Every successful sports team needs three different types of age-group performers: the young blades, who lend precocious effervescence to the mix, those in the middle of their careers, who are neither too callow, nor long in the tooth, and the older sweats with the requisite experience to energise their colleagues when life grows tough.
Scottish cricket has plenty of wannabe willow-wielders with bags of potential, and there are seasoned campaigners such as Majid Haq, Gordon Drummond and Fraser Watts at the other end of the spectrum.
Yet, as Haq pointed out recently, whereas the most prosperous Associate country, Ireland, boasts myriad performers aged between 25 and 29, the minimal number in Caledonian colours is one of the squad’s most conspicuous weaknesses.
All of which brings us to the curious case of Ross Lyons, a fellow who seemed destined for a lengthy stint in his country’s ranks, and yet has now virtually ruled himself out of adding to his current haul of 64 Scotland caps, because he is working as an assistant manager in a retail business in his native Glasgow.
Lyons is just 27 and anybody who watched his gallus performances for the Saltires, four or five years ago, will appreciate that he is exactly the sort of resilient little coiled spring of tenacious determination who should be bolstering Scotland’s bowling attack at the moment.
Indeed, it would be a terrible waste if the former Clydesdale and Carlton spinner, who is now turning out for East Kilbride, joined the likes of Keith Sheridan in being under-used by his homeland.
But, on the evidence of the chat I had with Lyons this week, he seems resigned to the fact that he can’t combine job security with the demands of pursuing fresh Scotland honours. And, given that, relatively recently, he lost his father and appreciates that he has more things to worry about than himself, it is difficult to blame him for that stance.
After all, this is the man who went to the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean and didn’t play a single match. Then history repeated itself when Pete Steindl’s personnel qualified for the first World T20 tournament and Lyons, once again, languished on the sidelines. His last outing for the Scots was in the Intercontinental Cup final defeat to Afghanistan in 2010 and, barring a change of attitude, that was his swansong.
Ever since, the balance between cricket and life in the shopping environment has tilted in favour of the latter, and I know how assiduously Lyons has applied himself to his new career, because it took me the best part of a fortnight to track him down. But surely, in the current climate, with Scotland crying out for spin options, he would return in the right circumstances?
“Well, it’s not really up to me,” he replied, with trademark candour. “I can’t give the same commitment to cricket that I used to do, because I have a full-time job outwith sport and I have to devote myself to that. I would love to play for Scotland again, but I know Pete has the attitude that he wants all the guys concentrating full time on cricket – and I can understand that – and I can’t commit to that myself if I want to find a more secure career. It is always a dream to represent your country, and I have some great memories, but my life has changed tack, I am enjoying myself at East Kilbride, they are an ambitious club with a five-year plan, and I don’t see things changing now.
“I still talk to a few of the guys in the set-up, and I follow their progress, and I actually think they are moving in the right direction, despite what happened at the World T20 qualifying event [ where the Scots finished fifth]. Pete has done a good job, and I fully back the way in which Cricket Scotland have made it a priority to put more and more of their guys on contracts. But I am going in a new direction, it takes up a lot of my time, and the bottom line is that you have to think about life beyond the game.”
Lyons insisted that his passion for the sport was undiminished and told me he was committed to improving his batting, whilst refining his bowling, for East Kilbride, as the latter strive to develop their youth structure and gaze towards the summit of the club circuit in Scotland.
But sometimes, when sons or daughters suffer family bereavement, they feel they have to escape from childish things and knuckle down to accepting greater responsibility for those around them.
Hence, while one Scottish pundit responded to Lyons’ name with the claim that he had been badly treated, the player himself refused to moan about perceived injustices or whinge about his present situation, even though Steindl has made it clear that he needs to bolster his spin reserves in the future.
So we have an impasse, which, as often happens, is unsatisfactory to both parties.
Ultimately, though, Scottish cricket isn’t so awash with talent that it can afford to lose somebody with Ross Lyons’ abilities at just 27. And if it means the player and the governing body sitting down and discussing short and long-term options, that is surely preferable to one of Scotland’s leading assets slipping into premature retirement.