ICC World Twenty20 June 1, 2009

Blain's negative influence

It would be pleasant to report that Scotland's cricketers were warming up for Tuesday's Twenty20 meeting with England, but sadly the opposite is true

It would be pleasant to report that Scotland's cricketers were warming up for Tuesday's Twenty20 meeting with England, a high-profile occasion, which is being screened live on TV, with a steely team spirit and a Musketeer-style pride in unity and collectivism.

Sadly, it would also be the Pravda version of the truth.

Instead, the Scots have just stumbled into a new controversy, following reports that their experienced paceman, John Blain, has walked out of the squad's headquarters, after engaging in a furious discussion with his captain, Gavin Hamilton, over aspects of the team's performance during their six-wicket defeat to the Bangladeshis in an unofficial warm-up match at the John Paul Getty Ground in Wormsley last Friday.

For those of us on the periphery, the news is scarcely a surprise, considering that Scotland's cricketers seem to have morphed into a family at war during the last three years. Coaches have come and gone, amid rumours of dressing-room dissent, while the side's results have dipped alarmingly since their success at the ICC Trophy in 2005; a number of younger players have expressed their frustration at what they perceive to be a closed-shop within the international ranks; and the likes of Colin Smith, the 36-year-old wicketkeeper, recently reacted to being dropped, following Scotland's abject failure to qualify for the 2011 World Cup, with a newspaper column which aimed pot shots at Cricket Scotland's chief executive, Roddy Smith.

Blain, for his part, was a talented footballer in his youth, and appears to have picked up some of the less palatable attributes of the soccer set. Prior to the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, the Scottish media were invited to meet the team before their departure for the Caribbean, at the Grange club in Edinburgh. It should have been a pretty relaxed occasion - the majority of the journalists present loved their cricket and had no desire to upset Ryan Watson and his team-mates on the eve of the biggest event of their lives.

But, even on that day, resentment was simmering. I sought to arrange a brief interview with Blain, a request to which he eventually acceded, but we had barely started talking when he began berating me for "negative" coverage of Scottish cricket. He then went further - and, in my book, too far - by arguing that the assembled journalists should, more or less, be cheerleaders for Blain and his colleagues, because they were competing as amateurs and weren't on a level playing field with their English county opponents, let alone the likes of the Australians and the South Africans, in their World Cup group.

When I responded by saying that Blain could hardly expect any fair-minded observer to praise Scotland to the skies when they tasted victory and yet gloss over their deficiencies when they fell short, he looked at me with a faint mixture of contempt and bemusement which will be familiar to anybody who has watched Barry Ferguson's antics over the last few months.

The interview was terminated, abruptly. His last words were: "Be more positive." Whereupon the Scots were mauled by Australia and South Africa, as the prelude to being dismantled by the Netherlands, a one-sided contest in which only one Scot - Blain himself - was entitled to feel immune from criticism. And elsewhere, the Irish, as they have done ever since, were making waves and beating higher-ranked opponents while qualifying for the Super Eights and meriting positive headlines.

Since then, it has been all downhill for the Scots. Individuals who should have been replaced remain in the set-up, and woe betide anybody, including coaches, as Peter Drinnen discovered to his cost, who tries to plan for the future. In which light, Blain's departure, though premature, is not exactly a shock to the system, even if it could hardly have happened at a worse time for Hamilton and the rest of his Scottish party.

But really, one has to examine the whole Cricket Scotland structure when stories such as these keep recurring. Lloyds TSB are not renewing their sponsorship at the end of this season and now, the day before a mouth-watering clash with England, the focus is on internecine warfare and splits in the camp rather than building up the Scots. It stinks to high heaven and, whatever the alleged points of dispute between Blain and Hamilton, it's hard to forgive anybody who walks out on their country, whether it is Kris Boyd or John Blain. And if that is being negative, then maybe the problem lies with them.

Neil Drysdale is a freelance journalist and author