All Out Cricket Magazine Feature

13 Jan

As Scottish cricket embarks on one of the most ambitious periods in its history, Vithushan Ehantharajah looks at a country and board ready, willing and able to kick on to the big league.

 

This article first appeared in the 100th edition of All Out Cricket Magazine

 

For Scottish cricket, the ICC ‘eligibility criterion’ has long been a vexed issue. It has three elements to it: players that are born in the country they wish to represent, residency, and nationality as defined by a player’s passport. But Scotland, as part of Great Britain, does not have its own passport, and so its cricket selectors are unable to pick players born outside of the country to Scottish parents. As a result, Cricket Scotland have operated at a disadvantage to countries such as Ireland, who were able to call up Middlesex seam bowler Tim Murtagh for the 2012 World Twenty 20 – born and raised in London but with Irish grandparents.

But after five years of being lobbied to change the regulations, the ICC fi nally made amends in early 2012, allowing Scotland to dip into the county cricket pool. Four English county regulars – Matt Machan (Sussex), Robert Taylor (Leicestershire), David Murphy (Northamptonshire) and Richard Coughtrie (Gloucestershire) – were part of Scotland’s squad of 15 that travelled to South Africa in October. South Africa-born all-rounder and “MVP” of the 2010 domestic county season, Neil Carter, has also put himself forward for a switch north of the border through his Scottish mother, earmarking the World Cup qualifiers in March 2013 to don the Saltires uniform.

 

The onus is now on Cricket Scotland to ratify the players with the ICC, but the move represents a big step in Scottish cricket, reinforcing the progress made on the pitch and behind the scenes. Rule changes were accompanied by the announcement that Cricket Scotland had been awarded financial assistance in the form of $500,000 per annum for three years, as part of the ICC’s Targeted Assistance and Performance Programme (TAPP). In that timeframe, the ICC will work with the board to develop a memorandum of understanding to detail the specific activities to be supported by the funding.

“In our case, the aim is to close the gap between ourselves and the lower ranked Test nations,” Roddy Smith, chief executive of Cricket Scotland, tells AOC.

A former player, Smith has represented Scotland at every age group, culminating in a full-international appearance in 1994. His drive to ascend the cricketing ladder has stayed with him at boardroom level and is evident in the proposals he put to the ICC to secure TAPP funding. “Developing an internal first-class structure is our primary aim now,” says Smith. “We have to put in place a sustainable structure in Scotland, so some of the money is being put toward putting that in place. Ideally, we’d like to have it ready in the next two or three years – we certainly have the capacity for it.”

 

There are an estimated 250 cricket clubs in Scotland, with the county of Aberdeenshire containing more than any other in the United Kingdom, aside from Yorkshire. The bid to open up their fixture list to higher profile matches led Scotland to end their involvement in the CB40 after the summer of 2013, as part of the ECB’s county reshuffle. Initially, the reshuffle had incorporated Scotland – whose involvement with county cricket goes back to 1980 – as part of a new 21-team 50-over competition, which would feature themselves, Netherlands and the Unicorns, as well as the 18 county sides.

 

 However, Scotland declined the invitation. “It’s been fantastic for us to play against the counties but it was time to move on and play more international cricket,” says Smith. “We needed to create space in our home fixture list to play more games against international opposition; whether that’s the top Test nations or our peers. We have Australia coming for an ODI and Australia A for a four-day game.

 

We’re also looking to get a game against another full-member side next summer and get as many consistent fixtures organised each summer.”

 

Another factor for Scotland’s withdrawal from county cricket would be their inability to field a full-strength team, due to the increasing number of Scottish players contracted to other counties. There are currently four players on full-time county contracts – Kyle Coetzer (Durham), Josh Davey (Middlesex), Ally Evans (Derbyshire) and Freddie Coleman (Warwickshire) – while five other Scots are either in academies, on development contracts or have spent time with counties over the summer in a bid to secure a deal (not to mention four players currently at MCCUs).

