Scotland’s cricket officials sounded delighted with the outcome of the ICC’s executive board meeting in Kula Lumpur last week, and well they might have celebrated at the news they will receive nearly a million pounds from the governing body’s Targeted Assistance and Performance Programme during the next three years.
Given that the Scots failed to qualify for the last World Cup and were similarly unsuccessful in advancing to the World T20 extravaganza in Sri Lanka later this summer, they have hardly covered themselves in glory against their Associate rivals in the last few seasons and one suspects the ICC will be scanning their development closely between now and 2015.
In which light, Cricket Scotland need to use the cash windfall wisely and one thing they certainly shouldn’t do is spend an excessive amount of time or money scouring the globe for potential players with Scottish parents.
Frankly, as some people have already pointed out, this search will probably lead them down a cul-de-sac, because whilst it would clearly benefit the Scottish cause to have been able to select a Shaun Pollock or Craig Kieswetter (or Douglas Jardine and Tony Greig, in previous decades), the authorities should be concentrating on their home-grown talent and offering it as many opportunities to flourish as possible, both at home and abroad, in the future.
So how best should the administrators invest the TAPP-inspired £963,000? For starters, the CS chief executive, Roddy Smith, should be thinking about establishing closer links with such organisations as Cricket Australia and the West Indies Cricket Board, and working to organise reciprocal tours to these countries.
It might be unfeasible to arrange fixtures against Test-class personnel, but there would be considerable merit in the Scots tackling one of the state sides, such as Victoria, or New South Wales, or even an Australian development side, whilst there would be positive spin-offs from taking on the likes of Barbados or Jamaica in the Caribbean, and inviting these sides to visit Scotland in the years ahead.
At the moment, the calendar is hopelessly skewed – the Saltires played their last match at the start of June and don’t resume battle with the counties until the middle of July, and precious few outwith the sport’s obsessives will be savouring the thought of this week’s Intercontinental cup clash with Canada in Uddingston.
This situation, allied to the dreadful weather in a truly awful June, means that almost all the country’s domestic players have had no meaningful cricket at exactly the time when they should be moving forward and playing two, three, four days every week, building up rhythm in preparation for the looming clashes with Bangladesh and England.
It might be retorted that nobody can do anything about the climate, but, as I have argued before, the only way youngsters can hone their skills is by actually playing and that hasn’t happened for the last few weeks.
Wouldn’t it be better if the Scots were involved in some sort of European competition, possibly in Spain or Portugal, where the elements were unlikely to dash their plans, performing against Ireland, the Netherlands, Wales and an English ensemble, drawn from the players who are turning out for the Unicorns in the CB40?
Granted, this might not attract a big audience – it would be asking a lot of supporters to spend their holiday money on travelling to La Manga – but it would offer the prospect of consistent action for the Berringtons, MacLeods, Goudies and Sharifs of this world.
At present, the fixture list is at best piecemeal, at worst hopelessly inadequate.
Yet whenever I have spoken to such individuals as Majid Haq, or Craig Wright, or young Scott McElnea, they have sung the praises of their excursions abroad and the opportunity to be involved in a high standard of competition, amidst first-class facilities. McElnea and his Under-19 confreres went to South Africa in March and that experience yielded all manner of pluses, not least in showing the next generation what they can aspire to if they keep thriving on the philosophy that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.
In short, the Scots must look outward and strive to forge closer bonds with the established Test nations; they have to move away quickly from the current state of affairs where their leading lights are participating in the CSL on Saturday and confronting Surrey, Durham or Hampshire – or England - 24 hours later, because there is an insurmountable gulf between these competitions; and Scotland must also be tougher on those who fail, whether at coaching or playing level.
To be honest, there wasn’t enough analysis of why the Scots fared so poorly in their bid to reach the World Cup and World T20, yet Pete Steindl and his charges have to realise they are in a results-driven business and the ICC won’t continue to lob vast dollops of money in their direction if they don’t make tangible progress, both within Associate circles, and whenever they tackle a Full Member.
In relation to the issue of wooing players with Scottish parents, it would be sensible to carry out some research into the backgrounds of those involved at state or provincial level in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and it wouldn’t do any harm to delve into the significant number of Scottish-Asian families who have taken up residence in Caledonia, particularly in the Glasgow area.
But, as stated previously, we should not expect miracles here, because players of Kieswetter’s calibre are always going to pursue the chance to appear on the Test stage and nobody can really blame them for that.
The crux for Scotland lies in learning from their Irish counterparts and registering important victories in global events. As things stand, these occasions happen far too rarely, and, on the evidence of watching Paul Stirling produce a brace of brilliant innings against English county opposition in the Twenty20 sphere last week, there is still a difference in mindset between the majority of the Scots and their Irish contemporaries.
Ultimately, the TAPP money is welcome, but it will only be effective if the elite Scottish players raise their game, and accept that professionalism is a state of mind, not merely a wage packet, and if Cricket Scotland start to think bigger and more internationally.