The Neil Drysdale Column
Scotland: County or Country?
There was a time, not so long ago, when Scottish cricket appeared capable of rising to the summit of the Associate ladder, especially in the aftermath of the ICC Trophy in Ireland in 2005, when Craig Wright’s squad surged to World Cup qualification, remaining unbeaten throughout the competition, and trouncing the Irish in the final.
Yet, ever since that halcyon summer, it is Erin’s finest who have improved in leaps and bounds and seem to have grasped that the best way of making waves is to aim as high as possible.
Ireland, fresh from triumphing at the World T20 qualifier in Dubai last month, have just approached the ICC with a bold proposal, which would see them being granted between 12 and 15 one-day international matches every year against the globe’s elite ensembles. As the Irish point out, they deserve this opportunity, having beaten such heavyweights as England and Pakistan at the last two World Cups, whilst Phil Simmons’ personnel have won 30 of their last 33 fixtures against Associate opposition.
Scotland, by comparison, will embark on another season in the CB40 against the likes of Surrey, Hampshire, Notts and Durham, prior to entertaining the ECB’s finest at The Grange in August. It surely poses the question: does it really benefit the Scots to continue operating both as a county and a country, and especially if their results against the professional sides from South of the Border tend to stick to the same basic formula of one or two heroic wins and six or seven defeats every season?
Or would they be better off following Ireland’s example and quitting the limited-overs tournament, while laying down plans to organise more high-profile contests against the ICC’s Full Members?
When I spoke to Craig Wright this week, he correctly observed that there are significant differences between the two nations, in terms of the how they are developing at the moment. Ireland, for instance, have up to nine or 10 of their regulars involved with English county organisations and they would be effectively fielding a second XI in the CB40 competition if Simmons was denied the opportunity to select such influential performers as Paul Stirling, George Dockrell, William Porterfield, Boyd Rankin, Ed Joyce and Kevin and Niall O’Brien.
In these circumstances, one can comprehend why they would be reluctant to commit to a series of meetings with county rivals, which would usually end in losses.
The Scots have gone down a different route by putting the majority of their stars on contracts within their homeland, which means that players of the calibre of Richie Berrington, Majid Haq, Calum MacLeod and Safyaan Sharif are readily available whenever they are asked to lock horns with English opposition.
But, to be honest, there is something compelling about the Irish vision, which is lacking in Scotland at the moment and much of that has to do with the word “vision”. Rightly or wrongly, Warren Deutrom, the ebullient chief executive of Cricket Ireland, believes there is little value in thinking small or being afraid to rattle cages and, whether at home or abroad, he has taken the fight to the ICC, arguing persuasively that the present structure, where such under-achieving teams as Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and even the West Indies are handed vast sums of cash by the sport’s global governing body, irrespective of performance, is a nonsense.
“Our battle is to convince the ICC to fund cricket nations on the basis of merit and need, not entitlement,” says Deutrom, who is also determined to create an inter-provincial structure in Ireland, similar to what already exists in rugby. Yes, they might struggle for the next few seasons, and there may be instances where their lack of experience is painfully exposed.
But at least, one gets the sense that they are laying the foundations for the next decade and investing in the future. And when one bears in mind that Bangladesh have been Full Members of the ICC since after the 1999 world Cup and have hardly set the heather on fire for more than a decade, it would be bizarre, not to say perverse, if the Irish were denied a bigger platform.
Certainly, I would fancy their chances if they tackled Bangladesh or Zimbabwe at any neutral venue, over one day or four, in the next couple of years. And that has to count for something.
“I think that we are on the same page as the Irish,” said Wright, the coach of his homeland’s exciting Under-19s, who will be involved in World Cup action in Brisbane’s Gold Coast later this summer.
But it is difficult to escape the feeling that Ireland are working from a better-crafted script with a bigger budget and a clearer notion of the beginning, middle and end of their awfully big adventure.