Cricket strives for fast attack and inspiring partnerships in challenging era

AT the home of Scottish cricket, amid the leafy grounds of the Mary Erskine School in Edinburgh, no sign hangs above the entrance bearing an inscription:

Cast ne’er a cloot,

Till July’s oot,

Then wrap up agin,

On August the yin.

But on reflection, perhaps Scottish Cricket Limited should consider adopting a variation of that gallows humour in pursuing the Herculean task of persuading Scots that their main summer activity should revolve around cork and willow.

Certainly, Sara Maclean, the governing body’s recently-appointed marketing and communications manager, harbours few illusions on the challenges lying ahead while she and her colleagues strive to steer Scotland into next season’s - so far unsponsored - English Sunday League competition.

"This is a huge leap in our evolution, and if we do not develop the SCL as a realistic group of businesspeople, then we will come an almighty cropper," she said last week with a frosty cheeriness, which mirrored the typically-cool May conditions outside her office. "We reckon our financial turnover will quadruple over the next 12 months from about 0.5million to 2m, and if we are to pose a genuine threat against the English counties, we need to place a lot of our guys on contracts as soon as possible. That’s not next February or March, but by the autumn at the very latest."

The alternative, as Maclean and the SCL’s Zimbabwean-bred chief executive, Gwynne Jones, readily admit, is that this Sabbath experiment quickly turns into a catastrophe to rival the South Sea Bubble debacle. Yet, if truth be told, and regardless of bullish chatter from within the Ravelston set, their future is largely dependent on sportscotland displaying a modicum of vision beyond their glossy mission statements and quango-driven bureaucracy.

In short, if Scotland’s leading cricketers - an amateur regiment with day jobs to juggle and employers to satisfy - are seriously to contemplate achieving a full-time career in the game, their only current option is to move south. Given which knowledge, it scarcely requires a genius to fathom why half-a-dozen players, including Warwickshire vice-captain Dougie Brown, John Blain and Gavin Hamilton, have already flown the nest, with a crop of other promising youngsters on the verge of being tempted to such as Leicestershire, Durham and Middlesex.

"We are in the Sunday League for a three-year trial run and, ideally, we would prefer a sponsorship package which encompassed that period, because we expect to be faring better at the end than the beginning," says Maclean, a former professional cricket coach in Hammersmith and Fulham, who subsequently joined the advertising ranks, and has amassed sporting qualifications in no fewer than 14 pursuits from tennis and badminton to squash and weightlifting. "Of course we appreciate that major companies have to be persuaded to invest in any crusade, and that is why we are working so hard at the moment. We can’t afford to do this on our own steam: but there again, we are determined not to sell ourselves short."

In straightforward terms, the Scots require a bare minimum of eight contracted personnel by the start of 2003 and a high-profile overseas professional who can do for SCL what Ian Botham did for Durham. But with the ECB changing the regulations by increasing their contracted test squad from 12 to 25 and allowing every county to field two hired assassins, it is hardly surprising that Jones should occasionally wear a frazzled expression.

"We have to look at somebody with a good reputation on the test circuit, and I know there are a significant number of South Africans and Zimbabweans who are keen to move over here," said Jones. "As from next year, we will have a schedule in place of 18 to 22 fixtures, which should enable us to hire a professional, and somebody such as Andy Flower or Jonty Rhodes would obviously be a valuable acquisition. Or Australia’s [Worcestershire-based all-rounder] Andy Bichel, for that matter. But, everything is in the melting-point at the moment, considering that the World Cup is being staged in 2003, and we still have to discover just who is and isn’t involved in the tournament.

"I mean, would either of the Waugh twins [Mark and Steve] be attracted to the job, for instance? We have to be patient for now, but clearly these guys would not come cheap."

Having made a few inquiries into this area, it seems that somebody such as Steve Waugh, serial Ashes winner, tough as old boots and happy to fish and play golf, could be recruited for as little as 100,000 a year, which shouldn’t be beyond the scope of Scotland if big business felt inclined to fling some loose sponsorship change at the SCL.

"We definitely have to be pro-active in that department, and we are looking to introduce a board of patrons, whereby we would ask influential individuals in Scotland to put some money into the sport in exchange for us offering them enhanced hospitality and corporate entertainment," said Jones. "Ultimately, the crux is that though this is only the launch of the 2002 campaign, we have to be 100% prepared for the Sunday League, and that means wholly transforming our operation in the space of a few months. There’s scant margin for error, either, when you notice what has been happening this week in Scottish football."

The fact is that Scotland captain Craig Wright and his men have no credible chance of attaining parity unless SCL, sportscotland and our business community bolt out of the blocks sooner rather than later. On previous evidence, I won’t be holding my breath. But as Maclean concluded: "A decade ago, Scots would have laughed at the idea of supporting an American football team. But look at the magnificent strides the Claymores have taken. It’s up to cricket to show the same resolve, commitment and broad-mindedness."

And urgency...