Scotland's struggle for recognition
Scotland's victory in the recent ICC Trophy secured them a place at the 2007 World Cup and guaranteed them a slice of the ICC cake for the next four years. It ought to be the seminal moment in the development of the game north of the border, but as Neil Drysdale found out, it has not all been plain sailing
Bliss it was to be in Dublin for the thrilling denouement to the ICC Trophy, as Craig Wright's Scottish team made history with an exuberant collective derring-do. In the heady aftermath of realising the Scots had confirmed their place as 12th in the world rankings and lived up to their end of the bargain with the funding bureaucrats, it was possible to believe that the team's triumph would be the catalyst for an entire transformation of the game throughout Caledonia. Sadly, however, the return home has brought a more sober perspective.
Whilst in Erin, one noticed that the Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Hain, reacted immediately to the World Cup qualification of Jason Molins' men by offering his congratulations and promising financial support: from the Scottish Executive, meanwhile, there was a marked resemblance to a Trappist monastery.
Subsequently pressed on the issue of whether cricket might be added to the Scottish Institute of Sport's nine core pursuits, Anne-Marie Harrison, the organisation's executive director, confirmed that victory in the ICC event hadn't materially changed anything and, worse still, that she "was relaxed about cricket being off the radar" - a candidate for the most asinine remark of the year. Obviously, her being Australian hasn't eradicated the ingrained prejudice which still exists in Scotland against the so-called "English" summer game.
It hardly needs repeating, but the fact of the matter is that Wright and his troops remain locked in a Catch-22 situation. Although the ICC have awarded the governing body $500,000 following their success in reaching the next World Cup, that isn't remotely enough for Cricket Scotland to be able to allocate professional contracts for the crucial period from the start of 2006 to the World Cup 15 months later. Hence, the players are still being forced to make sacrifices to represent their country, at the same time as their officials seek the finance to draw up extended fixture schedules against A Test sides, and the other emerging nations.
Next summer, for instance, the Scots will be involved in the newly-expanded C&G Trophy. They may participate in a quadrangular tournament, also featuring Ireland, Holland and an England XI. There will be the Intercontinental Cup to tackle, and the ICC is considering a new competition, which might allow the best of the associate members to meet the lowest-rated Test countries, ie Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. It all adds up to a logistical nightmare for those players, in the mould of Colin Smith and Dougie Lockhart, who are in full-time employment and can only spare a finite amount of holiday entitlements.
Another depressing aspect of the ICC Trophy was the dearth of coverage in the English broadsheets, especially considering that the leading five countries will be in the West Indies two years hence, and that three of these qualifiers hailed from Europe. Naturally, with an eagerly-awaited Ashes series in the pipeline, it was implausible to anticipate banner headlines from a second-tier slugfest, but the Daily Telegraph, for instance, sent a London staff man to Dublin for the final, and his report concentrated 80% on Ed Joyce at the expense of the team which actually won the damned event.
Nor did The Observer cover itself in glory on the Sunday after the Irish and Scots had ensured their place in the Caribbean: two pages on cricket and not a line on the ICC Trophy. One perhaps expected this from The Independent, which reported the Lockerbie Disaster under the misapprehension that the little community was in the Highlands, but the failure of the Guardian, Times and Telegraph to understand that three or four years down the line, Scotland and Ireland have the capacity to be as good as Sri Lanka and New Zealand, is at best myopic, at worst a case of ignorance masquerading as condescension.
Of course, Wright and his confreres will only achieve this goal with support from Sportscotland, the Scottish Executive and enhanced investment from the business community, which has thus far been miserly in backing the Saltires. Ian Botham is perfectly correct to urge a sea change in attitudes from the whisky companies and blue-chip brigade, whose CEOs are frequently observed at totesport League matches, without their firms shelling out a penny on the players who have taken massive strides forward in the last two years. As Botham expressed it, with trademark succinctness: "C'mon, your cricketers are climbing the ladder while your football team is crap." Spot on, sir!
None of this is designed to undermine the 100% record of the Scots in the ICC Trophy. They were thoroughly professional, displayed a joyous camaraderie and there is no shortage of youthful talent, ready to scrap for a berth on the plane to the Caribbean. But Scottish cricket is continuing to struggle with the perception that it's an elitist pursuit, which couldn't be further from the truth. It's time for the politicians, the media and the soccerati to appreciate there is life - and a vibrant pulse - beyond the Old Firm's foreign legion.
Neil Drysdale is a Scottish journalist, author and cricket fan. He currently works for The Glasgow Herald.