Sunday 25 February 2018

Success provides answer to national question

Eamonn Sweeney

England's cricket squad for the forthcoming one-day series in India contains five South Africans out of a total of 15 players. Had Eoin Morgan not been injured, he'd have been there as well, meaning almost half of the English squad would have been born abroad.

It doesn't seem to bother English fans. This is probably the best team they've ever had so they just sit back and enjoy the quality. Meanwhile, the states of Qatar and Bahrain are running a thriving business in naturalising world-class African runners, giving them Arabic names and sending them out in the national colours to win medals at major championships.

And for all the talk about the All Blacks being an extension of national identity, New Zealand had no qualms about playing talented Fijians and Samoans such as Siviveni Sivivatu, Joe Rokocoko and Va'aiga Tuigamala when they felt the need to.

England have been similarly pragmatic in enlisting Shontayne Hape and Manu Tuilagi. Increasingly national identity seems to have become a fluid quantity when it comes to sport.

Does it matter? Is it simple-minded in this day and age to think that a national team should be composed of players who actually come from the country in question? Or is it the duty of managers and administrators to put together the best team they can and not worry about the grounds on which a player qualifies?

Would we have felt the same if Ireland's victory over Australia had been achieved with the help of a couple of Fijian wings, a pair of South African props and a number eight from New Zealand?

Or was it that bit sweeter because we knew where the players came from and felt we had something fundamental in common with them? Or is this just sentimental nationalism?

Perhaps. Or perhaps something valuable really is lost when your national side becomes just one more high-powered club outfit.

Now where did I put that 'we're all part of Jackie's Army' banner?

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