Roddy Smith seeks home advantage
From Neil Drysdale
Roddy Smith has been at the helm of Scottish cricket long enough to appreciate that the only way for Associate countries such as his own to advance up the international ladder lies in qualifying for the finals of major tournaments and demonstrating tangible progress to the ICC.
In that light, the next couple of weeks are crucial for the Scots, as they prepare to tackle Kenya in three different formats of the game at Mannofield in Aberdeen. The two 50-over World Cricket League tussles with their African rivals are pivotal in terms of gaining a place at the 2015 World Cup, while the four-day Intercontinental Cup clash provides a fresh opportunity for Kyle Coetzer's men to challenge for a cherished prize. And, considering that Kenya have slipped from the heady heights they reached in getting to the Super Sixes at the 2003 World Cup, these contests present the hosts with a chance to generate momentum, prior to moving into the second half of the summer.
As the governing body's chief executive, Smith doesn't underestimate the significance of these tussles, which commence on Sunday in the Granite City.
"With only four games to go in the WCL, these matches against Kenya are extremely important and will determine whether we go to Ireland [in September] with a chance of securing one of the two automatic spots in the World Cup," said Smith.
"Things are very tight in the division and with Ireland playing the Netherlands [during the same period], the other four teams will all have an opportunity to progress up the table.
"Kenya are always very competitive, with plenty of talented and experienced cricketers in their squad, so the games will be difficult.
"The WCL matches are the most important of the three formats, although we are still very much in contention in the Intercontinental Cup and the T20s [on July 4 and 5] will be an important preparation, ahead of the World Cup qualifiers in Dubai later this year."
Smith realises that his compatriots have been in a transitional phase of late. Yet there seems to be sufficient ability in their ranks for them to recover from some disappointing results in the UAE earlier this year. It should also help their cause that Mannofield has been an auspicious venue in recent seasons and Smith was keen to talk up the contribution made by players in Aberdeen and elsewhere in the region.
He said: "Cricket in the north-east is vital across many fronts. In terms of participation, Aberdeen and the surrounding area has always been a hotbed of the sport and, through the good work of the Aberdeenshire Cricket Association and the senior clubs, it is developing well.
"Stoneywood-Dyce were featured recently in the [BBC's] Sport Nation programme as a great example of a community cricket club, which has also been successful in producing international players [such as Kyle Coetzer, Michael Leask and Jan Stander].
"As an Aberdonian, who was brought up through the Grades and Aberdeenshire system, I know how competitive and passionate the local cricket community is about the game up there.
"So it is great news that the national team is returning to Mannofield after the unfortunate damage done to the square [by vandals].
"The ground is one of the best in the country, with facilities second to none. It has also been a happy hunting ground for our side in recent seasons and I know just how much our lads enjoy playing there."
Anybody who has ever visited Mannofield will have witnessed the sepia-tinged photographs of the arena, packed to the rafters with spectators in 1948, watching the legendary Don Bradman on his swansong in Britain. There are also signed bats from the 1999 World Cup, which include the names of some illustrious global stars, while the exalted Sir Richard Hadlee features in another evocative piece of memorabilia inside the club.
But for the next few days, Scotland will be searching for their own heroes and Smith has urged as many aficionados as possible to cheer on the Scots.
He said: "it would be really nice to see the local cricket community come out and support the team, while seeing some top-class action. All the skills of the game will be on show and, with free entry, as well as the start of the school holidays, we are hoping cricket fans in the north-east will take this chance to come along and see their national team perform.
"With five Aberdonians in captain, Coetzer, Matthew Cross, Gordon Goudie, Michael Leask and Josh Davey potentially involved as well, all support would be really appreciated."
These are critical encounters for the Scots, for a variety of reasons. But if they can achieve their best form, they should be capable of rising to the challenge and exciting those who turn up to watch.