PAUL Collingwood and Craig Wright were yesterday handed interim charge of Scotland’s national cricket team. It is a commission that will last little over a month but its success or failure will have a lasting impact on the wellbeing of the game.
Collingwood, one of the most respected English Test cricketers of the 21st century, has never previously taken charge of a senior cricket team and nor has Wright. But their shared captaincy experience is vast, their presence undeniable and their motivation strong. Their mutual enjoyment of a challenge will come in handy because neither expected this responsibility to arrive so soon.
Pete Steindl’s removal from the top job in Scottish cricket has expedited their journey from assistant coaches – Wright, in fairness, has achieved much at the helm of various Scottish youth teams – at the recent World Twenty20 Qualifier, where Scotland finished a degrading seventh.
Steindl’s dismissal has not been confirmed by Cricket Scotland – his name was absent from yesterday’s transferral of responsibility to Collingwood and Wright – but there is little that is ambiguous about a head coach being stood down after six years in office on the brink of his team leaving for a World Cup qualifier in New Zealand.
That is the destination for Kyle Coetzer and his fellow Scotland players when they assemble at Glasgow Airport this evening, and they might reasonably wonder who exactly is in charge when the man who has overseen almost all of their Scotland appearances has been grounded, with his two lieutenants taking over as a collaborative entity.
“They are working together,” said Cricket Scotland chief executive Roddy Smith in response to The Scotsman’s query last night as to who exactly has responsibility for the most important campaign a Scotland team has undertaken since 2009.
“If push comes to shove and there is a decision that has to be made, then it will be Paul’s to make, but it is very much a partnership,” he added. “Paul has not been a head coach before and is working his way into coaching while Craig is a Level 4-qualified coach and is very experienced.
“They worked together in the UAE and this is very much an agreeable way for them to go forward jointly. I wouldn’t think [the division of responsibility] will be an issue at all, and Kyle is very much part of the leadership group as well.”
Even if the Collingwood-Wright alliance looks good on paper, Smith was only too happy to acknowledge that it is a very temporary solution. Steindl has clearly been made a scapegoat for the squad’s failure to qualify for the World Twenty20 finals – Hong Kong, Nepal and the United Arab Emirates all made it – but there were only so many times the game’s governors could afford to let Scotland fail on his watch and write it off as the price tag for progress. The benefit for the new head coaches is that neither of them will be scapegoated if Scotland again fall short when they go out to claim one of two remaining places at the 2015 World Cup, but Wright did not sound too enchanted by his sudden elevation when contacted last night.
“I’m happy to be working with Paul. Obviously the circumstances behind us being asked to do it are not ideal,” he said, “but we have just got to crack on with it. At least we still have the same support staff as we had in the UAE, with Toby Bailey and Simon Smith on board, so there have not been a huge amount of changes other than at the head of the team.
“Paul and I have spoken extensively about how we will split the workload, and we will carry on in our specialist disciplines [Collingwood as batting coach, Wright as bowling coach] and in terms of team talks, I’m sure we will both say our piece, as will the captain.”
Scotland have failed in two of their last three World Cup qualifying bids, wretched experiences in Canada and South Africa that sandwiched an unblemished Irish crusade when Wright was captain in 2005. “There is always pressure around this tournament,” he noted. “But the key is to acknowledge that pressure and embrace it, and turn it into a positive thing.”