Craig Wright: Departing Cricket Scotland
There was a slight tinge of sadness in Craig Wright’s voice when we spoke this week about his departure from Cricket Scotland at the end of March.
But was there also a shred of relief as well, given the turbulent recent fortunes of Wright’s compatriots on the global stage?
As he said: “It has been frustrating and I was out at the World T20 qualifying event in India and I really think the Associate countries need more opportunities like that.
“But there is little sign of that happening. One of the factors which influenced my decision was the fact that Scotland have almost no major fixtures in 2016. How can you build up momentum on that basis?”
It was a pertinent comment. Wright has been such a ubiquitous figure in Caledonian cricket for the last two decades that the announcement he was leaving Cricket Scotland to pursue fresh challenges came as a genuine shock to the system.
After all, this is a character whose engaging mix of granite and geniality, allied to an impressive work ethic and no little talent made him such a stalwart figure in the development of his home country, whether as an incisive seamer, canny captain, redoubtable motivator or coach to the next generation.
Wright, who is still only 41, would probably be the first to admit that recent results haven’t assisted Scotland’s ambitions to scale the Associate ladder. They pushed Afghanistan and Zimbabwe close at the World T20, yet ended up losing both contests. And that outcome clearly rankles with him.
As Wright said: “It was disappointing, but I genuinely think we are at a crossroads. Either the ICC accepts they need to help Scotland, Ireland, The Netherlands, Afghanistan, Oman, and others, or these countries will always be walking uphill.
“It’s not primarily about the World Cup or World T20, though these things are obviously important.
“But rather, we need opportunities to compete and challenge and commit on a regular basis year in, year out.
“I hope people are listening. Maybe the ICC needs to tear up the current schedule and start again.”
It was a far cry from the triumphant scenes which greeted the success of Wright’s talented squad at the 2005 ICC Trophy event in Ireland.
Yet little of the blame for the recent problems within the Scottish game should be laid at Wright’s door.
If anything, one might wish that a few of the emerging talents on the domestic circuit would absorb the lessons of Wright’s own career, but the class of 2016 have been left in a difficult position by the ICC.
Without high-profile contests, how do they push forward? Or find sponsors or attract media coverage? It’s a minefield and it’s not one of the Associates’ making.
As for Wright, one only wishes that Cricket Scotland currently had ten or 11 luminaries in his Stakhanovite image. I was at the Grange in 1998 when his terrific six-wicket spell was the catalyst for the Scots to beat a strong Worcester line-up.
Absurdly, he was overlooked for the 1999 World Cup, but Wright dusted himself down and duly displayed the resilience which he had absorbed from supporting Aberdeen FC under Sir Alex Ferguson for many years.
He was in charge of the Saltires when they entered the Totesport League and gained prominence after the side won three of their first four matches against English county opponents.
And he was equally effective when his charges swept to victory at the ICC Trophy when his personnel prevailed in all their fixtures and trounced the Irish in the final.
For many of us, that remains one of the most stellar feats achieved by Scotland in the summer pursuit. At that stage, they were undoubtedly the strongest Associate nation.
In personal terms, Wright enjoyed myriad halcyon moments. He hit the winning runs against Somerset in 2003, took a hat-trick against Denmark 12 months later, was the skipper when the Scots triumphed at the Intercontinental Cup in 2004 and finally made it to the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007, albeit that honour arrived eight years late.
But anybody who knows him recognised he was far less interested in individual glory than how his team was faring. He led them on 107 occasions, amassed 194 caps and that figure would have been more but for injury problems late in his career.
CRAIG WRIGHT’S FIVE OF THE BEST
- Our win against Worcestershire in 1998 when I took a few wickets. This was an important win for the team given successes against the counties were still pretty rare and also given the strength of the Worcestershire team at that time. It was also important for me personally as a new Scotland player to put in a performance like that to give me confidence I could succeed at that level of cricket.
- May 2003. Our entry into the revamped county set-up was a massive step forward itself in terms of the amount of good quality cricket it gave us over the course of the season. As amateur players to win 3 of our first 4 games (without Rahul Dravid) was a massive confidence boost for the team (especially given that certain people suggested we wouldn’t win a game all season!). The wins at Durham in the first match, Old Trafford against a very strong Lancashire team and chasing those runs in the shortened game against Somerset were very special days.
- 2004 ICup and 2005 ICC Trophy. After the disappointment of the qualifiers in Canada in 2001, our aim was to establish ourselves as the best Associate team, and winning those competitions back to back in the manner we did proved that for that period we achieved it. The unbeaten campaign in 2005 was very special, in particular the final against Ireland at Clontarf in front of a big crowd.
- 2011-12 U19 campaign. This team won both the European and Global qualifying tournaments (winning 13 out of 14 matches) and went on to achieve Scotland’s highest ever finish in an U19 World Cup and first victory against a full member country.
- 2014 World Cup qualifier in New Zealand. Given the form of the team leading up to this tournament, the turmoil in terms of changes to the coaching staff and the magnitude of this event in terms of the consequences of failure this was definitely one of the highlights. I am extremely proud of our achievement in winning this competition, particularly given that virtually every game was a must win after losing our first match.
Also, not a specific highlight, but something I am most proud of is that 16 players came through the national youth programme into the senior team during the six years I was in charge of our performance development programme. It gives me a great degree of satisfaction to see young home grown Scottish cricketers still providing the backbone of our senior team. I hope this continues!!
In recent times, something of a bunker mentality has crept into the Scottish cricket mentality. I’ve been told by more than one official to accentuate the positive even in the aftermath of a bad performance.
Wright was never that way inclined. As he once told me: “We can take criticism as long as it’s fair. We know we will have good and bad days and that we have to keep learning and doing our best to improve.”
Nothing has changed in his attitude, although it does seem slightly absurd that such a first-class communicator should be quitting next week when Cricket Scotland, frankly, need all the positive publicity going.
But he has never been a conspiracy theorist or a part-time patriot. With Wright, what you see is exactly what you get and he admitted he was looking forward to a break.
“I love cricket, and that’s never going to change, but 2016 is looking pretty quiet and it will be good to recharge the batteries,” said Wright.
“I’m looking at one or two things, but it will be nice to go along to a match and just be able to enjoy it.
“In the bigger picture, who knows? I do hope the ICC sits down and comes up with a plan for the game which isn’t just random, because we need a structure which encourages everybody to raise their game.
“What I do know is that the current structure doesn’t work properly. Not for Scotland or Ireland or any of the other Associates, but everybody.
“It’s just so…..ad hoc.”
He’s right, of course, as Michael Atherton acknowledged in The Times last month.
But, being naughty, I would go one stage further. Scotland are currently coached by Grant Bradburn, whose qualifications for the job have so far been well-disguised.
Wouldn’t Wright be a better bet?