 

It’s a nod to the calibre of players the Scottish system is starting to produce. Credit is due to the development programmes put in place by Cricket Scotland, headed by Craig Wright – performance development manager and Scotland’s most successful captain. In a record 107 games as skipper, Wright lifted the 2004 Intercontinental Cup, the 2005 ICC Trophy and guided them to the final of the ICC World Division League Division 1, which qualified the team for the 2007 World Twenty20.

 

Upon giving up the captaincy in 2007, Wright began working part-time with Cricket Scotland, before taking on the position full-time when he retired completely in 2009. A widely respected figure, his appointment has already paid dividends. Since taking on the role, eight players from his under 19s programme have gone on to make senior appearances for Peter Steindl’s full Scotland side. “I take great pride in seeing players come through my programme and into the full Scotland side, says Wright. But it’s not enough to just pull the shirt on – I want to see them make an impact for Scotland over a sustained period of time.”

 

An advocate of broadening the horizons of players under his tutelage through what he describes as “tough cricket”, Wright encouraged age-group tours, taking an under 15s and under 19s team to South Africa in 2008. Cricket Scotland has since developed ties with the Darren Lehmann Cricket Academy in Adelaide, with Wright hand-picking the best players from each cluster to spend the winter in Australia. When Wright himself was coming through the Scottish system, it was his responsibility to seek out and fund a winter away.

 

Arbroath batsman Ross McLean was one of the chosen few in 2011 and the benefit to him was clear to see, as he finished the 2012 Under 19 World Cup as Scotland’s leading run-scorer. “Budgets are limited,” explains Wright, “so it’s important to send the right players; whether that’s your best player or someone you know has the right capabilities – physically and mentally – to get something out of it.

 

We need that willingness from players to go on and progress, as Ross has displayed. It’s not about taking the opportunity to have a jolly for two or three months in Australia and then falling off the radar.”

 

Wright’s comments are tinged with the dismay that previously players had misused the opportunities to play abroad. However, he also accepts there was a time when players who did not make the step from under 19s level to the full-national side would fall out of the system, through disillusion as much as negligence. Perhaps in an acknowledgement of their previous shortcomings, the board has consistently increased the number and standard of fixtures for Scotland’s development sides since 2005. In the last two years, alone, the Scotland ‘Lions’ have played 18 three-day, 50-over and Twenty20 matches.

 

Had the change come later, there’s every chance that Gordon Drummond, Scotland’s current captain, would have been just another outlier. “I played under 15s for Scotland but got injured after a couple of games for the under 19s and that was it,” recalls Drummond, who is also a Level 3 coach. “Luckily, the Scotland reserve side started getting more competitive opportunities against county second XI sides and I had a good run in these fixtures. I was then given captaincy of this team and helped blood a few younger players, which ultimately gave me the chance to play for the full side, at 27, and eventually become captain of Scotland.”

 

Drummond’s tenure has seen Scotland record notable victories, including a Twenty20 victory against Bangladesh in July 2012 and a nail-biting win against an India A side featuring a host of gifted youngsters, including Cheteshwar Pujara. Sitting second in the World Cricket League (WCL), Scotland are in the automatic qualification spot for the 2015 World Cup, two points behind Ireland, with six games to play; two games each against Afghanistan, Kenya and finally Ireland.

 

Should they fall out of the top two, they will join the rest of the teams ranked third to eighth in Division 1 as well as Papa New Guinea, Hong Kong and two teams from WCL Division 3 for a further qualification section for the last two spots in Australia and New Zealand. At the same time, they will also be attempting to qualify for the World Twenty20 tournament in 2014, in Bangladesh.

 

Scotland will have watched Ireland dining at cricket’s top table consistently, with envy, especially as they bloodied English noses in a thrilling three-wicket win at the 2011 World Cup. Only now can Scotland’s cricket loyalists dare to picture a future when they themselves are in a position to inflict pain on the Auld Enemy.

 

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