetter (wk), KP Pietersen, EJG Morgan, LJ Wright, TT Bresnan, MH Yardy, GP Swann, SCJ Broad, RJ Sidebottom.

*South Africa: GC Smith (capt), JH Kallis, HH Gibbs, AB De Villiers, JA Morkel, MV Boucher, J-P Duminy, J Botha, M Morkel, DL Steyn, CK Langeveldt.

*Pitch report: Has defied early prognoses and has had enough pace and bounce to encourage all parties. Outfield a little slow and gradual weariness of turf may be a factor.

*TV: Sky Sports 2, from 6pm

*Weather: Warm and humid, with light rain showers. Maximum temperature: 3C