Scotland competed well in the 2018 World Cup qualifier but eventually missed out on the prized spot in the 2019 World Cup by a whisker. © ICC

Scotland competed well in the 2018 World Cup qualifier but eventually missed out on the prized spot in the 2019 World Cup by a whisker. © ICC

After the conclusion of the 2018 ICC World Cup Qualifier tournament in Zimbabwe, most watchers felt that Scotland were hard done by. Winning all their group stage matches and ending up with nothing to show for it in the Super Sixes, missing out on a spot at the 2019 edition by five runs, some questionable umpiring decisions and rain (of which Scotland already have plenty to contend with at home). The narrow miss means that not only will Scotland not feature at a world event happening right next to them, but crucial funding that could have helped their grassroots programme was lost. But with no Associate country now part of the 2019 World Cup, this isn’t a case particular to Scotland. So what does it take for an Associate nation like Scotland to remain competitive enough, and relevant enough, in cricket?

The first step is having a professional board. Scotland have that down pat – a 19-member staff that includes the Chief Executive, Malcolm Cannon, and a financial department consisting of one full-time and one part-time employee. Speaking to Wisden India, Cannon joked that while they couldn’t maintain a full-fledged administration like India had, for a minor sport in a country obsessed with football, they were doing alright.

“We have the performance side which is the word we use to describe the high performance teams, the men’s and the women’s and we have a participation team who are out developing the sport at grassroots level, introducing it in schools, running junior pathways and encouraging children to try cricket.”

Cannon said that despite the climatic and topographical restrictions that prevent cricket even being played in certain regions of the country, there were easily about 16-17,000 players registered during the 2017 season on an average. That included men’s, women’s and junior teams.

Grant Bradburn on bouncing back from World Cup miss

It’s particularly devastating in that we were so close to earning our organisation enough funding for our team to qualify for the World Cup and then therefore receive enough funding to stage some meaningful games leading into the Cricket World Cup 2019. But now we have no problem being positive, we’re always positive and we’re always fighting hard to improve and that’s the thing that we will take away – we cannot do anything about things out of our control but we can do something about things that are in our control.

“We have about 170 clubs ranging from large multi-sport clubs where cricket is only one of the offerings to very small organisations where they don’t even own their own cricket pitches and they use council owned properties both to play and to change. Some of the clubs are very old and very well established. Others are much newer and they play in a league structure which has a historic basis and continues to be set up in a regional structure,” explained Cannon, who joined Cricket Scotland in September 2015 with marketing experience, a playing background in rugby and an all-round love for Scottish sport.

Speaking to Cannon, you get the sense of a quiet determination to not let things, outside factors mostly, get in the way of his players succeeding at the highest level. Uncooperative weather, a lack of funds and opportunities, players leaving the sport and opting for other careers – these continue to remain stumbling blocks and Cannon is aware of this fact but is trying to work his way both through and around the problems.

Both Cannon and Grant Bradburn, a former New Zealand international who has coached the Scottish senior men’s side for the past four years, remain grateful to the ICC for the financial help being provided and recognise that the world cricketing body can only do so much.

Bradburn points at the Associate struggle being linked to the limited number of playing days, putting the number at 30 days of international cricket, not even half of what Full Members like Zimbabwe or Windies, closer to the Associates in terms of rankings, get in a year. With the weighty consideration of funding and chances for qualification to a world tournament attached to every game played by an Associate nation, the pressure the players play with is immense.

“Sometimes Associate teams might have an off week in critical tournaments or they might have an off game on a critical day and that could be devastating in terms of the future for those teams. We’ve seen our fellow Associates, Hong Kong and PNG, lose their ODI status because perhaps they didn’t perform at their best in two or three games in a short space of time and that has devastating effects on Associate nations,” lamented Bradburn.

Just a few poor games can have far-reaching negative consequences for an associate team. © ICC

Just a few poor games can have far-reaching negative consequences for an associate team. © ICC

“The same cannot be said in Full Member worlds. If you have an off week or two weeks, you might lose a series, that doesn’t cost you millions and millions of dollars or more opportunities to play. In Full Member worlds, you still have the Future Tours Programme to support you and a significant amount of funding to support you.”

When one looks at the type of funding provided to these nations by the ICC, one begins to understand why even losing one game can have such consequences. Two types of grants, the competition grant and the scorecard grant, are given out on a yearly basis with the former depending on the qualifications earned by teams for any ICC tournament (InterContinental Cup, World Cup, World Twenty20 etc) and the latter being decided by the quality of facilities, coaches, training staff and grounds, grassroots programmes, and the like. Cannon explains that while for Scotland, the funding is divided half and half between the two grants, a handout of over $US 1 million is a definite boost to a board that gets a turnover of over $US 2 million. But there are downsides to this – the yearly allocation of competition grant funding is done for the year before the tournament the team has qualified for, the year of the tournament and a bonus after the tournament which meant that Scotland’s competition grant for qualifying for the 2015 World Cup ran out last year. This also means that Associates aren’t able to plan ahead for the future.

On the playing side of things, this uncertainty means that teams like Scotland are unable to hold on to their best players and also unable to groom future players with the threat of losing funding riding on nearly every game they play. It is this tough issue that Bradburn has to deal with every time he picks a playing XI.

