In the second part of Jake Perry’s interview with Grant Bradburn, who emphasises the importance of the Club game in Scotland to help boost international prospects.
There are many factors which need to be in alignment for Scottish cricket to thrive. From the promotion and delivery of the game in schools, through a well-organised club structure and on to the provision of the best opportunities at representative level, the nurture of junior, recreational and elite cricketers is fundamental in safeguarding the healthy future that everyone wishes for.
For Grant Bradburn the club game is the lintel upon which the entire network rests. And whilst that pathway through to the international game is significant, the National Head Coach is keen to emphasise that supporting the amateur game at every level is just as important.
“For me the crux is that club cricket is for club cricketers,” he said. “Our clubs help unite their towns and villages. They are a hub to bind people together and are often the reason that people interact in a lot of our communities. We really need to protect that.”
The success of Cricket Scotland’s flagship Thriving Clubs programme will be one of the critical factors in meeting the ambitious targets for growth set out in the recently published Strategic Plan. With a 20% increase in active participation the objective over the next three years clubs will have a fundamental role to play in making the game as attractive and accessible as possible.
“We need to listen to our clubs and listen to the players because they are at the heart of our game,” said Bradburn. “Our focus must be on keeping them thriving. They are the focal point for inspiring young people and bringing them into the game.
“We have to get away from the image that cricket is a sport that can only be played outdoors on grass and when it’s probably freezing cold. We need to use indoors smarter than we do and develop formats of the game which are short and dynamic and interactive.
“There is some really exciting stuff that Ian [Sandbrook] has got going in the primary schools and the ECB are starting their new programme for littlies too. These are wonderful programmes that can be tagged on to our clubs.
“We [then] need to engage with those kids [outside school] and with their mums and dads too. We want them to see club cricket in the first instance with a wow factor – look at this club, look at what they’re doing, look at the pathways and opportunities that are there, look at the fun and the healthy aspects of this game.
“That’s what we should focus on.”
For older players an honest appraisal of the facilities they use every weekend is required too.
“The cool thing about club cricket in Scotland is the amazing history and tradition that lies behind it,” Bradburn said. “Some of the venues are just unbelievable. I’ve been lucky enough to visit places like Galloway, Falkland, Gordonstoun School, Carlton, Grange, plenty in the west of Scotland – I’d better stop mentioning names or I’ll get in trouble for missing people out! There are some wonderful grounds out there.
“But the truth is that we have to improve our facilities because generally speaking we play in poor conditions. The actual 22 yards in the middle isn’t good enough. We blame the weather a lot but the pitch surfaces can and need to be much better.”
When it comes to the international game, however, Bradburn is satisfied that the present set-up is working. After a season which has seen good results and a number of promising debuts on the field he is happy that at the top of the pyramid the best players are being identified and supported.
“At the high-performance end of the scale we are confident in our systems, our people and our networks. The cream is rising to the top. We are confident that we are not missing anyone on the local scene.
“That’s why as head coach I’m not so concerned that we provide formats of club cricket that are going to produce international cricketers. That’s our job, to take the very best cricketers, give them opportunities and develop them into future international stars.”
But with international fixtures at a premium providing those opportunities has necessitated some creative thinking. For Bradburn the chance to arrange matches for Scotland’s A team against county 2nd XI opposition in England has proved to be particularly beneficial.
“Those A team fixtures have been hugely important for us,” he said. “We don’t have a first class system here in Scotland but our neighbours do, so it’s a massive benefit for us to be able to drive to England and interact with them.
“We would love to be part of the Royal London or the T20 set-up eventually, of course, and we will keep our hat in the ring to be a part of any changes that might be in the pipeline for 2018 and beyond, but in the meantime giving our players some exposure to the county scene is a fantastic learning opportunity. It’s a chance to bring on the next tier of players as well.
“The reality, though, is that our players are probably about four years behind [their English equivalents],” he continued. “A young Academy player coming through a county would have played twenty to twenty-five multi-day fixtures by the time he is twenty years old. Yet someone like Michael Leask, for example, who’s twenty-four, probably still hasn’t played that many and certainly hasn’t played that many first class games. There’s a very good example of how coming through the county system is a big advantage.
“That is a challenge we need to embrace. We need to find ways of giving our players the experiences that simulate international cricket both in and outside Scotland to bring them closer to understanding what the game at that level is all about.”
And within the club system there is plenty of invaluable experience to assist that process, too.
“Within our clubs we have some battle-hardened players who are hugely important in developing our young ones into internationals. I can’t name everyone but you’ve got guys like the Burnetts at Arbroath, Maj Haq at Clydesdale, hardened international cricketers who know what it’s about and who are still playing the game. Ewan Chalmers, Fraser Watts, Gordon Drummond until this year, there are so many examples of quality players who are still giving to their clubs and helping our young high-performance kids understand what is needed to play at that level. It’s so good to see them still giving in that way and we are hugely appreciative of it.”
Off the field the development of the commercial strands of Scottish cricket will be equally vital in securing the future, and within the reality of a crowded and highly competitive leisure market Bradburn feels that there are new directions to be explored in how the game is presented.
“Having seen cricket around the world [I have come to the conclusion that] we need to use it almost as a sideline in how we present it [to the spectator]. We have to create an experience around the game where kids, parents, all different age groups are attracted to come along to this event which by the way has a game of cricket going on as well, Scotland are playing Ireland or whoever.
“Once we’re thinking like that we present cricket in a different light which is attractive to a much wider group. Commercially we need to get smarter as an organisation and we are working hard to develop different avenues of income. Currently we rely heavily on ICC and Sport Scotland but that makes us vulnerable. We have to become as self-sufficient as we can.
“From the playing point of view we accept and embrace that we have to grab our opportunities but as an organisation, too, we have to inspire a change in the way that cricket is seen and Scotland as a team is seen. That will only happen by us doing positive things, not by saying that we’re going to do positive things but by actually doing them.”
As 2016 draws to a close the sense of purpose around those at the top of Scottish cricket is striking. The men’s team are determined to capitalise on their appearances at the last two global ICC events and convert that experience against top-level opposition into results, beginning in January with the eight-team Associate T20 tournament in the UAE. The women’s team continues to make huge strides under Steve Knox and on the back of their most successful ever season have an appearance at the ICC World Cup Global Qualifier to look forward to in the New Year. Within Scotland the development of the grassroots game continues to gather pace with targeted support for clubs, coaches and teachers and a new Curriculum for Excellence programme which gives the opportunity to embed the sport into the day-to-day provision of every primary school in Scotland.
As we look forward to 2017 and beyond, what difference might we see to the profile, the financial position, the very future of cricket in Scotland? We live in challenging times, but the readiness of those running the game to embrace rather than complain about them is hugely encouraging for every supporter of the Scottish game. Whatever the future may hold, cricket in Scotland can surely only grow in strength because of it.