Keith Oliver's Second CWC Blog

08 Mar

Cricket Scotland's Executive Chairman Keith Oliver offers his second blog from down under as Scotland enter the final phase of their Cricket World Cup adventure.

As we come to the end of another ICC cycle, thoughts naturally turn to looking back at what has been achieved as well as forward to the new cycle with its opportunities and challenges.  In reviewing how far we have come there are of course still concerns expressed in respect of aspects of the game in Scotland. The raising of such concerns is always welcomed, and at the current time will add to the contributions being made a wide-ranging stakeholder group to the formulation of the new Strategy that will take us through 2016 to 2019.

One of the frustrations is the perception that we have fallen behind Ireland and I assume this relates particularly to the senior men's team. Ireland have excelled in the last few years and, as I know first hand from my time here in Australia and New Zealand from where I write, our Celtic neighbours have performed well in the World Cup to date because they are in a golden cycle with a well led group of seasoned players, several of whom play regular first team County cricket, and many of whom have played in previous CWC contests. 

Notwithstanding that, our boys defeated them comprehensively last month in a World Cup warm up match and also comprehensively defeated Afghanistan in the same series of matches.   These results came on the back of encouraging results against strong opposition, including a New Zealand XI, on the World Cup preparation tour, and were followed by strong performance against the West Indies immediately before the competition began in anger last month.

Sport is cyclical and I suggest that in the next few years our team will overtake Ireland at first team level. This belief stems from seeing first hand the development work that has been invested in over recent years and that has seen Cricket Scotland regularly receive development awards. Our age group teams have also regularly bettered Ireland over the last few years, and the strengths of our Under 15s and 17s in wining their respective ECB competitions last season bode well for sustained improvement in our playing strength to continue in the medium term. Our women and girls teams continue to improve and the women's team has the chance to qualify later this year for the 20/20 World Cup in a qualifying tournament in Thailand. The progress made in the women's game has been hugely impressive, just as their performances have been inspirational. Off the field, Ireland have just lost their main sponsor. Conversely, we are fortunate to have a high-profile main sponsor in Parkmead, and are constantly seeking to commercialise other partnership opportunities as they arise in a very difficult market across all sports. 

Significant changes within the organisation have also taken place over the last eighteen months, the departures after long and loyal service of key staff over this period seeing Cricket Scotland enter a new ICC cycle with a new Head Coach, and new heads of department in operations, finance and participation.  The final piece of this jigsaw will see a new CEO appointed in the second quarter of this year, our participation in the World Cup creating great exposure for the role and widening the field of applicants. The Board's determination to wait until the World Cup was completed before appointing someone for this reason has proved accurate judging from the approaches we have received before actively "going to market", a decision made easier because of the strength of the new management team already in place in Edinburgh.

Our new CEO, once appointed, will join an organisation buoyed by the recent successes of its teams, and with award-winning development staff at their disposal. Along with the new and motivated senior management team their first task will be the pulling together of the new Strategy, a process I hope will be contributed to by all our stakeholders. The CEO will also join us as we host, with Ireland, the World T20 Qualifying Tournament this summer. It is a privilege to be asked to host this prestigious event, and brings 21high profile matches, as well as top quality cricket, to our country. 

Our member clubs pay under £200 annually to Cricket Scotland. This does not compare favourably with other sports: consider golf where each individual member pays a levy to SGU? Perhaps the clubs could consider if they are able to help Scottish cricket by increasing their contributions? 

Cricket Scotland have the new Cricket Force Jewson facility in place as well as offering an introduction to a tailored insurance product, and, along with bespoke sponsorships such as Murgitroyd's sponsorship of the national club T20 tournament, such initiatives directly benefit the grass-roots of the game.  The setting up of the Cricket Development Trust Scotland is another good example of how support in this vital area of the game manifests itself. 

As a result of my success in securing the ICC to appoint Cricket Scotland as co-hosts for the World T20 qualifiers - the biggest cricket event ever to be staged in Scotland - our financial position will be boosted right at the start of the new cycle, further strengthening our reserve base and adding to the funding available to continue the investment in the game at all levels. 

Returning to the present, our World Cup team, who with the exception of Majid Haq, have never played cricket in a "cauldron" like the World Cup before, made Cricket Scotland's highest ODI score ever by a considerable margin in their match against Bangladesh. Kyle batted superbly and earned "man of the match", but we could not summon up enough magic to gain our first victory against a Full Member ranked 4 places above us. 

I again was invited to do a couple of stints on Test Match Special with Simon Mann and Vic Marks during which I described the Ali Evans back heel boundary against Afghanistan as similar to Dennis Law's back heel for Man City against his old club United which seemed to go down well! As has been the case throughout our New Zealand leg of the Group stage games, we were made very welcome in Nelson, and again excellent links have been established with Central Districts and Nelson Cricket. I am confident that the personal contacts that I, and our team, have established during this tournament can, added to those established over my many years on the ICC Executive, be converted to the benefit of Cricket Scotland so that we can formalise these relationships to the benefit of our players going forward. 

As I said in my last blog furthering these contacts should be a priority. The many benefits from playing in New Zealand - an opportunity currently being enjoyed by six of our current Under 19 squad - both in learning new ideas about the game and from a lifestyle standpoint are self evident. The people of influence in New Zealand cricket want this to happen. I will be visiting Wellington Cricket Club and I hope to establish a similar relationship there. 

There is regular discussion at this tournament concerning the intention of the ICC to hold a ten-team World Cup in 2019 and how it would be detrimental to the game if this came to pass. It is fundamental that the Associate teams perform well in this tournament to encourage the ICC to reverse that decision and continue with at least a fourteen-team tournament. The Associate representatives on the Board of the ICC must use their best endeavours to pro-actively secure this. While the wish of the ICC broadcaster to have a schedule with the best teams playing nine games in the first phase is commercially understandable, the unique attraction of any World Cup is the variety and difference offered by other nations, outwith the top teams. The top Test teams already play each other so often it is arguable that there may, perhaps, not be so much interest in these fixtures as ICC perhaps perceives to be the case. However even without a change, there is a meaningful qualifying tournament in 2018 which encompasses the teams ranked 9 to 16, thus almost certainly including two Full Members. Scotland could qualify by being in the top two in this qualifying event. No doubt the Associate representatives on the ICC Executive will be working to ensure the Associate cause is put forward strongly not only in respect of the number of teams in the World Cup but also other fundamental issues concerning funding and class of membership. I would urge the current three Associate directors to work ceaselessly to promote the Associate cause, as I did when I was on this board.

Sadly, however, there is a decided lack of information coming from these Associate directors since the elections in June last year. As I come to the end of this latest blog we are just entering the Cook Strait on the early morning ferry from Picton to Wellington and the boat is starting to experience the swell, which I hope will be minimal! After Wellington and a quick visit to Auckland we move on to Hobart where I am told there is snow on the hilltops, just like the cricket season in Scotland! In conclusion I am pleased to say we have secured new ICC funding for the production of written materials for our initiative to introduce cricket in schools throughout Scotland and are working on funding for the equipment to deliver this project. 

Oh, and we still have what is universally acknowledged as the best strip in the World Cup!

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