Imagine the 2005 summer without Kevin Pietersen, imagine there was no epic concluding day at The Oval, imagine there was no open-top bus ride through London, imagine there were no Ashes coming home. They were the scenarios evoked yesterday by the England and Wales Cricket Board when they tightened the rules on foreign players.
The change to the qualification period from four years to seven for those migrating to the country after their 18th birthday has been long advocated by most English cricket followers. The happy rise of the Test team to No 1 in the world has been accompanied by the uncomfortable feeling that it has been achieved with the help of too many imported cricketers.
An ECB spokesman said: "There was a general feeling that we wanted a team that was by and large a product of our own system. This amendment should ensure that happens in the future."
Had the new regulation been in place in 2005, it might have changed the course of history. Had Pietersen known when he came here at the age of 20 that he would have to wait seven years for an international opportunity he might have stayed put in Natal. In those circumstances he would have had to have waited until 2008 for his chance and by which time the team might have moved in another direction. Pietersen would certainly not have become captain in that year.
A flood of imported players, usually from South Africa, has helped England in the last few years. Jonathan Trott is another who was born in South Africa, and he made his Test debut for England in 2009, six years after arriving in the country. Craig Kieswetter, the limited overs wicketkeeper who was one of the triumphant World Twenty20 champions side in 2009, would not be eligible until next year under the new regulation. It is not, however, retrospective.
The amendment, which also means that players coming here before their 18th birthday must wait only four years comes at a particularly felicitous time. At present there are no imported players waiting desperately for their international chance with England.
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