Neil Macrae and Cricket in Jersey
Scots are famous for spreading their influence throughout the world, whether as inventors, explorers, soldiers or statesmen, so it shouldn’t constitute any great shock they have made similar strides in sport.
And yet, it still occasionally comes as a surprise when one delves into Europe or Australia or South Africa and discovers pioneering people making waves in different pursuits.
Consider Neil Macrae, for instance, the quietly-spoken former Scotland and Saltires batsman, whose reluctance to engage in Churchillian rhetoric doesn’t disguise his burning ambition to nurture successful teams wherever he ventures in the game.
Macrae, who was born in Liverpool, proved an accomplished motivator and tactician when he helped build a flourishing team at Aberdeenshire during a lengthy spell at Mannofield.
But then, after thriving within the Scottish and Highlanders set-up, he stunned many people by taking over the reins at…Austria, a country which was previously more closely linked with The Sound of Music than the whack of leather hitting willow.
Unperturbed, he helped propel the part-timers on an upward path and made a sufficiently positive impression that he was offered the opportunity to take over at Jersey in a move which saw him swapping the Von Trapps for Bergerac.
When he accepted the job – in 2013 – there was precious indication of the scale of the task which awaited Macrae. Yet, in the intervening period, his young squad have beaten Kenya, Hong Kong, Nepal, all of them nations with a decent pedigree on the Associate circuit.
And, when we talked this week, it was evident he believes his latest missionary work has only just begun.
“It is obviously different from what I was used to when I was playing for Scotland and involved with the Saltires, but there is a lot of potential in this Jersey squad, they only have an average age of 22, and I am delighted with the progress they have made,” said Macrae.
“It was a steep learning curve for everybody when I was in Austria – they only had limited facilities, which amounted to a couple of AstroTurf pitches. But their players were enthusiastic and that shone through in the advances they made.”
“However, working in Jersey is very different. And one of the biggest things is how you can see the progress which is being made, summer after summer. It’s not dissimilar to when I was at Aberdeenshire in 2008 and 2009 and we saw the emergence of a team which won the National League and the Scottish Cup.”
“I’m still keeping a close eye on all the Associates, and the three which are ahead of the rest at the moment in Europe are Scotland, Ireland and The Netherlands.”
“But the Jersey boys are definitely heading in the right direction. And they have now earned the right to compete in the same company as the Scots and the Irish. Yes, it poses a big challenge, but it’s one we are all looking forward to tackling in the future.”
As one of the members of arguably Scotland’s most successful-ever side, Macrae has kept in touch with the teammates who surged to ICC Trophy glory in 2005.
He has even joined forces with former confrere, Colin Smith, to create and promote the “Katchet” machine, which has been sold throughout the globe.
He’s an innovator and he clearly relishes Twenty20, which explains why he will be glued to the TV next week when the World T20 competition gets underway in India.
But how does he feel Scotland will fare, as they seek to qualify from their group, which also includes Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Hong Kong?
“It’s a big deal and the Scottish side have plenty of experience in their squad. They are a dynamic T20 batting unit and they have no shortage of talented fielders, so they should be absolutely fine in these two departments,” said Macrae.
“The big question will lie in how the bowlers perform in Indian conditions. They’ve lost Majid [Haq, for reasons which have nothing to do with cricket], who is their senior spinner, so it will be up to the newcomers to step up to the plate when it matters.
“It’s going to be a tough schedule for all the sides. Zimbabwe are an unknown quantity and we realise how dangerous the Afghan team can be, given that they beat Scotland at the World Cup last year. And Hong Kong are going in the right dangerous.
“But hopefully, this will be Scotland’s chance to shine in the spotlight. They have come close before, and I know how ambitious they are to claim a major scalp. This is the best possible place to do it, in front of Indian crowds with millions of people watching.”
He’s a proponent of the carrot, not the stick, but though he’s in Jersey, nobody is pulling the wool over Neil Macrae’s eyes.