LiveSport.co.uk Pro Series Preview
From Neil Drysdale
Neil Drysdale looks ahead to the start of the LiveSport.co.uk Pro Series to get underway tomorrow at Titwood in Glasgow
There was scepticism in some quarters when rugby finally brought an end to the days of amateurism and heralded the pay-for-play era in 1995. Some people believed it might spell the death of the values in the sport which they most cherished; others feared it would drive a wedge between those who earned a living from the game and the unpaid club stalwarts, who nurtured the grassroots.
Yet, almost 20 years later, and despite some initial teething troubles, the recent success of Glasgow Warriors in the RaboDirect Pro 12 competition has demonstrated the strides forward which Scottish rugby has made towards straddling the divide between the amateur ethos and professionalism.
Now, the hope has to be that Scottish cricket will blaze the same trail when the LiveSport.co.uk Pro series begins at Titwood with an inaugural 50-over clash between the Reivers and the Highlanders.
Personally, I think this tournament is overdue, in terms of providing a pathway for the country's elite performers, who have previously had to grapple with the substantial gulf between the club circuit in their homeland and facing up to the challenge of meeting counties/countries the next day or week.
But, on the evidence of the squads selected for the first contest, a wind of change and innovation is sweeping through the Caledonian milieu. Both teams are packed with an exciting range of precocious talent, combined with a spine of experienced personnel.
And the potential for those involved to force their way into the selectors' plans for a new European tournament, commencing in 2014, should be the greatest-possible incentive for all the participants to treat these encounters with the same excitement as they would a joust with an English county.
in the short term, the main questions revolve around whether fans will buy into the Reivers/Highlanders concept, and whether the players will raise their game accordingly. But, on both counts, the omens look auspicious as long as people appreciate that these concepts always take time to develop and bed in.
What is important is that Scotland is leading the way in terms of setting up the equivalent of the rugby pro teams, and nurturing the next generation of international cricketers. The Pro Series should also be the catalyst for the establishment of a first-class structure in the future.
From that perspective, this has to be a positive step and the likes of Pete Steindl, Craig Wright, Andy Tennant, Neil Macrae and Steve Knox merit credit for their dynamism in encouraging the idea. I haven't always agreed with some of these fellows in the past, but that is water under the bridge; henceforth, the focus has to be on looking forward and laying foundations rather than sniping from the sidelines.
In some respects, we are in a crucial period of transition for everybody in Scotland. That's why there is so much interest in those chosen for the two squads, which comprise the majority of the current Scotland team, such as Richie Berrington, Calum MacLeod, Majid Haq and Preston Mommsen,
But it is the unknown quantites who provide another compelling reason to follow events closely. How will gifted youngsters such as Hamish Gardiner, Chayank Gossain, Michael Leask, Michael English, Aman Bailwal and Josh Edwards respond to the challenge? Most of these prodigies have glittered for the Lions or the Under-19s. Can they replicate that form at a higher level?
Can Qasim Sheikh stake a fresh claim to further national caps after returning to the ranks? Can Gordon Drummond maintain his career, now he has been unburdened of the Scotland captaincy?
There will, of course, be people concerned that our club cricket, which is already under pressure, following two dismal summers, might be diminished or obliterated by the impact of the new districts. On the basis of what transpired in rugby, that isn't a baseless cause for anxiety.
Yet, in the bigger picture, Scotland can't thrive without the sport raising its standards at the highest level and that simply won't materialise within the confines of the present structure.
The Pro Series throws down the gauntlet, both to the players, the governing body, and to coaches and other officials, at every level of the domestic scene. It won't be popular with everybody, but, realistically, persisting with the status quo was not an option, without risking stagnation and decline.
Ultimately, if we want Scotland to prosper, we have to rally behind this new dawn.