Scotland's batsmen under the spotlight

Running on empty

Neil Drysdale

May 9, 2008

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Andrew Flintoff is out LBW to Dewald Nel during Scotland's win over Lancashire ... but runs remain a problem for the Scots © PA Photos
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Amidst the euphoric scenes which greeted the Scottish Saltires' heart-stopping victory over Lancashire at Old Trafford on Monday, it was easy to forget that, once again, as on so many occasions during the last five years, the bowlers had stepped up to the mark, where the batsmen had previously failed. In three Friends Provident Trophy outings this, ahem, spring, the Saltires have managed totals of 73, 169 and 155; one doesn't exactly have to be Stephen Hawking to deduce that these kind of scores are never going to win you more than perhaps one match in every ten, which begs the question of why there exists such a glaring discrepancy between the practitioners of the two disciplines.

The statistics simply serve to reinforce the dearth of truly first-class batsmen in these parts. Fraser Watts has amassed more than 125 appearances for Scotland, and averages less than 23. Gavin Hamilton, an allrounder who no longer bowls, accumulates less than 30 an innings as well. Ditto the rest of the Saltires line-up with not one single person higher than 28 and 29, whilst, in England, only one Scottish player - Durham's Kyle Coetzer - is currently performing regularly on the 1st XI stage. By contrast, Ireland are exporting an increasingly rich seam of ability to the counties: Eoin Morgan and Ed Joyce are at Middlesex, Niall O'Brien at Northants and Boyd Rankin at Derbyshire, and the Irish boast an exceptional future star in 17-year-old Paul Stirling, who struck a massively assured 70 in the FPT last weekend. There has to be a reason why the Saltires have deep bowling resources, yet struggle to post competitive targets with the bat. What is it?

Craig Wright, the former Scotland captain, has no doubt that the pitches in his homeland offer a compelling answer. "It is far easier for us to produce bowlers than batsmen up here, purely due to the conditions which young players grow up experiencing. Indeed, it will always be difficult for us to produce confident, technically assured batsmen when they grow up playing on soft, seaming wickets, on which they cannot trust the bounce of the ball," said Wright. "In addition, our wickets up here do not bounce, so our batsmen never learn to play off the back foot. Therefore, when our lads have to go and bat against professional bowlers who are operating at 85-90mph, on surfaces which bounce waist high and above, we tend to be found out.

"This is why we need to ensure that our youngsters train in facilities which have even bounce, an also that they play enough cricket at a young enough age against good opposition. That's why we have arranged the tours [to South Africa] and put in place two-day games for the under-17s against English opposition.

"On the other hand, it is much easier for us to produce bowlers because the conditions have much less influence on how a bowler goes about his business. Whereas, when one of our batsmen faces a Scottish club bowling attack on a poor wicket, he is virtually playing a different sport from the one facing Andrew Flintoff, James Anderson & co in Manchester."

Wright makes several valid points, but that still doesn't properly explain how somebody such as Watts can look so stylish for short spells and then depart in anti-climax so frequently. One might also wonder why the Scots should seem to rise to the occasion on their away journeys without being able to replicate the same standards at the Grange.

"It's a mystery," says Wright. "Conventional wisdom would say we should do better in home conditions where the ball seams around more, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I can't speak for the other guys, but I'm not sure there is anything in the theory that they are inspired more by the surroundings down south, I don't buy that. But maybe some of them feel under less pressure than when in front of an expectant home crowd."

Wright and his confreres will strive to maintain the momentum established by the defeat of Lancashire. But until the foundations are laid more adequately by their top order, the majority of supporters will forever be fearful a collapse is just around the corner.

Neil Drysdale is a freelance journalist and author

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