Do I not like that . . . Caught at crossroads: Daryl Foster, Kent's Australian coach, sides with the young cricketers who may be faced with a dilemma

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The Independent Online
IT IS not easy to be 18 and decide where your future lies. That, however, is the choice which will confront young cricketers if an Australian recommendation is approved by the International Cricket Council next month.

If passed it would mean that a player who represents a country at under-19 level could not then play for another country, even if he was born there. All Australians have sympathy with the view, and have done so since Martin McCague played for England last summer.

He had been brought up in the Australian system, had learned all his cricket there and he then ended up with England. It is possible that an entire England seam attack could comprise bowlers who were taught solely in Australia.

As well as McCague, there is now Craig White, of course, while Alan Mullally and Duncan Spencer are waiting in the wings. Duncan has yet to make up his mind but Alan has already committed himself to England so there are three who have gone. With Jason Gallian, the batsman quickly establishing himself at Lancashire, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that England could contest an Ashes series with almost half the side coached by the opposition.

It is natural that this prospect does not go down too well with Australians. I have sympathy with the players themselves. For a start, they may have a tie, a deep-seated loyalty to the land of their birth, but these things don't come to mind easily when you are only a teenager and in another country.

In selecting England, however, they may be opting not just for a Test cap but for job security. It is possible to make a living as a cricketer in Australia but nowhere in the cricketing world is there the security that English cricket offers. While in Australia you can go out of favour and might have nothing to fall back on, in England you have the chance of a two- or three- year contract. This must matter to a youngster attempting to make his way.

There is a dearth everywhere of fast bowlers. Everybody wants them, nobody can get them. The shortage is as great in Australia as it is in England. If we see one we want to nurture and keep him.

Over there a lot of time and money is spent on the system in every state and the feeling is that it is difficult enough doing all the hard work in the early stages without then having England coming along to take the cream.

The fact is that the coaching and development set-up is definitely better established in Australia, and England must think along similar lines to encourage cricket and develop bright young cricketers more quickly. It goes from the age of 13 all the way up to first- class level.

In Perth I know how all the talented individuals are developing at any age. We look at their progress all the time. In Kent we are just getting a wide-ranging system in place. This should be the case everywhere and more could certainly be done in England.

Having said that, I am in favour of retaining the present rules. A young man should be allowed to play for the country of his birth and seek cricketing security. If Australia lose a few Test players along the way, then so be it.

All the four English-born Australian bowlers in county cricket have potential. They can all go a long way in the game. As under-19s it would have been hard on them to make a choice - and it is difficult to be sure then quite how good they may become. The controversy will probably not disappear whatever decision is made by the ICC. It will be there for years, not least when some of these boys play for England against Australia.

Matters of birth and migration were out of their hands. Legislation would not be easy and their cricketing education should probably not be jeopardised by having to make such a sensitive decision so early. Leaving things as they are might also make Ashes Test matches more interesting.

(Photograph omitted)

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