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Back You are here: Home Sports Other Sporting Mercenaries?
Wednesday, 18 November 2009 17:57

Sporting Mercenaries?

South Africans representing other countries on the world stage are hardly a new phenomenon. In fact it has gone on for over a century. Whether due to political isolation, immigration, or colonial affiliation, it has long been a fixture on our sporting landscape.Basil De Oliveira and Alan Lamb were England legends. Robin Smith was a Durbanite a Northwood schoolboy. Yet we showed no ill feeing towards them. We wished them well (provided it wasn't against us).

An obvious shift can be attributed to two defining moments on two opposite ends of the world. In the 2004 Tri-Nations, Clyde Rathbone broke the hearts of his former countrymen by dotting down an injury time winning try against the Springboks in Perth. This, in the midst of what some perceived to be a flurry of anti-South African tirades by Rathbone. Fast forward to the 2005 Ashes Series and England had found a new hero: An uncompromising batsman who had the guts to speak his mind and backed his words with daring stroke play. Kevin Pietersen was brash. World-class. Unashamedly English. His rhetoric suggested he thrived on the distain of the South African masses, whenever he walked to the crease. The talk around the braai was of how this tension would surely extend to 2009. It hasn't. "Jonathan Trott will get the same abuse". He didn't.

"Andrew Strauss is very unpopular with South African fans". This is due to his 'win at all costs' denial of Graeme Smith's runner in the ICC Champions Trophy. Plus he left South Africa as a six-year old. He hardly counts, surely.

The reality is that this tour is different because it will be met with a more levelheaded understanding from spectators. An understanding that these players were given an opportunity to play County cricket in the UK, they excelled and were awarded a Test cap. Opportunities weren't in abundance back home and they were given a chance to play the game they love at the highest level. Who wouldn't take it? Did we really expect Pietersen to continue as a lower-order batsman and part-time off-spinner in the Dolphins system? Do we honestly blame Trott for choosing to play in front of ninety thousand spectators at Eden Gardens, instead of the groundsman and a stray dog at a Supersport Series match for Western Province?

It is quite ironic that those who angrily exclaim "They should do better. It's their job", will in another breath speak of pride in the badge and money not coming into the equation. The fact of the matter is that it is their job, their livelihood, and what right-minded employee would turn down an opportunity for such a sizeable promotion?

This remains a pertinent question for South African schoolboys today. Undoubtedly, many will wield the willow in a gap year, meddle in the lower leagues or even immigrate to the UK for good. They no doubt aspire to one day walk onto the hallowed 'Bullring' turf of the Wanderers with a Protea over their heart. But if such an opportunity does not present itself, would they turn down Lords?