Scotland…..Where Do They Go Now?
I am, by nature, an optimist. I also tend to be a “company man”.
So, fifteen years ago, when I stopped playing club cricket and transferred my allegiance to the national side, I did so with predictable vigour.
If the team were playing in Edinburgh – I was there. If there was merchandise to buy or a season ticket available – count me in. What could I do to support the team? I’m no elite cricketer, but have a lifetime in education management and writing experience behind me, so I will write positive blogs, I will use social media to publicise the cause, to post my cricket photographs, and to message support to players and coaching staff.
I know that praise is a crucial motivator, so I will acknowledge every move forward, no matter how small, as a step on the road to progress. When friends and colleagues belittle Cricket Scotland, I will be feisty in its defence.
I sometimes felt lonely in my task, but never doubted its necessity. This was our national side – and they deserved our support. Even as Ireland and Afghanistan pushed us out of the Associate limelight, I was searching for hope at the end of the tunnel. When my Blogs were greeted as sycophantic, when former fellow supporters told me I should wise up to the realities of the situation, I refused to give up. The disappointment of a minimal fixture list in 2016 only slightly dented my enthusiasm.
However, I may now have crashed against a wall of the obvious.
While I am still excited by the talent in our current squad and its potential, and while I will never stop supporting the team, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of feeling sorry for the players and coaching staff. In simple terms, they are not being given the tools to do the job; they are seeking to play as an international squad with a club cricket administration behind them. I don’t take any pleasure out of that suggestion, but I do believe my own professional and cricketing experience makes it a valid statement.
On arrival at the Grange this week, despite the best efforts of groundstaff, there was nothing to promote the atmosphere of this being a fixture between our home nation and perhaps the most exciting current squad in Associate cricket. There was no scorecard, very limited advertising round the ground, over half the boundary was inaccessible to “members of the public”, and toilet facilities and food outlets were minimal to say the least. Before a coin had been tossed there was a feeling of anticlimax, an acceptance that this was not an event of much importance. People in the main street, fifty yards from the entrance were unaware an international fixture was being played on their doorstep. Pubs and shops were devoid of publicity material. No more than a decade ago, commuters at the busy Haymarket junction travelled to work under a massive poster of then captain, Craig Wright. Now it seems that Scotland international games are events known only to the cognoscenti.
A group of cricketers in the crowd around me, obvious enthusiasts, struggled to find out what competition the games were being played in, whether a win would count towards anything. Whilst the Afghan media were highly visible and continually busy, the Scottish media were less so.
When the predicted rains came, there was virtually no shelter for the supporters. During the second game, we sat and watched the rain for around three hours without a single announcement from the public address system. During this time the Afghan media were interviewing players and staff and even filming interviews with Scotland supporters. The announcement that play was to recommence came as most of the covers had been removed and most spectators had worked it out for themselves. In the modern world “There’s nothing to say so we’ll say nothing” doesn’t really cut it in terms of communications and publicity.
It is no way to attract support for a sport fighting to stake its claim to the public’s heart. Some of the stroke making, from the Afghans on Monday, and Wallace and Cross on Wednesday was a joy to behold – but you have to first get people through the gate to witness it.
It is hard to berate those at the sharp end; I believe they are overwhelmed with the number of tasks allotted to them – but it is difficult to understand why more use is not made of the huge amount of volunteer labour which keeps cricket clubs around the country going, year upon year.
Is there nobody professionally involved at high levels in marketing or communications who loves cricket and could lend their expertise to Cricket Scotland on an ad hoc or part time basis? Has anybody thought of taking on graduate interns in these areas so they could obtain some practical experience while helping out the national team?
Shortage of cash does not help, of course – but it is a vicious circle – and, when facing a year with when there are only six fixtures, you have to wonder at the choice of professional player contacts over a strong and effective administration team.
Success begets success they say, and while prizes are being won for development of cricket in schools, there are few other areas where progress seems obvious. Worse than that, rightly or wrongly, it does not feel to the supporter as if anybody in control is aware of the malaise, or, if they are, that they care about it. It is impossible to walk around the ground without hearing groups of cricket enthusiasts discussing the dire nature of their experiences in following the national side. Is nobody picking up on that? Or is there some kind of corporate denial?
It is hard to avoid the feeling that Cricket Scotland, already operating within a small pool of possibilities, does not help itself by restricting its outreach through an old fashioned and outdated means of operation.
Of course, I may have this wrong – I don’t know, because the communication is so limited – and the organisation appears to supporters to be representative of only a small section of the Scottish cricket world.
It does sometimes feel like the national side is run like a club for a relatively small number of people who are comfortable with the current state of affairs, and resistant to a modern and effective redesign of how Cricket Scotland goes about its business. In, recent times, Ireland and Afghanistan have shown it is possible to overcome the odds, in both cases more challenging than those which face Scotland, and find great success. Clearly the ICC have noted this in their awarding of funds. Has anyone asked on what criteria that funding was offered? Or asked how Scotland could emulate this successful access to additional moneys?
I believe our current squad of players have the potential to be as good as any in the world of Associate cricket, I believe the coaches work as hard as they can in the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves – but, to the inevitable detriment of the team, most supporters go to the game accepting defeat is the most likely outcome, and for the players, and the remaining supporters, losing becomes a habit.
Sadly, it is all starting to seem a little pointless – no sad pun intended. For even the most committed of supporters like myself, supporting Scotland is starting to feel like a duty rather than a road to excitement and success. I know how much the players give up to represent their country, and I think they deserve a better chance to reach their potential.
If it’s not the players, and it’s not the coaches, who does that leave?