Born in SA, starring abroad – let us honour these South African players

Mark Keohane.

Mark Keohane.

Published Oct 22, 2021


Cape Town - Instead of bemoaning the situation of South African sports people excelling for other countries, we should be celebrating the quality of sporting individuals produced in South Africa.

When it comes to South Africans playing for other countries, there are two very different formative identities. One is that of South African-born and the other is that of South Africa-born and raised.

For example, former All Blacks flyhalf Andrew Mehrtens was born in Durban, of Kiwi parents, but spent only six months in the Republic before his parents returned to New Zealand, where he was raised. He is all Kiwi.

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Ditto, the likes of BJ Watling, Glen Phillips and Colin Munro, who excelled in New Zealand cricket. All three left South Africa before the age of 10. They are all raised in the Kiwi sporting system.

The South African brigade I refer to are those who were born in this country, raised in this country, evolved their sporting talent in this country and then relocated to another country and, on performance, got selected to represent this country.

Some left because of the adventure of being in another country, some left because they felt they needed a sporting change and some left with the commitment to a new life in an adopted country.

The simplistic view every time a South African-born or a South African-born and raised individual excels, is to lament the South African sporting system and the tiresome “another one who got away” line gets screamed on social media.

But it is seldom a case of “another one that got away” and more accurately “another one who found form and fortune in a different environment”.

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Very few of the South African-born and raised cricket and rugby players who have flourished under another country's flag, were in the mix in South Africa.

Durban-born and raised Kevin Pietersen is the exception, but Pietersen also produced his best in England’s County Championship and his performances there were mighty compared to what he had done in his early provincial career in South Africa.

New Zealand’s Neil Wagner was always in the queue behind Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel and a change of scenery came packaged with a Test career of 200-plus wickets.

Devon Conway is the latest South African-born and raised cricketer thrilling global audiences.

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Conway is 30 years-old and left South Africa as a 26-year-old.

By his own admission, he hadn’t scored enough runs to warrant a national call-up and he opted for a living and playing adventure in New Zealand. He has been sensational. Good on him.

Curtis Campher, the Irish allrounder who took four wickets in four deliveries earlier this week at the T20 World Cup, was born and raised in South Africa. He has an Irish grandmother and qualified for an Irish passport. He is a former SA under 19 player, but he was also in a long queue when it came to the Proteas. He has found fame in another land.

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Good on him.

CJ Stander played 50 Tests for Ireland and also played for the British & Irish Lions. He left South Africa with the intention to try to make it in Ireland – and he did.

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There are so many examples, with former Free Stater Lappies Labuschagne captaining Japan against Australia in a rugby international this weekend. Good on him because he would never have played international rugby for the Springboks.

There are seven South African-born and raised coaches in charge of teams at the T20 World Cup, currently under way, several backroom staff and an entire team of South African-born and raised players not representing the Proteas.

It is a testament to the wonderful sporting talent produced in South Africa and not an indictment of any sporting system failure.

*Mark Keohane is an award-winning sports journalist and a regular contributor to Independent Media Sport


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