Saltires seek game time at Dubai Desert T20

Scotland's Calum MacLeod, left, and Kyle Coetzer with Celtic midfielder Callum McGregor, centre, whose team were also flying to the Gulf on Friday. Photograph: Donald MacLeod
Scotland's Calum MacLeod, left, and Kyle Coetzer with Celtic midfielder Callum McGregor, centre, whose team were also flying to the Gulf on Friday. Photograph: Donald MacLeod
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The Desert T20 tournament, which begins in Abu Dhabi this week, is not merely an opportunity for a splash of winter sun and a chance to escape the humdrum of cricket training indoors that has been the interminable fate of Scotland and others since the nights drew in.

The eight-team tournament, featuring the leading Associate nations, is a deliberate attempt to wrestle back the initiative in the fight to gain the additional fixtures all non-Test playing nations crave, with one eye on leveraging the extra funds each requires to advance their respective cause.

“It’s high time the Associates did that as opposed to sitting back and playing the Poor-Me card,” says Scotland coach Grant Bradburn. “We all want to play more cricket so let’s do something about it. And this is a great way to go about it.”

Despite the recent machinations of the Indian courts which removed more of those who espoused the idea of a wealth monopoly from their offices in Mumbai, there is no radical change in sight that will see the second-tier get a more equitable distribution of funds from the International Cricket Council. 
Self-help is the new mantra, which is why all eight Associate boards have invested in the Desert T20 to create a product they own and control, and which they might market to the outside world.

It has not come cheap for Cricket Scotland but the returns are enormous. In 2016, the senior men’s team were granted only 25 days of scheduled cricket, and only eight of those were unaffected by rain. “We believe we need to be providing a schedule that gives our players a chance to play 45-50 days of international cricket,” says Bradburn. “Plus their regional cricket, bringing it up to around the 70 days, we believe is appropriate for maintaining a professional squad. Last year wasn’t enough. We became a professional training squad rather than a team that plays.”

Hence January is a boom time. Beyond that, it remains more famine than feast. Namibia will tour Scotland in the summer. Papua New Guinea and Ireland will be met on the road while there is an additional World Cricket League one-day series with Kenya to be fitted in. England, under the current contractual arrangements, will not slot in the Saltires until 2018. Talks to inject some glamour by attracting a couple of Test teams north of the Border in early summer as a bookend to their visit to England for June’s ICC Champions Trophy are progressing but are, as ever, problematic.

For now, the United Arab Emirates is the focus. The Scots, by necessity, have had to push the reset button with the premature retirement of captain Preston Mommsen in which a lack of competitive cricket was a cited factor. In his place, Kyle Coetzer has been re-installed as skipper, three years after his first spell in the role was curtailed. That stint lasted barely 16 months. The former Durham and Northants batsman and his deputy Con de Lange have been offered no assurances that this second tour of duty will extend beyond the tournament finale in Dubai.

“We wanted to allow ourselves, Kyle and Con to take the reins again and to decide together whether that was the right combination we want to take forward and Kyle and Con appreciate that,” says Bradburn. “It was a good exercise for us to look at the skill sets we wanted in a leader. We had three or four other players who stepped forward and indicated they would like to lead their country. That’s been good: to be clear to them we think it’s fantastic they have that drive and ambition and we’re now clearer on the skills they need to build to take that position on one day.

“Kyle’s obviously captained the team before and that’s gold. But we’ve had some very clear and strong discussions around what he will bring to the role and we’ve demanded from him a slight change from what he initially brought. He’s in a different place now as a person and a player and he’s in a different stage of his life in terms of leading things.”

Others will sense opportunity. Mommsen’s exit leaves a void in leadership but also runs. A reshuffling of the order to find a new middle-order rock will demand more of the likes of Josh Davey and De Lange.

Yet, in practice, it will be horses for courses in any given game, starting with Saturday’s group opener with Hong Kong.

“We are going there to win out,” says Bradburn. “We’d love to be the inaugural winners, but there is so much more to gain from it.”