The Neil Drysdale Column
Five things Scottish Cricket needs
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It was probably appropriate that the last acts of the 2012 Scottish cricket season should be carried out glorious sunshine, given the wretched weather which preceded Watsonians’ victory over Dumfries in the CSL denouement. If ever there was a metaphor for the state of the game, north of the Border, this was it: a bright canvas, with the promise of better things to come, but always a work in progress rather than the finished article.
Some people have taken me to task for criticising the sport instead of suggesting what should be implemented to improve matters. So here we go. Here are five things which must happen if the culture of under-achievement is to be transformed in the future.
1. HIRE A NEW NATIONAL COACH
Even Qasim Sheikh’s public attack on Steindl could have been dismissed as a rant by an embittered player (though, if so, it was a remarkably articulate one, whose opinions were subsequently backed up to me by two other Saltires). No, the most damning indictment of the coach’s tenure lay in the fact that not one of his players was short-listed for the ICC Associate Player of the Year award; a statistic which surely testifies to the wider truth that the Scots haven’t gone forward in recent seasons.
Cricket Scotland has received significant TAPP funding recently. They should use it to search for a coach with genuine experience on the international stage, as the Irish have done in recruiting Craig McDermott. It might not offer a quick fix, but the Scots seem happy with one decent result a year, as evidenced by the reaction to the victories over Ireland and Bangladesh in 2011 and 2012. They need to set their sights a lot higher and that can only happen by hiring a coach who can make them better players.
2. START A NEW EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP
The Scottish squads would be picked, following an intensive inter-district event, organised on a home-and-away basis, which would give the best 22 or 24 players a schedule of 14 high-intensity matches: six on the domestic circuit and eight in Europe. The elite performers should effectively be removed from the club circuit, because the latter is not of a sufficiently high standard to prepare them for meeting English counties.
3. GIVE CLUB CRICKET BACK TO THE CLUBS
In that light, isn’t it time to allow the clubs to establish the structure which works best for them? The chances are that the next generation of Berringtons, Mommsens and Haqs won’t play at club level, so Cricket Scotland should concentrate on their national squad, the Saltires, and age-group ensembles, and step aside from other matters.
Why not encourage the introduction of an SPL-style tournament, whereby the best, or most ambitious, 10 or 12 teams in Scotland organise and run their own affairs, and are permitted to search for potential sponsors, broadcasters, and corporate backers? This would bring about the restoration of the SNCL, in everything but name, but, as in the footballing equivalent, the participants would have to agree to certain guidelines, such as pledging a commitment to building a youth infrastructure, hiring a DO, and providing minimum standards of facilities and covers.
The worst thing would be for one club to “do a Greenock” and strive to monopolise the existing talent, without nurturing their own kids – and we have witnessed the sorry decline of the Glenpark organisation in the last three years. If there was sufficient interest in this scheme, it could be extended to two divisions of 10, with promotion and relegation, with the rest of the clubs playing on a regional basis. But the important thing is for these institutions to take control of their own destiny and cease blaming the governing body when decisions don’t work in their favour.
4. ENCOURAGE MORE PLAYERS TO MOVE TO COUNTIES
In the bigger picture, it would be prescient for Cricket Scotland to seek alternatives to the CB40, because the latter is becoming an increasingly unloved event in England, where the clamour for [an excess of] Twenty20 threatens to morph into a headlong stampede down a cul-de-sac of vulnerability. Personally, I think one of the most disappointing elements of 2012 was the displays of the Scots on the county scene. Even Kyle Coetzer struggled for runs at Northants, while others such as Josh Davey and Alasdair Evans sparkled only fitfully.
In contrast, Paul Stirling, Niall and Kevin O’Brien, Ed Joyce and George Dockrell made waves, both on TV in the limited-overs stakes, and in the County Championship, with two of the triumphant Warwickshire squad, William Porterfield and Boyd Rankin, picking up winners’ medals. It appears an awfully long time since Dougie Brown was doing likewise in his illustrious stint at Edgbaston!
5. FOSTER A NEW WINNING MENTALITY
In the old days, there was a convincing argument that the Scots couldn’t be expected to defeat their English rivals regularly, given they were amateurs up against full-time professionals, but life has moved on, and the Scots need to shape up accordingly. Basically, the team which (under)performed for the Saltires contained at least seven or eight full-time pros, so they should appreciate that professionalism is a state of mind, not only a pay packet. If that means learning to win ugly, so be it. Just learn to win. Nothing else truly matters.
And now, let the debate commence….!