Opportunity knocks for Scottish cricket

Cricket Scotland's new chief executive Malcolm Cannon is a man with a mission. Picture: Donald MacLeod
Cricket Scotland's new chief executive Malcolm Cannon is a man with a mission. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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FROM Malcolm Cannon’s window at Cricket Scotland’s Edinburgh headquarters, the new chief executive has a clear view of the future of the game – dozens of boys and girls hitting a ball around across artificial pitches. Just yards from his office door, the indoor hall at the centre of the sport’s National Academy reverberates to the sounds of pupils filing in.

Nowhere in the vicinity are bat, glove or pads to be seen. Which offers a snapshot of the challenges facing Cannon who only took charge a little over two months ago.

How to push cricket from a pastime enjoyed by the enthusiastic few into the Scottish mainstream. And how to create an environment where its stars of the present and future can dedicate themselves to their craft without compromise.

Cannon plays rugby for fun, but he arrived at Ravelston without an established sporting pedigree. The Englishman has sold whisky and promoted property. Cricket’s governing body has been criticised for a failure to adequately market itself, and he aims to redress the balance. “This is a product that hasn’t really been sold in the past to sports fans or the general public or the media,” says Cannon. “That’s a great opportunity because we can do that.”

He outlines a vision to move matters forward on several fronts and to alter perceptions that this is an Englishman’s pursuit indulged by ex-pats and Afrikaaners. “This is as much ours as anyone else’s,” Cannon says.

It is a timely refrain in a week when the women’s national side flies to Thailand for a World Twenty20 qualifying tournament that could see them, potentially, join the men in India next spring. “We spend a lot of resources introducing cricket in primary schools,” says Cannon. “But the effort is wasted because there’s nowhere for those girls to continue. Nine clubs have a ladies’ section out of 141. That’s an opportunity because if we can show the benefits – financially, inclusion, diversity-wise, community-wise – we can encourage it.”

Yet if such analysis identifies profitable avenues to explore, the road to enlightenment remains filled with potholes.

Having opened what seem receptive talks with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on how to economically piggyback on their myriad developmental programmes, Cannon was last week invited to pitch to sportscotland for additional investment to expand cricket’s horizons, a plea to sanction an ambitious assault on the summer scene.

The grassroots could be engaged, he says. The elite, likewise, require assistance. With future funding from the International Cricket Council set to fall following changes in its constitution allowing England, Australia and India a bigger share of revenue and control of the game, it has become ever harder to give Scotland the kind of A-list test that encourages self improvement.

Next summer’s schedule contains nothing of glamour. A home series with the United Arab Emirates will hardly stir the public’s blood. Where there was once a diet of county fixtures, after the ECB reformed its competitions in 2013 the Scots were left without a regular diet of county fixtures. In addition, the associate nations such as Scotland are currently denied as many potential places in the 2019 World Cup.

“We’re looking for triangular fixtures in England or Ireland but it’s tough,” Cannon concedes. “It’s difficult to get games against the ten Test nations. There are some where there are political issues like Zimbabwe and Pakistan which make it even harder. And England, Australia and India don’t want to play the associates.

“This is where we need the ICC to step in and help rather than hinder us. They are definitely thinking of India first and for the rest, it’s whatever.”

The prevailing wisdom until recently was if Scotland built it, the goliaths would come. Cricket Scotland’s regime change has euthanised the idea of constructing a field of dreams in Stirling, deemed an expensive white elephant.

How to draw up, after past U-turns, a Plan D or E, to provide the national teams with a dedicated base, one where the physical education of private pupils does not take precedence, is a conundrum. But even if more money is released, it will not be lavished on bricks and mortar.

In New Zealand, they have acquired floodlit polytunnels in order to combat the climactic elements. It is cheap, effective and available to all.

“Working with clubs to improve facilities, in my opinion, would be better than creating Scotland’s answer to Lord’s,” Cannon says. “And remember it’s owned by Middlesex. The ECB just have access to it.

“But we need good-quality grass training facilities which are rare in Scotland. And we need indoor facilities based in hubs around the country. Because while it’s good to get everyone together in Edinburgh, for a lot of people that’s a schlep.”