Smith hoping regional leagues will safeguard Scottish cricket
IF THE incessant rain is depressing you, then spare a thought for cricketers as they prepare to launch a new era for the sport in Scotland.
After the national side’s failure to qualify for last year’s World Cup, Cricket Scotland turned in on itself to hold a major review and restructure the sport. Some of what they came out with was not wholly welcomed, some vehemently attacked, and other initiatives applauded.
Cricket Scotland chief executive Roddy Smith has emerged from the process a little battered and bruised, but strengthened in his desire to see Scotland back in the world’s cricket elite – they currently languish 15th in the One Day International (ODI) rankings and 12th in T20 – and the sport growing again across the club game.
The emergence finally of the national squad in Ayr this week, and victory over Canada, brought welcome relief to the recent weather-induced stalemate, but Smith was hoping also that the controversial move to shift away from national leagues to a new regional structure, in an attempt to tackle the disinterest in ten and 12-hour days ‘at the cricket’ affecting club memberships, would also have bedded in by now.
It’s perhaps little surprise then that on the days while he was waiting for the Ayrshire skies to clear Smith was working up proposals for Scotland tours to New Zealand and South Africa this winter, pushing talks on improving facilities for winter cricket, staging more primary schools events and working with people across the game on plans for spending the £1.2 million three-year funding released by the ICB to help Scottish cricket.
It goes without saying that a cricket chief in Scotland must possess an unnaturally bright outlook and Smith certainly presents a cheery disposition as we use the rainy days to ponder cricket’s future.
Smith explained: “Club cricket, like club rugby, remains the grassroots lifeblood of Scottish sport, but it can no longer provide the resources and level of competition necessary to compete on the international stage.
“Club cricket is primarily about guys who want to play competitive but recreational cricket, and some don’t agree with that, but the fact is those who want to play for Scotland will progress through academy programmes and age-grade teams, and the new regional squads. The regional leagues will ease worries for some players sick of 12-hour days travelling from Aberdeen to Ayr for six or seven hours of cricket for example, though, unfortunately, because of the rain we won’t have the full first league season we wanted. But we’re looking forward to the leagues getting going over the next few weekends leading up to a grand East v West final at Carlton in September.
“And the hope is that by helping the clubs strengthen and keep their players, we will encourage more kids to get involved and create an environment where more people of all ages are playing and supporting cricket. Then, coming out of that, we will have more youngsters rising out of that system through the academies, national academy and the regional squads into the national squad.”
Again, like Scottish rugby, Cricket Scotland is trying at one end to keep people interested at club level while using whatever funds they can muster to keep pace with the ever-increasing rate of improvements in the Test arena. An impossible dream? Maybe. But the two remain intrinsically linked.
Scotland finally got their World Cup qualifying hopes moving again this week at Cambusdoon and youngster Calum MacLeod’s 99 not out added some gloss to a win over Canada that moved Scotland into second spot behind Ireland. Club cricket may be the sport’s lifeblood, but for MacLeod and team-mates the aim is the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World T20s in 2014.
The top two in Scotland’s eight-team league section qualify for the World Cup, while the next six drop into another qualifying round with four others from which the top two again will make 2015. With the T20, Scotland are bidding against 16 nations for six qualifying places.
Smith is determined that Scotland do not miss out this time.
“Beating Canada is a big help and it’s great that the game got played for lots of reasons,” he said. “But we need to step it up over the next year to give these guys the opportunity of going to the World Cup and doing well.
“The whole restructuring is focused on improving the game but also improving the quality of our players. We have to qualify for these events, no doubt about it, but the only way for the national squad to improve is to play more hard, competitive cricket at better facilities, and that doesn’t equate with these guys playing Scottish club cricket every week, as good as some of our teams are. We have put eight players on professional contracts and, with three playing in England [Kyle Coetzer, Northants, Alasdair Evans, Derbyshire and Josh Davey, Middlesex] that’s a team now training professionally every day, improving their all-round skills and fitness. For the eight up here – and we’d like more in Scotland because that way they are available for all the games we play – the next step is finding those higher quality games, and that’s why we’ve created the three regional sides.
“The idea now is for them to play more against each other and outside Scotland more, and we’re looking at taking the national squad to New Zealand and South Africa on winter tours.
“At the moment we have a very young national squad, with most of them under 24, and we have an excellent young squad of under-19s going to Australia having won 13 of their 14 qualifying matches and got to 11th in the world rankings.
“Of the 19 players involved in the national squad, 16 have come through the new academy development system headed by Craig Wright, the former Scotland captain, so it is starting to do what it was set up to do.
“Securing effectively £300,000 a year from the ICB was a huge boost to Scottish cricket and that money will enable us to improve the quality of cricket our top guys experience.”
So, the rain may have stopped play for much of this summer, but as the clouds clear Smith is optimistic 2012 will prove a key launchpad for Scottish cricket.
“I think we downplay our sporting ability in Scotland,” he added. “You look at Andy Murray and people pick at why he hasn’t won a Slam yet rather than hail the fact that our little country has one of the top four tennis players in the world. We need to recognise that we do have some great talent.
“I can’t sit here and say cricket is growing massively, and we have huge challenges with facilities, but we need to move with the times. If guys don’t want to give up their entire weekends anymore, then we have to look at more T20 cricket, which can be played in three or four hours, more midweek cricket, more social cricket, and cricket for the over-40s, and keep being relevant for everyone.
“That’s what the next few years will hopefully be about in Scottish cricket and I am very enthusiastic and excited about where the young players coming through now, within a more professional set-up, might take us through the next decade.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: South