London – Kevin Pietersen took to Twitter to question England footballer Jack Wilshere's belief that only English-born players should represent the national side.
Pietersen, born in South Africa to an English mother and South African father, has become a mainstay of the England cricket team and is just one match away from appearing in 100 Tests.
He is one of a number of players across several sports, including Jamaica-born footballer John Barnes, who've represented England without being born in the country, a legacy of the country's imperial past, 'mixed' marriages and, more recently, greater global migration.
But Wilshere said Tuesday: “The only people who should play for England are English people. If you live in England for five years it doesn't make you English.”
However, Pietersen pointing to his own case and that of several other South Africa-born England cricketers as well as Somali-born double Olympic champion Mo Farah, said: “Jack Wilshere – interested to know how you define foreigner...?
“Would that include me, (Andrew) Strauss (the ex-England cricket captain), (Jonathan) Trott (England batsman), (Matt) Prior (England wicketkeeper), Justin Rose (South Africa-born golfer), (Chris) Froome (Kenya-born Tour de France champion), Mo Farah?”
England international Wilshere insisted he'd only been talking about his own sport.
“With all due respect Mr Pietersen the question was about Football! Cricket, cycling, Athletics is not my field!”
That didn't placate Pietersen, who replied: “Same difference.. It's about representing your country! IN ANY SPORT!”
Wilshere's initial remarks, made ahead of England's key 2014
World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland, came against the backdrop of the Football Association looking into the eligibility of rising Manchester United star Adnan Januzaj.
Belgium-born winger Januzaj can play for the country of his birth, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Turkey and the 18-year-old could one day represent England on residency grounds.
Wilshere said having foreign-born players in the team risked diluting the essential character of the side.
“You think of England and you think they are brave and they tackle hard. We have to remember that,” he said.
Many overseas-born British sportsmen and women are sensitive to suggestions they are not as committed as their English-born colleagues and are flying a 'flag of convenience'.
The topic is a particularly touchy one for Pietersen who by his own admission left South Africa believing his progress had been hindered by a quota system designed to assist non-white players who'd been banned from playing first-class or representative cricket during the apartheid era.
This led to accusations Pietersen had “left a country that had become more democratic not less” and was a mercenary, intent on maximising his income as a result of the better financial prospects in England compared to South Africa.
However, given he'd yet to make any sort of significant reputation as a batsman when he initially arrived in England in the 1990s, it was by no means guaranteed he would become the successful Test cricketer he is today. – Sapa-AFP