How Scotland aim to tap in to New Zealand success story
From Kevin Ferrie
Given the limitations the Kiwis face in terms of possible playing numbers, facilities and conditions the completion of an eight-wicket win in the first Test of their series with Sri Lanka, their fifth in nine Tests in 2014, was a fine achievement.
All the more so since they are unbeaten in Test series at home, away and on neutral territory in 2014 having beaten India 1-0 in New Zealand, won 2-1 in the West Indies and drawn 1-1 with Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
At a time when the Scottish game is apparently in flux, then, considerable reassurance can be drawn from the knowledge that, on the field at least, the sport is in the hands of one of the architects of that success.
In Grant Bradburn, a head coach has been recruited who clearly knows exactly what is required since the former Test and One-Day International 'Black Cap' had coached both the New Zealand under-19 and A teams in recent years and, as Colin Neill, Cricket Scotland's president, pointed out yesterday, that was a big factor in his appointment.
"It is clear that was one of the main reasons we thought he was the right man for the job," he said. "Grant has a track record of developing young players and is now working with what looks like the best batch of young players that has emerged in Scotland for many years. The way he has gone about his business so far portrays that ability."
A first major opportunity for the coach to demonstrate what he can do arrives early in the New Year when the Scots are based in his native country for the World Cup. "We believe there are two matches that can be won and that, on our day, we can take the scalp of a Test nation as well," Neill said of a pool campaign which pits the Scots against both host nations, Australia and New Zealand, as well as England, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The imminence of that tournament also goes part of the way towards explaining why Cricket Scotland have not rushed into replacing Roddy Smith, their chief executive who parts company with them today.
With negotiations still on-going regarding the prospective switch of headquarters and home ground to Stirling County's New Williamfield, that could be seen as risky, but recent recruits Ross Brooks, the operations director who returned to Scotland to take that job after two years as general manager of Gibraltar Cricket, and finance manager David Johnson, can look after the day to day running of the business.
As Neill pointed out, that allows the emphasis to be placed on the competitive side of things ahead of the World Cup, while he acknowledged that opportunities may arise as a result of Scottish involvement in it.
"The question has been whether we go looking for a CEO now or wait until the World Cup's over and we really feel our focus should be on the tournament," said the president. "It's about getting the right person to take Scottish cricket forward and the end of a World Cup cycle is a time when able people might become available, while there is also the chance that good performances by Scotland could arouse interest."
There is an awareness that, with Scotland having just had its quietest summer in many years in terms of international matches on home soil, and with far fewer of what are termed the associate (non-Test playing) nations being given the chance to participate in future World Cups, it will be a challenging time to take up the leadership of the Scottish game. Yet the opportunity that has been created as a result of the re-structuring of the international cricket calendar also carries a huge incentive.
"The most exciting initiative is that one of the associate countries is getting a chance at becoming a Test nation in 2018," Neill pointed out. "We would like to hope that, with the batch of players we have coming through at the moment and the coaching team we now have in place, we would be in the mix for that."
"The next Inter-Continental Cup [the associate nations tournament] will be very, very important and we also have the T20 World Cup qualifiers in Scotland and Ireland next year so, if we get a decent summer, it's going to be great."
That, of course, touches on what may always be the biggest obstacle to Scottish cricket's development and its capacity to host Test cricket. Since the technology and wherewithal to build an indoor cricket ground of sufficient dimensions to host international cricket remain a long way off, qualifying for Test cricket may be one thing and staging matches quite another.
The New Zealanders once again offer inspiration in having identified a solution that allows them to use existing sports grounds for their biggest matches by maximising the use of 'drop-in' technology but, for all that it has existed for many years - it dates back to Kerry Packer's rebel cricket in Australia in the 1970s - the expense would probably still be beyond Scottish cricket's means.
Durham has staged Test cricket, though, so it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Test cricket could be hosted this side of Hadrian's Wall. As Neill noted, though, first thing is first.
"We are still looking at how we create our own facility, but we will have to look at a range of options in the next few years if we are going to achieve that aim of playing Test cricket here," he said.