After a brief but memorable summer for Scotland’s senior cricketers all eyes now turn to the next generation of Scottish talent as the Under 19 squad prepares to travel to Jersey for the ICC U19 World Cup Qualifier.
With a place at next year’s World Cup in New Zealand the prize for victory Scotland will hope to repeat their success of 2015 and so secure a spot in the final stages of the event for the fourth time in a row.
After leading the last edition of the side to Bangladesh in 2016 Head Coach Gordon Drummond is excited about the new pool of talent he has at his disposal.
“We have got a very nicely balanced squad,” he said. “Achieving that is always the biggest challenge in any sort of tournament play.
“There are four very capable spinners in there which is also really important as spin always plays a massive part in any youth tournament.
“Our squad contains a lot of all-rounders which I’m very happy about, too,” he continued. “It means that the development systems and regional pathways are doing their job in encouraging young players to develop their all-round game.
“These boys have played a lot of cricket together over the last couple of years. They are maturing and their game sense is developing well which puts us into a really good position as we move forward.”
The former Scotland captain was appointed Performance Pathway Manager earlier this year after a distinguished playing career had brought 117 caps for his country. Off the field, however, the thirty-seven year old has been heavily involved in coaching Scotland’s age-group teams for a number of years.
“I was a bit of a late developer as a player but as a coach I did my Level 3 badge back in 2005 and I have been involved around the youth sides for quite a while,” said Drummond.
“As a coach you need to get to know how players operate, how they work, and for age-group players you’ve got the added complication of dealing with all the social, physical and psychological machinations which are going on at the same time too.
“The experiences they have at that age will play a huge part in how they develop as individuals and if you can be on that journey with them then it helps you to understand how best to approach them from a coaching point of view.”
The age-group sides occupy a vital position within Cricket Scotland’s player programme and Drummond is looking at how that role can develop still further.
“Three or four of the group that went to the last World Cup are still involved this time around but the older guys have now moved into the performance squad with Toby [Bailey],” he said.
“It is really important that we have that continuity because previously there was perhaps a bit of a void there. In the past after U19s it was either get into the regional team or go and play club cricket. It was a bit hit-or-miss.
“My role is to change that and make sure that there are structured opportunities for players to continue their development,” he continued.
“I would emphasise, too, that it is definitely not a closed shop. Two [of the group] were not even involved last summer but have come through and made the squad. It shows that anybody can come in at any time and I think that that is really important for the future of cricket in Scotland.”
Scotland goes into the European Qualifier as the most successful nation in the history of the competition. A repeat of their 2015 victory would give the Scots their eighth tournament title since its inauguration in 1999.
“We have a good record,” said Drummond. “Our tournament play has been pretty good over the years but what made the last win particularly satisfying was the way that we did it. We had to work really hard to get over the line because after we lost to Ireland in the first game we were coming from behind.
“The team followed up that loss by playing a really smart game against Jersey. We bowled them out quite cheaply then chased it hard which meant that we got a high run-rate onto the board. That is so important in these tournaments and it put the pressure back onto Ireland for the last game.
“There we scored 245 so had to keep them to below 180 and we knocked them over for 150. It was a phenomenal achievement and for me as a coach seeing the boys do that was a really big moment.”
Alongside the hosts Scotland will line up against Ireland and Denmark in the eight-day tournament, beginning their campaign on July 24th against the Danes at Florence Boot Fields. With four good sides vying for victory, however, Drummond is expecting a tough contest.
“Denmark has a new academy system which looks to be working really well,” he said. “They absolutely thumped Holland in the Division 2 Qualifier last year so they will be a real challenge. They have got good opening bowlers and spinners and batsmen who like to play their shots so there is no doubt that they will be dangerous.
“Jersey showed last time that they are good in their own environment, too. They probably don’t get access to as much tournament play as they would like so they will be looking to make the most of this opportunity on their home turf.
“And then Ireland will always be a difficult game, of course. They have players who are playing in their regional pro-series and their left-arm seamer Josh Little already has a full international cap. They obviously think big things of him.
“But to be honest that’s what we prepare for,” Drummond continued.
“It’s not just about your own game but how you deal with different situations. The interesting thing about this level is that because of the age and experience of the players the standard of the teams is always that little bit closer.
“It’s the same in the final stages, too. At the last World Cup in Bangladesh three Associate bowlers were amongst the top wicket-takers. That is a great example to our lads that anything at all can happen.”
The winners of the European Qualifier will join the four other regional qualifiers in progressing to the final stages. The ten Full Members together with Namibia, the best-placed Associate at the 2016 World Cup, have already booked their places at the main tournament in January and February next year.
Whilst reaching New Zealand is the immediate objective for Scotland, too, Drummond is clearly focused on the future of his players beyond the present campaign.
“The boys are really excited. The end goal is a World Cup in New Zealand which is an amazing prospect for a young player,” he said.
“Ultimately, though, we want these boys to become international cricketers. That is the ultimate target and meeting it is the challenge for me as Performance Pathway Manager.
“Experiences such as these are fantastic but we are focused on the long term. We want to continue the process of developing this group of cricketers and helping them become the best players they can be.
“The matches coming up give us another chance to do just that.”