Ahead of the start of the third test between England and South Africa on Thursday, many a column inch has been devoted to the apparent fragility of England’s batting line-up and discussion has inevitably turned to whether personnel changes are necessary. In particular, questions have been asked about whether England should persevere with 25 year-old opener Keaton Jennings, whose run totals of 8, 33, 0 and 3 in the first two tests have not convinced his critics that he is the right man to accompany Alastair Cook to the crease.
Jennings will know better than anyone else that he will have to improve his run tally in order to be certain of his place in the side. Keeping that place will surely be incentive enough for Jennings to put in a strong performance against the Proteas but, if he needed any additional motivation, Jennings will surely wish to show the South Africans what they are missing.
Jennings was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on 19 June 1992. He is the latest in a line of an impressive South African cricket dynasty – he is the son of Ray Jennings, the former South African test cricketer and coach, while his uncle (Kenneth Jennings) and brother (Dylan Jennings) both played first class cricket in South Africa. Keaton himself has continued the family tradition, making his first-class debut for Gauteng in December 2011 against Free State, before captaining the South Africa Under-19 cricket team on its tour of England in 2011.
While Jennings could have made himself available for selection by South Africa at international level, in 2012 he took the decision to represent England instead. Jennings has explained the decision as follows:
“I have always said since I was small that if I make it in cricket that is brilliant, if I don’t then I want to know I have given it my best shot. At the time I sat down with my Dad and I felt it would be my best opportunity to live my dream in the UK and I’m very glad as I sit here now to have made that hard decision.”
While Jennings is certainly not the first South African-born cricketer to play for England, his route to international cricket represents an interesting case study on the application of the relevant eligibility criteria.
The ECB’s Eligibility Criteria
The English Cricket Board’s Regulations Defining Qualification for England (the “Regulations”) set out the circumstances in which a player can represent the England cricket team. The Regulations provide in summary that:
- Subject to the overriding discretion of the English Cricket Board (the “ECB”) acting with the consent of the International Cricket Council (the “ICC”), a cricketer who has already qualified to play for England by 25 April 2012 by meeting the qualification criteria in place prior to that date will continue to be able to play for England if:
- He continues to be a British citizen and he makes a declaration to the ECB; and
- He has not either played cricket for any ICC Full Member Country except England at Under-17 level or above or played first class cricket for any full member country outside England and Wales (except as an overseas cricketer, or as otherwise approved by the ECB); and
- He also continues to be qualified for England pursuant to the provisions laid down from time to time by the relevant ICC governing rules.
- Subject to the overriding discretion of the ECB (which shall only be exercised where the ECB adjudges that exceptional circumstances have been demonstrated) acting with the consent of the ICC, a cricketer who has not qualified for England by 25 April 2012 in accordance with the qualification criteria in place prior to that date will only become qualified to play for England if:
- He is either a British citizen and was either:
- born within England and Wales; or
- where his residence in England and Wales commenced prior to his 18th birthday, he has been resident in England and Wales for the immediately preceding four consecutive years; or
- where his residence in England and Wales commenced after his 18th birthday, he has been resident in England and Wales for the immediately preceding seven consecutive years (save that the ECB can reduce such period to four years for cricketers who were previously a citizen of a country other than an ICC full member country and in relation to any such cricketer who has remained resident in England and Wales on a continuous consecutive basis at any time prior to 25 April 2012); and
- He has not during the relevant period of residency played cricket for any ICC full member country except England at Under-17 level or above or played first class cricket in any full member country outside England and Wales except as an overseas cricketer or as approved by the ECB; and
- He makes a declaration to the ECB and is also qualified for England pursuant to the provisions laid down by the ICC.
- He is either a British citizen and was either:
The reference in the Regulations to 25 April 2012 is important. Prior to that date, the qualification period for overseas cricketers was four years of residency in England and Wales. Following the amendment to the Regulations from 25 April 2012, a two-tier system was introduced. Now, players who take up residency in England or Wales after their 18th birthday will need to wait seven years to gain eligibility for selection, whereas those who arrive in England or Wales before their 18th birthday will only have to wait four years.
This amendment to the Regulations was introduced in order to support the ECB’s youth development programmes and, at the same time, to make it harder for overseas players to easily swap international allegiances. It is hoped by the ECB that this system will improve the opportunities open to young English cricketers and, in turn, that the development of talented young players will over time improve the fortunes of the English national side.
Jennings’ qualification for England
Jennings holds British citizenship through his mother, who was born in Sunderland. However, because he was born and raised in South Africa, he was also required to fulfil the residence requirements set out in the Regulations before he could represent the England cricket team.
Jennings was first registered by Durham in August 2012, at the age of 20. That registration took place after the Regulations had been amended to extend the residence requirement from four years to seven years for those cricketers whose residence in England and Wales commenced after their 18th birthday. On the face of things, Jennings would have to wait seven years before qualifying as eligible for England.
However, Jennings actually entered the country on 2 April 2012 (i.e. four months before he was first registered with Durham). Given that his residence period commenced before 25 April 2012, his eligibility for England was determined in accordance with the eligibility rules in force prior to the enactment of the amended Regulations. This meant that Jennings was required to demonstrate only four years of residence (not seven) before he could qualify to represent England. Had his residence commenced a month later, he would have been required to wait a further three years before qualifying as eligible for selection.
By April 2016, Jennings had fulfilled the requisite four-year eligibility period. Only seven months later, in November 2016, Jennings was named in England’s test squad for the final two matches of their series against India. Jennings scored a century on his test debut, a feat he would no doubt like to repeat in the third test against South Africa.
In short, Jennings’ arrival in England was timed perfectly. Overseas players who find themselves in similar situations nowadays will have to wait almost twice as long as Jennings did before being able to represent England. Whether this means that overseas players are more likely in the future to travel to England before their 18th birthday remains to be seen.
The issue of eligibility in sport is covered in further detail by the author here.