By Tim Wigmore
As big brothers go, England have been the sort to throw away little brother’s ball and leave them no one to play with.
Consider how they have treated Scotland in recent years. First – originally in 2010, and then later in spite of the transformation in standards beyond the Test world – England ardently pushed for the World Cup to be reduced to ten teams; they have been successful, which is why next year’s World Cup will feature only ten teams even as the tournament is longer in duration.
Then, after the 2013 season, England restructured county cricket and informed Scotland and the Netherlands that they could no longer take part in the List A competition, which former Scotland captain Preston Mommsen credited with teaching him how to be a professional cricketer. Finally, England have cut back on the inconvenience of playing Scotland: from 2008-14, they played Scotland every two years, at which point they moved the one-day international to being every four years. Whether England will even carry on playing Scotland every four years is now unclear.
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The great pity is that England have taken so many decisions to the detriment of Scottish cricket at exactly the moment when the game north of the border is poised to make a decisive breakthrough. Cricket Scotland have won numerous awards for their development work in recent years. In spite of a lack of funding and lamentable lack of fixtures – just four ODIs against Full Members, and both those outside the top ten, from the 2015 World Cup to the World Cup Qualifiers in March – which together have driven a series of premature retirements, Scotland have made considerable progress on the pitch too.
They showed as much in the qualifying tournament. In the first round, they thrashed Afghanistan by seven wickets, when Calum MacLeod took down Rashid Khan in a way that no other batsman ever has; tied with Zimbabwe – a remarkable result considering that Zimbabwe had home advantage and get over seven times as much cash from the ICC; and efficiently polished off fellow Associates Hong Kong and Nepal.
Then came the Super Six stage. First, Scotland beat the UAE easily enough. Then came an agonising defeat to Ireland, when Andy Balbirnie should have been dismissed lbw without scoring. Instead, with no DRS, he made a century.
The upshot was that Scotland, playing their first official ODI against a top-nine team for three years, faced a winner-takes-all shoot-out with the West Indies to reach the World Cup. Struggling with the pressure of cricket with such high stakes – the sort that Associates deal with routinely, with fixtures, funding and their very careers on the line, but that Full Members are seldom exposed to in the cushy world of bilateral cricket – the West Indies were bowled out for only 198.
At this point Scotland were clear favourites. But the early loss of Kyle Coetzer – probably the best batsman beyond the Test world – precipitated an early collapse to 25-3. What followed was a period of brutally tense rebuild-ing. Then, an appalling lbw decision accounted for Richie Berrington – the ball hit him outside legstump and was heading further down – just before rain descended. When it had stopped, Scotland were defeated by five runs on the DLS method.
The lack of DRS – unlike in the Women’s World Cup a year earlier, which also did not have every game broadcast – had again scuppered Scotland; indeed, had they won either against Ireland or the West Indies they would now be at the World Cup.
Few nations in history, across any sport, had so much to gain from reaching a tournament compared to what they faced without being there.
Most obviously, nine ODIs in six weeks against top ten nations would have represented more games than Scotland had enjoyed in the previous four years – and, for players like Coetzer, Safyaan Sharif, MacLeod and Berrington, impressive performances could have earned contracts in some of the myriad T20 leagues around the world. The extra cash – $1 million from the ICC, as well as extra sponsorship – could have been transformative for grassroots cricket and for the worth of players’ contracts. It would also have funded more bilateral fixtures.
Scotland would love to play more against elite teams. If not, simply playing more against Associate nations would be a huge improvement. The trouble is, Scotland can’t afford to do so. To understand why consider the allocation of ICC funding: Zimbabwe – who Scotland also drew 1-1 against last summer, showing how well-matched the two are on the pitch – get $93 million from the ICC during the 2015-25 cycle. As things stand, Scotland will only get about $12 million. England, despite a new TV deal which will earn them $220 million a year, get almost as much from the ICC as the 92 Associates combined: sadly emblematic of their lack of interest in globalising the sport.
In the coming week, Scotland have the extent of their international cricket for the summer: the ODI against England, followed by two T20Is against Pakistan. For the other nations it is an afterthought. For Scotland, it is all they have. A rare, too rare, chance to create a clamour about their plight and make the case for positive change.