Drysdale’s Column: Duck Season

It was a season for ducks of the feathered variety and one where umpires and umbrellas seemed to dominate much of the landscape around Scottish cricket grounds.

Even before a ball had been bowled or a gloomy forecast had arrived from the Met Office, I warned that 2016 would be a difficult summer for the game.

That was in the knowledge there were almost no high-profile fixtures for the international team, which meant publicity for the sport was bound to suffer against the likes of the European Football Championships, Wimbledon and the Olympics.

Yet, even with all these cautionary notes, it’s difficult to comprehend just how dismal life has been for the white-flannel brigade in the last few months. It was probably appropriate the Eastern and Western Premier League titles were wrapped up by Carlton and Clydesdale without either side having to take the field on August 20 – but it wasn’t any less of an anti-climax.

In the grand scheme of things, there was little scope for Scotland to make much headway on their Associate rivals. They lost 1-0 to Afghanistan, who drew 2-2 with Ireland, although the feeling persists that the latter are on the decline at exactly the time they are being showered with ODIs by the ICC.

On a positive note, the Scots have a clutch of talented youngsters with a determination to prosper and thrive at the elite level. And that applies equally in the men’s and women’s squads.

In no particular order, there were high standards of excellence from Michael English, Chris Sole, Harris Aslam, Mark Watt, Harris Carnegie, Adrian Neill, Mo Awais, Andrew Umeed, Oli Rae, Abbi Aitken, Peter Ross, Jack Waller, Connor Shorten, Ruaidrhi Smith, Haroon Tahir and plenty others.

Indeed, I offered CricIndex readers the chance to nominate their own heroes and was completely, utterly overwhelmed with the response. And if you detect the sarcasm, in that remark, you are absolutely spot-on!

Because, despite all the efforts to talk up the game, there is a lack of positivity around Scotland’s clubhouses at the moment. Sure, the incessant rain hasn’t helped, but that shouldn’t be used as an excuse.

After all, there were success stories in 2016. Clydesdale have a thriving organisation and a stack of ambitious performers, expertly captained by the evergreen Majid Haq. They won the league and the Scottish Cup, which makes them my Team of the Year.

In the east, Carlton shrugged off losing several key personnel, including Scotland captain, Preston Mommsen, and displayed an impressive joie de vivre as their campaign continued.

Elsewhere, there were signs of improvement at Forfarshire, Watsonians, Ferguslie and East Kilbride, for whom Ross Lyons was in scintillating nick with bat and ball nearly every time he took the field.

The former Scotland spinner doesn’t have time to play for his country, due to work commitments, but he was at the top of his game, so he wins my Player of the Year accolade. It was a hard-fought category, but the pride of Lyons roared loudest.

As for the Youngsters to Watch, I’ve already mentioned many of them above. But my feeling is that Hampshire paceman Brad Wheal could become one of the best-ever Scottish players in the years ahead and I’ve gone for him. His county are thrilled at the progrtess he has made and he possesses genuine pace – an invaluable ingredient which Scotland have often lacked of late.

So too, the Sole brothers, Chris and Tom, who are venturing to Australia for the winter, generated a plethora of upbeat headlines and I’ll be keeping tabs on their progress Down Under.

Much of this deserved greater exposure than it received in the newspapers, where the coverage seemed to shrink with every passing week. And there were other, far less uplifting issues.

The main problem was the sheer lack of matches available to the public. Cricket Scotland can’t be blamed, but an international schedule featuring just six one-day Scotland tussles – and two of these are against Hong Kong in September – is inadequate.

The situation was better 20 years ago. And certainly 10 years ago when English counties and ICC Full Members regularly came to these parts. Now that’s gone, you have to ask: why have players on contracts at all?

As for the clubs, there were no excuses for Freuchie withdrawing from the Village Cup competition at less than 24 hours notice and leaving their English opponents in the lurch. I’ve championed the Fifers, and written a book in praise of them, but this was bang out of order.

Ultimately, it was a damp disappointment in so many different directions, but Scotland’s women cricketers have proved their worth and deserve their crack at World Cup qualification next year. They are a go-getting group and will never fail for lack of effort, application of passion.

In many ways, their male counterparts could learn from the Wildcats’ can-do attitude. But we all have to pull together and learn from this wreck of a summer!

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