Willie Donald sets sights on stronger Scotland and vibrant club scene
Willie Donald enjoyed plenty of positive experiences on the field during his international cricket career. He was a member of the Scotland side who won their first-ever match in the B&H Cup against Lancashire at North Inch in Perth in 1986. And he also captained his country at Lord's during his 57-cap career from 1978 to 1987 when he and the rest of his colleagues were amateur competitors, juggling work commitments with jousts at sporting glory.
The north-east man has also enjoyed a successful business career, working in finance and insurance in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and London. But he will have to use all his acumen and experience in his new role as interim chief executive of Cricket Scotland.
It's not that the game is in desperate shape - far from it - but there are no shortage of challenges to overcome, whether in continuing gripes about the domestic club structure, the the selfish determination of the major ICC nations to leave the Associates out in the cold at the next World Cup, and the lack of high-profile fixtures for the Scots now that they have been frozen out of English one-day tournaments.
Donald isn't some dewy-eyed sentimentalist, though he clearly loves the summer sport. He recognises both positives and negative aspects to steering his pursuit forward as he explained to The Herald in an exclusive interview.
"Scottish cricket has come a long way since we played our first competitive B&H match in 1980," said Donald. "The international team is much more professional in its approach, has competed in global competitions and acquitted itself well, whilst being realistic that improvement can be made and that continuing to qualify [for international competitions] is paramount.
"The recreational game in schools and club cricket is critical in supporting participation in local communities, helping government meet its health and wellbeing aspirations, and also providing a framework and route forward for the most ambitious players to be the best that they can be. The growth of women's cricket is particularly pleasing and there is more work to do to build gender inclusiveness into the game, which must be good obviously for women cricketers, but also for strengthening clubs both from participation and social perspectives.
"[In terms of are the areas which are a cause for concern], funding is the most important requirement, and building long term robust sources of revenue is key to supporting both the elite game and the recreational game. I recognise that, to improve as a nation, we need to provide the best platform we can, including dedicated training facilities both in and out of season. Improving the recreational game will come through a determined focus on coaching through the various age groups and increasing the conversion rate from junior cricket to adult participation. However, improved funding, whether that is via sponsorship or sales, will only come if we deliver an attractive product to funders, not only on the playing side, but also in a socially responsible manner."
The recent World Cup delivered a harsh reminder to the Scots of how thin the margins between achievement and anti-climax can be. They could have beaten Bangladesh, and they most definitely should have prevailed over Afghanistan, but the reality is that Preston Mommsen's personnel returned home with six defeats to their name and one of their senior players, Majid Haq, was sent back to Scotland under a cloud after comments made on social media. In some respects, the campaign encapsulated their fortunes during the last five years: there have been occasional patches of brilliance, but they have been interspersed with too many occasions when talented individuals haven't displayed their true potential when it mattered.
Donald is acutely aware of the need to create a structure which keeps the clubs happy, but also assists the elite players in moving forward. "It is probably not too difficult operationally, but it requires the correct mindset starting with the fundamental proposition that they need each other in a symbiotic relationship," said Donald. "The hard part is balancing the competing demand for resources, particularly limited resources, so we come back to funding and/or the efficient use of funds. We recognise that cricket lovers in Scotland want a strong successful national team, and also a vibrant club game played at successful clubs and these two areas are where our focus should be."
He will have to be a master diplomat and Houdini on a tightrope in satisfying everybody, but nobody can deny that Donald is a genuine cricketing aficionado. It's in his DNA. "This is probably the most satisfying game on the planet, because it is an individual game played in a team context and there's a place for everyone because of the diverse range of skills required, and nowadays the diverse range of match formats," said Donald.
"You'll never forget your first 50 or 100 with the bat, or your first 5 wickets in a match, and you'll want to do it again and again. It’s a competitive game, a lot more competitive than non-cricketers realise, and your team mates will be mates for life because of the battles you fought together on the field.
He won't shirk his responsibilities. Willie Donald doesn't believe in taking backward steps.
This article first appeared in Herald Scotland