The Neil Drysdale Column
Five Nations the way forward for leading Associates?
When the Scottish Saltires tackle the Welsh Dragons in Uddingston tomorrow, the CB40 contest should provide fresh evidence of the strides forward being taken by a youthful Caledonian collective. Yet the match also offers a template for how Associate cricket might develop in future seasons, given that there is no reason why the likes of Scotland, Ireland, Wales and the Netherlands could not join forces to create a European event, which would be a natural progression from what already exists in rugby.The Neil Drysdale Column: Previous Articles
Such ideas have to be discussed now, because the probability is that the English counties will not continue to allow the Scots and the Dutch entry to the CB40 competition on an indefinite basis. And although the Cricket Scotland chief executive, Roddy Smith, restated his commitment to that limited-overs tournament last week, prior to his compatriots running Surrey close and defeating the Notts Outlaws in their first two fixtures, Smith is too much of a pragmatist not to appreciate that the English organisations recently rejected the recommendations of the Morgan Report and are determined to pursue a greater number of Twenty20 matches in the future. It might not happen overnight, but in the next two or three years, the ICC’s Associate members will have to demonstrate they possess the long-term vision to survive and thrive without depending on hand-outs from counties, many of whom are struggling financially.
In which light, the need for innovation is obvious, and an annual Five (or Six) Nations Championship is one means by which the emerging countries could assist one another. The Irish have already departed the CB40 ranks, and are doing their utmost to persuade the ICC to grant them Full Member status, in addition to searching for enhanced funding from the governing body’s new Targeted Assistance and Performance Programme. Yet, whilst their ambition is admirable, Ireland are being forced to rely at the moment on a piecemeal fixture itinerary, which denies them regular high-profile contests, and restricts them to the occasional chance to test their mettle against an England or Australia.
How much better the situation would be if they – and their European neighbours – knew that they would be involved in an eight-match competition, played on a home and away basis, every summer. At present, the Irish are unquestionably flying high, and, rather akin to their rugby provinces, seem to be churning out a formidable seam of precocious talent. But the Scots, too, are showing signs of raising their game and, in individuals such as Calum MacLeod, Preston Mommsen, Richie Berrington, Ryan Flannigan, Alasdair Evans, Safyaan Sharif and Josh Davey, have plenty of sizzling players with their best years in front of them, allied to a burgeoning crop of Under-19s, who will participate at the World Cup later this year. The Netherlands, despite accusations that they are overly reliant on South African and Australian recruits, with tenuous Dutch links – which once again brings us back to the Irish, or more specifically the football team coached by Jack Charlton – have recorded some excellent results since being invited to join the CB40 and won both their matches, against Gloucester and Worcester, last weekend. As for Wales, their best performers used to graduate naturally into the England side – a path which was followed by such stars as Tony Lewis, Matthew Maynard and Robert Croft – but that supply line appears to have virtually dried up, which means there is merit in the Welsh joining a new European tournament, just as they do in the RaboDirect League.
Their inclusion would bring the number of representatives to four and, although the identity of the fifth might require a few shards of imagination, the best outcome appears to be the formation of a “Rest of Europe” squad, which would offer opportunities to the cream of Italy, Denmark, Jersey, the Channel Islands and wherever else promising players were being produced. This team might have to embark on a steep learning curve, and suffer a few poor campaigns, but there is hardly a nation in Europe where cricket is not being played at some level, and the ICC is dedicated to investing throughout the region, so a European Championship would surely be a logical next step.
With five combatants involved in the structure, and such tasty tussles as Scotland v Ireland and Wales v the Netherlands on the calendar, this event would provide all the participants with eight matches every summer: a number which, backed up by fixtures against touring Test sides, and such entities as development parties and academy squads, would bring the Associates closer to achieving their objective of forging a schedule which makes sense, for players, coaches, sponsors and supporters alike. And it would also help the emerging sides to sell their product and stand on their own feet.
In short, it’s a no-brainer. Thus, when the Saltires commence battle with the Welsh, it should be the prelude to a bigger adventure for both countries.