Fraser Watts: Lack of Fixtures is Creating “a Tragedy”
Fraser Watts has called for Scotland to seek re-entry to the ECB’s limited overs competitions amid fears that the most talented side for a generation is being left to wither on the vine. With the lack of international fixtures beginning to bite, the former Scotland star believes it is time to look again at how the national side can best hone its competitive edge for the future.
“We need to be playing at a higher level of cricket more often,” he said. “If you look at the situation now, we have some guys playing down south on the county scene but the ones who are based in Scotland are playing club cricket.
“Club cricket is a very important aspect of the game in Scotland and we should keep that as strong as we can, but to go from playing that and a couple of district games to playing an ODI against a side like Afghanistan is just no preparation. You can do all the practise in the world but if you haven’t had that match preparation, by which I mean competitive games played at high intensity, you’re on a hiding to nothing.
“In that context I don’t think you can really fault the guys if they don’t perform to their best on that one given day. We’re very good in Scotland at knocking our players, saying they’re not good enough and that sort of thing, but we need to give them proper preparation and for me the obvious place to do that is within the English county set-up.”
Over a fifteen year career Watts amassed 4,724 runs in 203 appearances before his retirement from international cricket in 2013, including an unbeaten 171 against Denmark in the 2006 European Championships. He was part of the team that secured Scotland the ICC Intercontinental Cup and ICC Trophy for the first time in 2004-5 and represented his country at three ICC World Cups, all achieved whilst pursuing a career away from cricket in the finance industry. Today, however, he has concerns that if the lack of playing opportunities for the current crop of players continues it may spell the end of professionalism in Scotland.
“I was lucky in that I played in that time between the amateur and the professional eras, we all had jobs. It was a great life to have, the craic of being on the cricket pitch, go home and go to work the next day, and it obviously helped me to develop the career I have at the moment. Today too many of the guys are basically going to training in the morning for three hours then sitting around for the rest of the day doing nothing because they’ve got no games and there’s nothing else to do.
“County players have plenty of days of cricket per year, they are playing either first or second team. At the moment, though, our guys are playing nowhere near enough cricket to justify being full-time in my view. That’s not their fault, but something needs to be done to change that. Either get more cricket or go semi-professional so when a player does finish he has got some sort of career or job to look forward to rather than retire at thirty-five and then have no transferrable skills, no other job and no other experience. For me that is one of the key things that needs to be addressed very soon because it’s not good for the players and it’s not good for the country either.”
The past summer has thrown Scotland’s fixture shortage into sharp focus. Having appeared at the ICC World T20 in March, a tournament at which Scotland secured their first victory in a major event, the full side did not play again until they met Afghanistan for two ODIs in July. After both games were badly affected by the weather, the first being abandoned, frustration was compounded by the subsequent raining off of the August I-Cup tie against UAE. With the subsequent ODIs against UAE and Hong Kong the only other fixtures of the international summer, Watts is clear as to Scotland’s way forward.
“We need to play more cricket and I think one of the key things for that is to get back into the English set-up. We are so lucky to have that asset on our doorstep. When I played in the Pro 40 or Totesport or whatever incarnation it was in those days it was brilliant, we had nine or ten games a year against top quality opposition.
“With all due respect to the other Associate nations I think we need to be looking to get back into that English set-up to give us that up in standard so when we do go and play at international level we are playing a better standard of cricket.”
And Watts is in no doubt that a newly installed Scotland side would be more than able to hold their own against county opposition.
“The great tragedy is that there is some amazing talent amongst the current squad of players,” he said. “There are thirty-odd players that Grant Bradburn could potentially pick in a Scotland side. If you compare the side now with the one I was part of the group of players is so much better.
“We had some good players in our time but there are some really top quality players now, Preston Mommsen and Kyle Coetzer, Matt Machan, and the bowlers, Ali Evans, Safyaan Sharif and so on. There are so many good cricketers flying around and it’s a tragedy that they are not playing enough cricket.
“As Brendon McCullum said, this is the time of their lives and yet our boys have to sit around after training when they should be playing cricket.”