Ricky Bawa has been a stalwart figure in Scottish cricket for many years, whether captaining his beloved Uddingston, or fighting for greater recognition for the sport in his homeland.
So when this redoubtable character speaks of his unease at how the domestic game is in danger of stagnating, while club standards slip, and the country’s leading players are being denied a proper pathway towards preparing them for county contests and international fixtures, perhaps it is time for others to sit up and take notice.
What is not in much doubt is that the Irish have taken significant strides forward, in comparison with their Scottish counterparts, and yet there isn’t a huge difference between the raw talent which exists in both countries.
However, last week’s battle between both nation’s second-string ensembles at Bothwell Castle Policies had a worryingly familiar theme, whereby the hosts put themselves into a decent position to win the game, only for their opponents to seize the initiative when it mattered and eventually seal victory.
Bawa doesn’t pretend there are any easy solutions, which will yield instant fixes, and, as a doctor, he appreciates the need to approach these matters with surgical precision. But he is surely justified in questioning the gulf between the new CSL competition and such tournaments as the Clydesdale Bank 40 event.
Nor does he refrain from querying the format and raison d’etre of the present Regional Series, which has struggled to transcend such problems as player unavailability, scheduling clashes, apathy and the weather.
“On what I have seen of the CSL so far, the standard has suffered from going back to regional leagues, when compared to the SNCL, and that decline is particularly evident in the West, but I realise that striking the right balance between helping the clubs and giving our elite cricketers the chance to play at a higher level is difficult,” said Bawa.
“Basically, the CSL does not prepare our guys for the challenge of taking on the English sides,
but I am not convinced our Regional Series is much better at the moment. In fact, I don’t think we have 44 elite players, as things stand. What we have is a lot of ambitious lads on contracts, who are hardly playing any cricket, and that can’t be the right way to go.
“Maybe we should include a team of former Scotland stars in the Regional competition and they could show the younger players in the other sides how to build an innings and they could also pass on their experience to the youngsters. And I know Cricket Scotland is keen to create some sort of inter-district tournament, run in conjunction with the Irish provinces, which sounds like a good idea. I don’t believe we should keep changing the structure, for the sake of it – the CSL is up and running, so let’s stick with it – but we definitely need a tier above that, by which the best talent can keep advancing.
“The alternative is not an option, because I think our cricket might stagnate, if we stick with the status quo. From a club perspective, I can understand the merits of the CSL – it was pretty dispiriting driving all the way from Uddingston to Aberdeen, and then watching the weather ruin the match – and I applaud the improvements which have taken place at places such as Dumfries.
"But it is the gap between the Saturday action and the international programme, which is a big concern for me, and I know I’m not alone. At Uddingston, for instance, we have Calum MacLeod, and, at exactly the time when he should be playing, day in, day out, there are no fixtures for the next few weeks and no more CB 40 games until the middle of July.
"Whatever we do, we have to address that issue, because there is only so much value to be gained from training constantly, without learning lessons from being involved in meaningful fixtures on a regular basis. I certainly don’t blame the guys, and I appreciate the problems which would be involved in Cricket Scotland trying to fund a greater number of trips to England or Ireland, but you can’t develop as a professional if you are only playing once a week in the CSL.”
That is undeniable, but, as Bawa admitted, there are not endless reserves of money in the governing body’s coffers and that situation is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. One suspects the time has arrived for cricket to go down the rugby route, but, there again, that hardly suggests a smooth path into a new dawn.
Ultimately, this is one debate where the correct decisions have to be reached and the sooner the better.