Interview: Marc Petrie
It’s that time of year when Scottish cricketers ought to have hope in their hearts and be relishing the prospect of the new season.
After all, pitches are being rolled, the nights are drawing out, fixture cards are being distributed, net sessions arranged and the 2016 Wisden is ready for publication.
Strangely, though, there aren’t that many signs of optimism at a lot of Scottish clubs just now. Some have taken positive strides and duly nurtured a conveyor belt of enthusiastic grassroots talent, but the majority seem apprehensive over what lies ahead and with good reason in some cases.
Freuchie, one-time conquering heroes at Lord’s are in a slough of despond, while several clubs, primarily based in the west of Scotland, have reported dwindling numbers and resources. They’re not playing “The Last Post” yet, but they’re not cheering from the rooftops either.
For that reason, it’s always a pleasure to travel to Arbroath United and spend time in the company of a genuinely progressive, upbeat organisation, whose success has been earned not by hiring foreign mercenaries, but through lashings of toil at the coal face, interspersing coaching with coaxing and cajoling the next generation to do better.
The Lochlands club have never been shy about their quest for honours and surged to a championship title in 2013, prior to winning the Scottish Cup last summer. Their captain, Marc Petrie, sums up the attitude which has brought them glory: a tenacity, and all-consuming desire to keep getting in opponents’ faces, and a tough-as-teak philosophy.
The skipper knows it doesn’t always win them friends, but this Petrie dish is an uncomplicated, uncompromising amalgam and he is gearing up his charges for another season where they will chase domestic dominance.
As he told me: “Preparation for the new season is going well with a few indoor sessions under our belt and we had our first outdoor session last week which went well.
“We have taken on Jan Stander as a coach on a part time/casual basis who took yesterday’s session, so we’re looking forward to having him involved this season.
He comes (from north neighbours Stoneywood-Dyce) with a great amount of experience and knows the game inside out in this country and he only wants success for us.
“I think that, in the past few seasons, teams have started to see us get success and, because of the hard way in which we play, we’re maybe not the most liked team in the country, but we only want to concentrate on our own performances, not the opposition.
Therefore, I don’t see us having any more pressure than normal. Every season, we just want to build on previous successes and bring through homegrown talent which has worked well for us over a number of years now.”
Petrie is an experienced campaigner, both on the domestic circuit and at Scotland level and his approach is to encourage a ‘whole club’ mentality at Arbroath. When you see the all-for-one sense of purpose at Lochlands, it’s easy to detect why they are prospering.
He said: “I am about to start my fourth season as captain and every week it’s a privilege to lead out the boys. I truly believe a captain is only as good as the team he has playing for him and I have been blessed with a highly talented bunch of lads.
“This is not only in the first team but the whole way through our club. The team is shaping up quite well, very similar to last season’s squad. We have no overseas players, so we are looking to keep progressing our own youngsters as we did last year and a big objective of mine is to minimise the gap between our first and second teams, so that when boys make the step up, they can integrate quickly and easily.
“I think raising the standard of club cricket should be a main priority whether Scotland have fixtures or not, but having international players available on a weekly basis certainly helps the process. As a team, we always want to play against the best players and teams because, if you want to win leagues and cups, you have to beat the best.
“I do realise, however, that we play in an amateur league and work/family commitments mean some players may miss games from time to time, but that’s all part of amateur sport.”
This is one of the great quandaries for cricket in Scotland and nobody has come close to devising a structure which satisfies everybody’s needs, for the simple reason that it’s mission impossible.
Yet Petrie has the right mixture of passion and pragmatism to realise he can’t expect to walk easily into the Scottish ranks again when so many of the squad are based at central belt organisations.
He is also quite forthright in his opinion – and this is a view shared by plenty other people – that United might have expected more international recognition than has recently been the case.
As he said: “In terms of my international ambitions, I always aspire to achieve more Scotland caps, because anytime I have played and been involved with the squad, I have loved it.
“There are not many better feelings than wearing the thistle and representing your country. However, there are two or three very good wicket keepers at the moment, so it’s tough for me to break back into the set-up, but it’s something I’ll always strive to do.
“In terms of others, I think Fraser Burnett deserves a chance to show what he can do at a higher level. The level of performances which he has put in consistently throughout the past three or our seasons makes it hard to believe that he will keep getting overlooked.
“You only had to have seen his innings in the Scottish Cup Final to see how good a player he is. And, as a team, we just have to keep performing at a high level and hopefully, our players will gain more recognition in the future.
“A couple of youngsters such as Harris Carnegie and Jack Waller, who were at the U19 World Cup, also have a big chance to shine this season and, having gained excellent experience throughout the winter, I’m hoping they show what they’re capable of during the season.”
The words encapsulate the man and his club. Arbroath are no shrinking violets on the pitch, but they are a proper sports organisation and one wishes there were more in their mould.