Andy Moles, the Scottish coach, has condemned the lack of fitness and dearth of mental toughness within the Scotland squad and claimed that the team will have to sharpen up their act to justify their inclusion to the one-day-international circuit.
Until now, Moles has been diplomacy personified in analysing the efforts of his largely amateur squad. However, having missed out on the Warwickshire coaching role by New Zealand's Mark Greatbatch, as the prelude to accepting a two-year deal with Scotland, he clearly feels that the time for honeyed words is over; a dismal second half of the season for his personnel in their final Totesport League campaign didn't help, either.
"It was a tired, listless group of players who finished the season, and it dawned on me how unfit they were, both physically and mentally, which is one of the reasons why I have struggled to emphasise to them the need to produce 90 overs of sustained good cricket in these games, but it never happened, and I have talked to Tony Judd [the previous national coach] and he suffered from the same deficiency," said Moles, who is in South Africa, as part of an ICC initiative to improve 20 of the best young cricketers from the associate nations.
"Alright, in basic terms, the ICC Trophy was the be-all and end-all in 2005 and we won the competition, which was a terrific achievement for the lads, but we went into reverse gear thereafter, and it isn't good enough for us to take the field with the approach that we are engaged in damage limitation exercises.
"That's why, between now and the New Year, I will ramming home the message that the guys have to work on their fitness, and we will bringing a fitness trainer on board, because we have two matches against Pakistan next summer, we have Australia and South Africa in the World Cup, and these teams will quite rightly hand us nothing, without us behaving like terriers and snapping away at them. Craig Wright has had injury concerns, Ryan Watson needs to work on his fitness, Cedric English has struggled to complete a full game, Paul Hoffmann has contracted gout, and these are all key players, so we have to ensure that they are available for every big tussle. The same applies with the youngsters coming through the system, and I have been heartened by Omer Hussein and Ross Lyons, both of whom have taken to the Saltires like ducks to water.
"As matters stand, my aim is to have chosen my best 15 for World Cup duty by the end of next August and I am nowhere close to drawing up that list. Craig is obviously Mr Fantastic, and his attitude has been exemplary, but we have to offer him time to mend his body, and I want to say to every ambitious Scottish cricketer that if they can score runs or take wickets regularly, they will be in contention for a Caribbean trip. The door has not been closed on anybody, and I am keen to go on the record and assure Majid Haq he hasn't been shelved and figures very much in my plans. I will be talking to him, and telling him that he has to be as fit as possible and can't expect special treatment, but the bottom line is I would love to see Majid and Ross bowling in tandem in the future."
As the Scots head into winter, where most of their leading talents will be engaged on peripatetic sojourns to the Southern Hemisphere, it is evident that Moles is no longer content to indulge in the excuse that his personnel are non-professionals and thus can't be expected to lock horns with county or international opponents on an equal footing. When he returns to Scotland in January, he will focus on refining the technique of the likes of Fraser Watts ("the talent is there, but he gets out too often in the 20s and 30s"), yet freely admits he would be happier if he had a couple of extra batting stars.
"As of 2006, we will have all our best guys, including Dougie Brown, John Blain and the other England-based players for the major matches, which will be an improvement on the current situation, but the lads need to realise they are taking a massive step up the ladder, and I am not interested in anybody who is happy with mediocrity," said Moles. "The eight Scots coming out to the camp in Pretoria next week [amongst them Watts, Lyons and Gordon Goudie] better be aware this isn't a holiday. On the contrary, they will be up at 6am three days a week, and it will be a very tough regime. Their future depends on them raising the bar and this will be the most gruelling time of their lives."