Malcolm Cannon on the need for the growth of the game

Test cricket is seen as the ultimate Test and therefore the ultimate accolade, perhaps a privilege that should be reserved for only those such as those. However, the world has changed during the 170 years since cricket’s been around, and if cricket is to grow globally, the potential for growth probably doesn’t exist in the existing Test countries. This is coming from a newcomer into the sport, I’m allowed to challenge it, I can be the naïve fool if you like, but I think that assumption is a historic assumption and it’s not necessarily backed up today. And I think that’s a very, very important basis on which to have any sort of modelling for the future of the sport, because if it is modelled around Test cricket being the be all and end all, then I think it’s probably going to be at risk, the sport of cricket is at risk.

“It certainly does have an effect on the development of our wider squad, not playing enough cricket because we only play 30 days of cricket per year and because every one of those days or every one of those games has something riding on it. It’s normally either points for qualification or qualification for the next year or the next stage of the tournament and ultimately every game has the outcome of funding riding on it. Every game in the Associate level has great meaning and because of that, we find ourselves in a position often where we just have to play our strongest XI. So therefore our wider squad doesn’t get anywhere near the cricket that they need to put pressure on the incumbents to force their way into the team.

“We are also very smart in the way that we train our players – we don’t just have an exclusive national team. We blur the lines between the national team and the performance pathway so that young players can get an early opportunity to rub shoulders with our international players, and it also keeps pressure on the incumbents to be seeing the younger players who are coming into our environment to train all of the time.”

Considering all the factors, Scotland beating Afghanistan in the Qualifier and taking their final game against the Windies down to the wire was indeed creditable. But it didn’t come as a surprise to Cannon, who was rather cut and dry in extolling the performance of his players both on and off the field.

“Why did we fail to beat Windies and why did we fail to beat Ireland? It’s because these opportunities do not come up very often and therefore the pressure on our players results in, it’s more a mental thing than a technical or a physical thing. These guys are fit, they’re athletes and they’re more than capable of competing, we just need more opportunities.

“These were very well thought through, very capably coached, a lot of research and preparation went into the squad before they went. No one here was shocked by the results. I think the spirit that was displayed by our players and the competition was a great advert for the game and I think it was recognised by everyone who watched it. I don’t think people could possibly argue anything but the fact that it’s been composed and dignified, professional and mature. And I think the maturity shown by our side, both on and off the pitch has been exemplary. I’m so proud of them, and I don’t want that to sound patronising because I’m not surprised at all.”

Cannon elaborated about how this wasn’t a singular event and that the composure shown by the likes of Kyle Coetzer and his teammates extended down to the Under-19 boys, who showed similar dispositions in their campaign at the Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh in 2016. The Cricket Scotland CEO couldn’t and in fact, didn’t hide his utter frustration at the tumultuous time cricket has had over the past few weeks.

“When you look at the teams in the World Cup and who have all this funding and you consider the behaviour to have been publicised over the last two years both on and off the pitch, it does hurt a little bit that this is the advert for the game which is going to be on television.”

But both Cannon and Bradburn were firm on what Scotland needed to do next, which was powering on to the next set of fixtures, however few they may be. A one-off ODI against England, two T20Is against Pakistan and a recently announced T20I tri-series against Ireland and the Netherlands equals roughly ten days of cricket. Using the momentum from the World Cup Qualifiers is the agenda for both Cannon and Bradburn, but the former believes that unless the vicious cycle of funding leading to more opportunities is broken somehow, change will come very slowly.

Cannon urged the global cricketing community to shift the focus away from countries that already see a lot of cricket being played by their teams and use the rugby model of shortening the format and employing it in the Olympics as a chance to grow the game globally, which will not only help the ICC in terms of funding but also allow Associates more opportunities to improve their game.

“But whilst the word hysteria has been used, we don’t find it hysterical at all, we find it a very well-disciplined argument with incredibly well thought through sensible comments being made so ultimately it has to be listened to,” said Cannon. “And as I said before, the growth of the game will not be in the countries who have played cricket an awful lot, it’s going to come from other areas. If you look at the way rugby’s embraced a much broader base to its world tournaments and how that has benefitted rugby in Southern America, Latin America and in Japan for instance, that seems to be the way that might benefit the sport.

“So the technology (of trying to play games in relatively wet weather), the Olympics and I’m obviously going to say the opportunities for nations to compete with the senior nations around the world whether it is the World Cup qualifiers, whether it’s in the World Cup itself, whether it’s in other formats of the game, whether it’s in bilateral cricket. Now a lot of that comes down to funding but a lot of that is due to congested fixture schedules as well. So the Full Members, even if they wanted to play us, cannot. And even if we could afford it, they cannot play us. It’s a sort of vicious circle, and we will never get out of this level with this concrete ceiling above us without the opportunities to show.”

Can Scotland lead the Associate way now that Ireland and Afghanistan shifted over to Full Member status? It remains to be seen but for now, the likes of Cannon and Bradburn have to make do with using short-term solutions to make long-term gains, and with a never-give-up attitude and belief that they have the talent and acumen to succeed at the top level. Scotland’s experience of making hay amidst the ever-present rain clouds is sure to come in handy.