The Neil Drysdale Column
Are Scotland 'winging it'?
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Apologies for bringing this column to you later than expected, but it has been a strange old week in Scottish cricket. Some of us were under the impression that the Saltires squad for this weekend’s opening brace of CB 40 fixtures against Surrey and Notts would be confirmed on Tuesday, but then Wednesday came and went, without any news, and the 13-man party was only released at noon on Thursday. Part of this was down to Cricket Scotland finalising the details of Richie Berrington’s one-month loan arrangement with Leicestershire, but the Scots have also chosen Josh Davey and Alasdair Evans, who are contracted to Middlesex and Derbyshire, which has further muddied the waters.
I recently wrote a piece, asking whether Scottish cricket was benefiting from effectively operating both as a county and a country, and the swirling events of the last few days have highlighted the difficulties which are increasingly cropping up in these thorny situations. Quite simply, now that Davey and Evans have moved South, they should be aspiring to gain regular first-team selection for their county employers, and while it might help the Scots in the short term that they have been released for Saltires duty, it doesn’t send out the right signals when these promising players are flitting between England and Scotland, let alone representing different teams in different competitions.
Berrington’s move to Grace Road is even more puzzling. At 25, the Greenock all-rounder has just been granted greater responsibility at Glenpark, yet now, for the next four weeks, he will be commuting between his homeland and Leicester, available for the Saltires, while attempting to score some big runs on county championship action. If he succeeds – and one has to wish him well – Berrington will surely be granted a full-time contract and that might be the best thing that could happen in his development. But, of course, it will restrict his availability for the Scots in the later stages of the season. In which light, and especially given his importance to his country, this agreement seems a muddle, a fudge, and further raises the question of whether the Scots have any long-term vision.
The alternative – that they are winging it – seems the more plausible theory when one examines the make-up of the CB40 ensemble. There is nothing wrong with the batting options, or at least there won’t be if the likes of Berrington, Preston Mommsen, Calum MacLeod, Ryan Flannigan and Davey maintain the sterling progress which they have made during the last year or two. But the inclusion of Fraser Watts leaves one pondering as to whether he is simply in the ranks for his experience, or what he might do, rather than for any logical reasons, given his lacklustre displays during the winter.
Some people might think I have a personal problem with Fraser – which isn’t the case – but he has now gained in excess of 200 caps while averaging well under 30, and it is doubtful whether he is suddenly going to discover new peaks of achievement. Yes, he has experience and shed-loads of it. But his inclusion isn’t based on present form and I would argue that the Saltires have to regard this CB40 campaign as a critical one for their youngsters.
It’s not quite “Sink or Swim”, but if there any validity to the Scots staying in this tournament, it lies in exposing the best of their callow performers to a higher standard of cricket than they will ever encounter on the domestic club circuit. We already know what Watts can and can’t do, and I would have preferred if the Scots had taken a punt on one of their under-19 collective and offered him an opportunity. The Irish flung Paul Stirling and George Dockrell into the firing line barely before they had left school and have profited – as, probably, will England! – from that faith. But, in Scotland, and not only in cricket, but rugby and football as well, there still appears to be too much caution about taking kids out of their comfort zone and testing their mettle.
As for the recruitment of South African, Jean Symes, as the Saltires’ overseas player, one has to inquire whether a spinning all-rounder was the best choice, given the paucity of pace options which the Saltires have in these early contests. Considering that Majid Haq has become an automatic pick, and the selectors have also gone with Moneeb Iqbal, in addition to having Mommsen as back-up, I would have imagined there was more merit in the Scots pursuing a decent opening bowler from the Southern Hemisphere to augment the efforts of Matthew Parker, Evans and Gordon Drummond. Yet, sometimes, these overseas signings work and on other occasions they don’t, and it might be premature to cast judgment on Symes. We’ll know soon enough whether the gamble has paid off.
Essentially, as Haq has pointed out, the Saltires can no longer be content with grinding out one or two victories every summer; if there is any justification for persisting in the CB40, they have to be challenging for the semi-finals and the old excuses no longer suffice. Three of the 13 players in the squad are aligned to English counties, another is a South African professional, and the majority of the remainder are full-time sportsmen, thanks to the efforts of Cricket Scotland and their various sponsors.
A decade ago, the Scots could only have dreamed of this scenario becoming a reality, so when the action commences at the Grange on Sunday, the Saltires have to demonstrate a new-found steel and ability to seize the initiative with bat and ball, regardless of their opponents. Surrey may be the holders, but they and the rest of the English sides have spent most of April sitting on the sidelines watching the rain. So, for once, they have not had the chance to build up any rhythm and the hosts have to capitalise on that knowledge.
And if they can hit the ground running, anything is possible.
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