Steve Waugh, the celebrated former Australia captain, has defended the right of cricketers to switch national allegiances, yet can never foresee a time when his country would call on South African-born players to bolster their national team. There are six players - Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen, Craig Kieswetter, Matt Prior, Jonathan Trott and Michael Lumb - vying for selection for the England senior side, across the various formats of the game, who were born in South Africa.
By contrast, relatively few overseas-born players have ever played for Australia, although there have been some examples. Amid a vastly different social climate, Kepler Wessels represented Australia, before returning to captain the Proteas after their readmission to the international game. Waugh believes the relative standards in either country makes England an easier route to international cricket than his homeland.
"I'm sure they would be welcomed in Australia, but it would be pretty hard for them to make it into the national side," says Waugh, the decorated ex-captain, who retired in 2004. "We have a culture that, if you are born here they would be looking to play you first. Maybe they see it as a better option to play for another country by playing for England." Michael Vaughan, Waugh's former counterpart as England captain, has criticised the number of South African-born players in the national team.
Even though he holds a position with the management group that acts for Kieswetter, England's latest recruit, Vaughan is against the idea of players being able to choose the nation they represent. Waugh does not agree, suggesting players like the Pietermaritzburg-born Pietersen have already proved a substantial commitment to their adopted country. "They are obviously abiding by the rules, that is the way it is, so it is fair enough," says Waugh, who is in Abu Dhabi for the Laureus Sport Awards. "A lot of South Africans are playing for England. It is hard for me to comment on because I can't recall many overseas-born players playing in our Australian sides, but England are used to that. "As long as they are loyal to the country they are playing for, it is fine. They have made a choice, a big one, to move away from the place where they are born to play for another country. That shows their commitment."
Pietersen famously quit his homeland, citing the restraints placed on white players by the quota policy as his reason for leaving, then quickly became the star of England's batting line-up. He had a visual aid for his new-found national pride when he had a three lions tattoo inscribed on his arm, and later married the English pop singer Jessica Taylor. Waugh feels there should be no debate about him being regarded as an Englishman.
"I look at someone like Kevin Pietersen, and he wears his heart on his sleeve for England," he adds. "I think he is totally committed to playing for England. I don't see him as a South African, he is English from my point of view. I think that once someone commits to playing for a country, then they are part of it. Where it was strange was when, a couple of years ago [Darren] Pattinson, an Australian guy, played for England in one Test. That didn't seem right."
Pattinson, who was born in Grimsby before leaving for Australia aged six, played one Test for the country of his birth, against South Africa in 2008. "Sometimes it doesn't feel right, other times it does," concludes Waugh. "I guess it is up to the selectors to work out which guys really want to play for their countries and which players are not as committed," he adds. firstname.lastname@example.org