23 November 2010

Africans in New Zealand cricket

Kruger van Wyk

New Zealand cricket has a long tradition of selecting players from overseas backgrounds to fill out its sometimes threadbare team lists.  One of the most well-known is Sammy Guillen, the wicket-keeper who toured New Zealand with his national team in 1952 and struck his only half-century against them at Christchurch in February of that year.  Guillen later took up residency in New Zealand and was selected to play against his former countrymen in the West Indies tour of 1956.  He sealed New Zealand’s long awaited first test victory when he stumped the last West Indian batsman, Alf Valentine. 

Since then, several players from England have made their name playing for New Zealand.  Dipak Patel was born in Kenya, raised in England and played international cricket for New Zealand for a decade from 1987 to 1997 at a time when there weren’t many successful spinners operating in New Zealand.  He played 37 tests and 75 ODIs for New Zealand, and was famously used by Martin Crowe to open the bowling during the 1992 World Cup, but ultimately Patel failed to live up to his potential as a spin-bowling all-rounder. 

Moustachioed Warwickshire batsman Roger Twose proved more successful in the New Zealand team, and for a time was the world’s no.2 ranked ODI batsman.  While he never truly cemented a slot during the 16 matches of his test career, in ODI conditions Twose was a talented run scorer, averaging 38.8 over his 87 match career from 1995 to 2001.  His surname also provided much-needed pun material for TV and radio commentators.  

In recent years greater numbers of South Africans have settled in New Zealand, with 41,676 South Africans forming the sixth largest group of foreign-born people in the 2006 New Zealand census.  A fair number of these have made their way into provincial cricket, and two have played for the national side.  Grant Elliott, born in Johannesburg, earned his first test cap against England in Napier in March 2008.  While he has only managed four more tests since then, Elliott has become a reliable ODI player in 35 matches to date, batting at a healthy average of 35.5, scoring an excellent 115 against Australia at the SCG in February 2009, and taking 19 wickets at a useful average of 21.7 with his part-time fast-medium bowling.  Selectors no doubt hope that Elliott can take over Jacob Oram’s role when the latter retires from international cricket.  Durban-born Bradley-John (BJ) Watling has also recently entered the international scene, playing for New Zealand as a batsman in all three forms of the game.

Three further New Zealand-resident players of African origin are currently playing in the New Zealand domestic competition.  The best known is Kruger van Wyk, the 30 year old South African who until last season kept wicket for and captained Canterbury, but has just moved to Central Districts for the start of the 2010/11 season.  Van Wyk is a senior player and a real prospect for New Zealand selection, particularly given Brendon McCullum’s decision to give up keeping in tests and the failure of his replacement Gareth Hopkins to score runs in test conditions.  In June 2010 when his move to CD was announced, van Wyk said:

No longer being captain of Canterbury enables me to focus on my ambition to play international cricket and moving to Central Districts will provide me with a fresh start and the opportunity to pursue this goal.

With a first class batting average of 35.7, a one-day List A batting average of 43.0, and a total of 221 games of representative cricket under his belt, van Wyk would inject a valuable sense of experience and achievement into the New Zealand test squad, and may even challenge McCullum for the wicket-keeping spot in ODIs and T20s.

Otago’s South African-born bowler Neil Wagner fielded for South Africa in two tests at Centurion and played for the South African Academy side as recently as 2008, but decided to make his cricketing career in New Zealand.  He was soon performing strongly for Otago and was selected to tour with the New Zealand Emerging Players side in 2009.  His bowling figures impress, with a current first-class average of 23.1 and one-day average of 25.5.  Only 24 years of age, Wagner is a real fast-bowling prospect for the future.   

Colin de Grandhomme, the 24 year old Auckland all-rounder, was born and learned his cricket in Zimbabwe, where both his father and his grandfather both played first-class representative cricket.  In his homeland de Grandhomme played for both Manicaland and the Zimbabwe Under-19s, Under-23s and Zimbabwe A.  But after moving to Auckland he excelled, particularly with the bat, and now has four first-class centuries to his name, a batting average of 33.9 and 43 first-class wickets at 30.8.   

The ICC’s qualifications criteria state that a player must not have played representative cricket for another member country during the four immediately preceding years, and must have resided in the country they hope to represent for a minimum of 183 days in each of the four immediately preceding years.  With this in mind, it is pleasing to note that van Wyk is on the verge of qualifying to play for his adopted homeland, and Wagner and de Grandhomme are probably a year or two away.  It will be interesting to see if all three eventually follow Elliott and Watling’s path into the national side.   

[Pic: Kruger van Wyk lifts the State Championship trophy for Canterbury, April 2008, © Getty Images]

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