The Neil Drysdale Column
One step forward two steps back
It always seems to be the way with Scottish cricket at the moment. Whenever there is a genuinely uplifting development in the sport, such as the national side’s comprehensive victory over ICC Full Members, Bangladesh, there will be talk of renaissances, of corners being turned, allied to players declaring the need to “kick on” in search of coveted consistency. And then, with a wearily predictable thud, the whole positive mood will come crashing down like the House of Usher and normal service will be resumed.The Neil Drysdale Column: Previous Articles
When it is not the weather raining on parades, it is the dark cloud of negative headlines surrounding Caledonia’s elite performers, which often casts a long shadow. Reports proliferated from the 2007 World Cup of how several members of the Scottish squad seemed more interested in treating the global tournament as an excuse to party than fighting for their lives to enhance their credibility in the Caribbean. And now, several Saltires have been reprimanded for their antics in a Taunton hotel last month, where they spilled a jug of iced water over a mattress and created enough noise for other guests to be concerned, although one doubts if there was really an excess of “fear” and “disgust” among residents, as was reported in several Scottish newspapers on Friday.
The fashion in which this story hit sections of the media seemed to surprise Roddy Smith, the chief executive of Cricket Scotland, who has attempted to downplay the incident, which he described as “minor” and insisted was “largely related to noise issues.” And yet, a couple of counter-arguments immediately raise their head. Firstly, given that the majority of the Scots are now professional cricketers, who make a living from the sport, and repeatedly tell interviewers that they are benefiting from these full-time deals, one has to wonder what on earth they were thinking about leaving themselves in such an exposed position, amidst what has been a desperate season for the majority of them.
This hotel controversy occurred, prior to the unexpected victory over Bangladesh, and happened on a weekend when the Saltires slumped to another heavy defeat in the CB40 competition. There has not exactly been much to celebrate on their own time, let alone while they are meant to be representing Scotland. And, even if some of the reaction to their behaviour has bordered on the draconian – Scotland does not have sufficient international-class performers to cast four of five stars into the wilderness for some student-rag rowdiness - Smith granted that his personnel had a duty to maintain high standards on and off the pitch: something which, manifestly, lapsed in Taunton.
Yet, another worrying aspect to this unedifying tale has been the failure of Cricket Scotland to grab the bull by the horns and admit there was a problem in the first place, instead of being perceived as trying to conceal the bad news, and eventually being rumbled. The Saltires tackled the Somerset Sabres in mid-July, which meant that it was nearly three weeks before details of the hotel row hit the papers, during which period there was ample opportunity for the governing body to do three things: firstly, admit that some of their stars had misbehaved and the incident was being investigated; secondly, for the players concerned to have their identities made known, not so much as a case of “naming and shaming”, but to tell Scottish supporters, the people who pay good money to attend matches, which of the squad had let their country down; and, finally, Smith could have asked the individuals concerned to apologise for their misdemeanours.
But, on the contrary, the procrastination has merely fanned the flames and exacerbated the situation. To some extent, it was as if the administrators were crossing their fingers and trusting that the episode would simply go away. Which, in my opinion of how these affairs tend to unfold, was at best naïve, at worst a crass misjudgement.
One former Scotland player said to me on Friday evening: “The boys are being paid to play, but they are still amateurs when it comes to dealing with the responsibilities of being 24/7 sportsmen.” And this perspective cuts to the very heart of the current malaise. Unlike the scenario in Ireland, where most of the national side are on English county contracts, and have grown accustomed to the day-to-day rigours of training, travelling, competing, checking in and out of hotels, and finding ways to occupy their hours when they are not actually involved on the pitch, the Scots are stuck in a position where they meet up on two or three occasions every month, and spend the rest of their time in the sanctuary of their local club, where nobody cares if they get a little boisterous.
None of the above is making excuses for adults – a word which applies to every member of the current Saltires brigade – messing around in hotels and indulging in behaviour which can be perceived as being anti-social. But it does raise a serious question for Cricket Scotland, namely, how much longer the Scots intend to carry on in the CB 40 environment when there is no evidence that it is doing anything to help them advance their careers. And, just in case anybody strives to use the Bangladesh result as proof of some significant leap forward, let’s get real. Richie Berrington won that match for Scotland, Richie Berrington has produced similar heroics against India A and Ireland in recent seasons and Richie Berrington is good enough to be involved in county action. So why isn’t he? Ultimately, that is a more pressing issue than a soaked mattress.