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Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Sports

Feeling like a Kiwi

South Africa's cricket team arrive in England later this week but New Zealand's Grant Elliott is adamant he is not in the wrong tour party after turning in two standout performances for his adopted country.

Kevin Pietersen may be the best known recent 'defector' from South African cricket, on the grounds a racial quota policy was stunting his progress, but the England batsman is not alone in leaving the land of his birth to pursue a livelihood elsewhere.

For example, South Africa batsman Jacques Rudolph has put his Test career on hold to play in English county cricket, a financially enticing option for many of his compatriots given the pound's strength against the rand.

Others, such as the Johannesburg-born Elliott, who made his Test debut for New Zealand against England in March, have ventured further afield.

"When I played in the Test, it was quite emotional," Elliott said after his pivotal role in New Zealand's victory in the third one-day international against England here Saturday.

"It's something I always wanted to do as a child. I thought it was going to be with South Africa but since I moved to New Zealand, it's my country of choice and I love it," said Elliott at the end of an extraordinary week.

Last Monday, the 29-year-old all-rounder was called up from Surrey club side Weybridge, in southeast England, as cover for the injured Jacob Oram.

Two days later the medium-pacer marked his limited overs international debut with three for 23 in the controversial no-result second ODI at Edgbaston.

That outcome looked all the worse for New Zealand, already 1-0 down in the five-match series, as they collapsed to 75 for six in Bristol.

But Elliott, coming in at No 6, responded with a maiden ODI fifty and, together with Kyle Mills, guided the Black Caps to a still seemingly sub-standard 182 all out.

However, England collapsed and, in storybook style, Elliott took the last wicket to seal a 22-run victory.

"That was my first win for New Zealand and it was an amazing feeling," said Elliott, who finished with impressive figures of two for nine in 5.2 overs.

"I don't think anything can really top that."

He added: "A little bit of luck is involved, as you can see with my selection. Playing for Weybridge, there was the chance someone might get injured and suddenly I got called up.

"I feel very fortunate. I just love playing for New Zealand," said Elliott, who represented Transvaal (now Gauteng) and Griqualand West in South Africa and made his debut for Wellington in the 2005/06 New Zealand season.

While Pietersen has been heavily criticised for leaving South Africa, Elliott said it was far from clear a top-class batsman was being lost to the national side.

"I played junior cricket against him and he used to bat at eight and bowl off-spin. He's changed a little bit since then. He hit a long ball then but he just hits it now more consistently.

"There are a lot of South Africans that have moved to other countries and I think it's a matter of adopting the culture if you love the country and you have a passion for playing for them."

Daniel Vettori was certainly grateful for Elliott's change of allegiance.

And having seen Elliott also make his Test debut when Oram was injured, the New Zealand captain said both all-rounders could now feature at The Oval on Wednesday and in Saturday's series finale at Lord's.

"A week ago Grant was playing club cricket and it just shows what a quality player he is, doing what he has done.

"At Bristol we saw how good a batter he is and in the game in Birmingham we saw how good a bowler he is. We knew he could do it."

Vettori, whose side are looking for a repeat of their 3-1 home one-day series win over England in February, said Oram, currently out with a hamstring problem, might return as a batsman only for the London matches.

"I think we will get him back definitely as a batsman," he insisted. "I am not 100 percent sure we will get him as a bowler."

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