It has become one of the most overused clichés in sport to describe someone as ‘a marmite player’. We’re going to ignore that fact and boldly go where lots of men have gone before to say that Craig Kieswetter is the ultimate marmite player. It has been rumoured that you are never more than five metres from a member of the ‘hate’ camp, and even in the harmonious atmosphere of 51allout he splits us like no other.
It’s not clear why. No one is going to pretend he has performed like the lovechild of Adam Gilchrist and Alan Knott during his international career so far, but some of the criticism directed at him over the past month has been way over the top. If we were a cynical bunch we’d put this and the righteous indignation whenever Kevin Pietersen gets out together and figure it has something to do with their background. But we’re not, so we won’t.
Kieswetter’s ODI average is a shade below 30 (29.96), which is better than Matt Prior (24.18), James Foster (13.66), and virtually the same as Steve Davies (30.50). He is the only English ‘keeper since Alec Stewart to score a one day hundred for England, and he also has more 50’s than the other four combined. His batting certainly can improve, as his failures are often borne out of the fact he seems to see himself as purely a pinch-hitter, when he is far better than that. There have been numerous occasions where, having become bogged down early on, he has panicked and got himself out trying a big hit. He needs to realise he’s capable of playing a proper innings and catching up the strike rate later on.
Despite that, a man with an ODI hundred and a solid record at just 23 should not be discarded because of a poor tour to India, better men than him have struggled in foreign conditions. We need only look at Prior’s travails in the West Indies three years ago to see that. Kieswetter is the youngest of the realistic options while also having the best batting record. What’s more, there’s a serious lack of potential openers (assuming a Trott/Cook combo is unlikely). He and Davies are natural opening batsmen in this form of the game, they should be the two competing for this position. England have chopped and changed their side too much, it’s time to pick one and stick with them. Kieswetter is younger, has more potential and already has a better record anyway. Embrace the increasingly African nature of the side, and stick with the man from Jo’burg.