International sport is in for some exciting times within the next few days, as the best cricketing nations converge on England for the staging of the 12th edition of the International Cricket Council’s World Cup. It is the most prestigious white ball tournament in the sport with the championship having been won by the West Indies in the first two editions in 1975 and 1979.
Before and since that period, and not necessarily only in global tournaments, there have been several instances of persons playing for nations other than their birthplace for a variety of reasons. The likes of Kevin Pietersen quit South Africa cricket and headed to England because his country’s quota system was hurting his chances of playing at the highest level. Eoin Morgan understandably threw in his lot with England because his native Ireland at the time was not an international Test-playing nation. Pakistani Imran Tahir married a South African and met the residency requirement in his adopted home before making the Proteas team.
Others such as Barbadians Gladstone Small and Roland Butcher, Vincentians Wilf Slack and Neil Williams, Jamaican Norman Cowans and Dominican Philip DeFreitas, played for England at a time when West Indies cricket was at its zenith and they simply could not make a West Indies line-up. Their long-term residency in England also made it strategically good sense to throw in their lot with the proverbial Mother Country.
But Barbadian Jofra Archer’s case is somewhat different. He has stated emphatically that he decided to court a possible place in English cricket after playing for the West Indies Under-19 team in 2013 and not being selected for the ICC Youth World Cup in 2014. No doubt he believed he should have made the team, he felt slighted and he decided to seek his fortune elsewhere. This is a move to which he was absolutely entitled and we wish him all success with his England career, especially when the opposing players are not wearing the West Indies maroon.
But based on his comments this week and the knowledge that he has been courted by Cricket West Indies (CWI) to play for the region of his birth, the other side of the euphoria ought to be examined. Archer opted not to pursue a possible West Indies senior cricket career after not being selected when he thought he should have been at the junior level. But non-selection at particular junctures is the way of sports. Names such as Herbert Chang, Irvine Shillingford, Thelston Payne and Desmond Lewis deserved more opportunities than they eventually did at the senior level. The surfeit of talent available at the time dictated that this was the reality. The likes of Renford Pinnock never got an international opportunity and he was among the finest wicketkeeper/batsmen to play regional cricket in the mid-1960s to mid-1970s.
We have no doubt that given his talent, his post-teenage development, and the approaches that were made to him by CWI, that Archer could have found a place – on merit – in the present West Indies set-up where there is a dearth of easily recognizable international talent. But he is entitled to snub the West Indies and play for England. However, he is not entitled to infer that he was done some great injustice by the regional cricket governing body because he was not selected for the 2014 Youth World Cup in Dubai. Indeed, he was entitled to continue playing cricket like anyone else and to forcing his way into the Barbados and West Indies team like anyone else.
Archer had this to say this week following his selection to the England side: “I had got it in my head that I’d have to wait seven years. Then back in December, they obviously changed it a little bit, but I was prepared to wait however long it would take.” The same individual who felt so aggrieved at missing out on the 2014 World Cup that it defined his future ambitions, has admitted that he was willing to wait “however long it would take” to make the England side. Somehow, whatever philosophy or passion that would have guided Archer’s stance in 2014 not to wait and keep persevering for West Indies recognition, does not resemble the 2019 version of Archer who was willing to wait beyond seven years to make the England side.
We wish Archer a successful World Cup and career beyond under the emblem of the three lions. But it must not and should not go forth that he was done some major injustice by regional selectors. As was the case then and is the case now, it was a matter of choice. The regional selectors were entitled to choose the 15 they thought were the best at that time, just as much as Archer is entitled to choose the direction he thinks is best for his career and future at this time.