The Neil Drysdale Column
What lessons can Scottish cricket learn from rugby?
I have always been a club man, a supporter of grassroots organisations, whether in cricket, rugby, or any other pursuit. I’ve invariably been suspicious of attempts by governing bodies to step into the day-to-day running of any pastime over which they preside. But, having just watched Scotland’s rugby stars conjure up a magnificent victory against the Australians Down Under – their first win there since 1982 – I reckon it is time cricket learned lessons from their oval-ball counterparts in planning for the future.The Neil Drysdale Column: Previous Articles
The nay-sayers will doubtless respond that this was an isolated success for the Scots, who had previously crashed to embarrassment in last year’s World Cup, as the prelude to gaining the wooden spoon in the Six Nations Championship.
They will probably add that the Aussies were fielding an experimental side, with one eye on this weekend’s “serious” business against Wales, and talk about the terrible weather conditions which transformed lengthy parts of the contest into scenes straight out of “The Perfect Storm”.
Yet, the other side of the argument is that Scotland have unearthed a new generation of stars, such as Stuart Hogg, Matt Scott, Tom Brown, Ryan Grant, Ross Rennie, Joe Ansbro, Jon Welsh, Robert Harley, Chris Fusaro and Richie Gray – most of whom were in action against the ARU’s finest – because Glasgow and Edinburgh have finally started making a success of professionalism, more than 15 years after the International Rugby Board sanctioned the pay-for-play era.
And the main reason for that development has been the fact that youngsters in the mould of Hogg, Grant and Co have grown accustomed to participating in tough fixtures, week in, week out, whether in the RaboDirect or Heineken Cup competitions. There is nowhere to hide in these events, no comfort zone, or evenings where you can slip into second or third gear and be assured that no-one will notice.
Which brings us, rather neatly. back to cricket. It is a month into the new CSL club championship, and already I have been told by various members at different organisations that there are too many participants and not enough quality performers on the Scottish circuit. These observers, many of whom have decades of experience and no particular axe to grind, believe that Scotland’s elite players are never going to thrive on a wider stage, for as long as they are allowed to score runs and take wickets so easily on a Saturday, only to come an almighty cropper when pitched against a Hampshire or Durham 24 hours later.
It is a compelling perspective, and whilst many of the clubs might offer the credible riposte that they have other considerations to worry about than unearthing future internationalists, we are at a crucial stage in the history of the game in Europe and big ideas need to be discussed by all the relevant parties in the sport.
One such proposal concerns the creation of a competition, run on similar lines to rugby’s RaboDirect event, whereby newly-established district sides from Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands would take part in a cross-border tournament, much as happened when the Celtic League originally sprang into life. This notion would require plenty of attention to detail, but, broadly speaking, it would involve the best 50 or 60 players from the participating countries leaving the club scene and committing themselves to a diet of more intense cricket, duly providing a pathway to the international stage.
It might spark initial fury among clubs, who would suddenly be stripped of all their prime assets, and one only has to look back at the years of division which scarred Scottish rugby to warn against any repetition of that internecine warfare. Yet, the proposal has merit, in that it provides a natural progression from domestic action to the Test or ODI circuit.
In the first instance, the Scots have to accept the wisdom of building the future around four regions, the North, South, East and West, possibly based in Aberdeen (or Dundee), Dumfries (or Ayr), Edinburgh and Glasgow. These entities would have access to the leading lights in their areas and the quartet would vie for supremacy in a new Inter-District structure, with matches staged home and away at the start of a new season.
If this had happened in 2012, the Scots’ prime talent would have been given the opportunity to prepare for CB40 action by taking part in six consecutive matches against the best of the rest. And although that might not have produced an instant transformation from the Saltires’ disappointing results against the English counties, it would have offered youngsters such as Ryan Flannigan, Ewan Chalmers, Matty Parker and Craig Wallace a tougher breeding ground than has been obvious in the CSL. It would also have settled some other issues which need addressing, including the search for pace bowling depth, and make life harder for batsmen, which, on the evidence of the CB40, is essential.
This competition would pave the way for Scotland’s cream to come face-to-face with their rivals in the Irish and Dutch structures. What if the best two sides from Scotland advanced into a RaboDirect-style tournament in the second half of the season?
This would furnish them with a minimum of ten matches – if Ireland and the Netherlands also had two provincial teams involved in the competition and fixtures were arranged, on a home-and away basis. At a stroke, that would give the combatants a fully-integrated 16-game schedule, and there could even be a grand final between the two most successful sides. Of course, it would ruffle feathers and cause logistical problems at the outset. But so did the Celtic League in rugby and, nowadays, Leinster and Munster are arguably the best in Europe and Glasgow and Edinburgh have recently risen to the challenge.
Even as I write this, I know I will be accused of “selling out” the clubs and, if truth be told, there is a part of me which rails against the governing bodies effectively taking over control of the best players. And yet, in the final analysis, and regardless of what its’ champions might protest, I have watched sufficient club action throughout the last decade to recognise that the talent is spread far too thinly for the status quo to provide any meaningful preparation for those who want to prove their worth for Scotland.
And that rugby victory in Newcastle wasn’t a fluke. It happened because Glasgow and Edinburgh’s glittering youngsters know how to scrap, forage and win in a tight contest. Sadly, for the clubs, that same intensity is never going to replicated in the CSL.