South Africa’s discarded hero, Ashwell Prince, has said that he accepts his time with the national team is over, but says the decision to end his international career was never really his. While it’s unlikely that Prince will slot into the current national set-up, the way his Test career was terminated still leaves a slightly bitter taste. By ANT SIMS.
While Graeme Smith has taken over as captain at Surrey, starting a new journey and building towards the end of his career, Ashwell Prince is simply biding his time playing county cricket, having accepted that his time with the national side is over.
It’s not much of a surprise. He signed on as a Kolpak player for Lancashire at the start of the season and he last represented South Africa in 2011. Cricket South Africa opted not to renew his contract and English county Lancashire pounced on the chance.
Prince was dropped after the Sri Lankan Boxing Day Test following a string of scratchy performances. And although the 35-year-old believes his international playing days are gone, he still thinks he’s good enough to play Test cricket.
“It’s not really me who has made that decision to retire from international cricket,” Prince said. “It’s been almost 18 months since I last played a Test match and I think, if I’m being realistic, those days have well and truly passed.”
Prince might not have represented South Africa for a long time, but it’s hard to picture where he would slot into the current Test set up, especially with the flurry of younger players entering the ranks recently. Dean Elgar has been the only blip in the Test team, but JP Duminy’s return is imminent and he provides an all-round option for the side. Prince might still be good enough for Tests, sure, but on the merit of the current squad, he’s probably not quite good enough to make it. However, his fall from grace, the only cloud hanging over his silent exit from the game, is one of the few problems still remaining for Cricket South Africa.
Cricket, and especially Test cricket, is a brutal beast and nobody expects players to be wrapped in cotton wool when their form starts to dip and their exit is near. However, Prince has previously hinted that he simply got cast into the wilderness and while he still has a few years left to ensure he can spend his non-playing career comfortably, it’s a pity that such an air of hostility surrounds somebody dedicated to serving the country of his birth.
Prince was insistent that he has nothing left to prove to those back home. In 66 matches, he scored 3,665 runs at an average of 41.64 and while his greatest successes came in the middle order, he was often carted up and down the batting order as he was needed. There is a notion that players should be able to adjust, no matter what the situation; having the chance to settle into a batting position and being kept there when you are performing well is one of the luxuries senior members of the squad are often afforded.
“I don’t have anything to prove to anyone back home. I still think I’m good enough to play Test cricket. My record is there and if people don’t have the belief in me anymore then there’s nothing more I can do. I’m here and I’m committed to playing for Lancashire.”
He has previously represented Lancashire during the 2009-10 season and has already amassed 2,000 first-class runs with the team. He marked his return with 95 against Worcestershire and will have another opportunity to pile on the runs when Lancashire take on Kent next week.
Prince seems rather settled in his current career choice and while he seems well-aware that is playing years are coming to a close, he’s looking to repay a team who showed faith in him when nobody else did.
“At the time in my career when people started doubting my abilities, Lancashire were there to give me an opportunity. I just feel I had to pay them back with some loyalty.
“I’ve got two years to run on my contract and I’m not getting any younger. I’ll be 36 next month so I’ll be 37 at the end of the contract. We’ll see how the body is after that.”
Of course Lancashire wasn’t the only county after the batsman’s services for the summer. There was another county interested in his services but he turned them down, out of loyalty perhaps, but also possibly because time with Lancashire means less time in the field with all the rain the county gets.
Whatever his reasons for the move, at least Prince had a fall-back after his international career came to an abrupt end. Other players won’t be so lucky. All of which leaves one unanswered question: are the boards doing enough to ensure the welfare of all their players once those players have ended their playing careers? DM
Photo: South Africa’s Ashwell Prince (R) plays a shot as wicketkeeper Brad Haddin looks on during the second and final test cricket match of the series against Australia in Johannesburg November 17, 2011. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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