Ambitious Scotland try to pick up pieces after painful World Cup omission

Sports News
Scotland narrowly missed out on a World Cup berth after they suffered a heartbreaking five-run loss (DLS Method) versus the Windies in the qualifiers © Getty
“This trophy will serve as a painful reminder of the dreams that we had… for the 15 million dreams that we crushed. When I started playing cricket, I thought it was to unite countries, players of different backgrounds coming together to play this beautiful sport. Unfortunately, you’ll see that’s not going to happen in next year’s World Cup.”

Those are the words of Zimbabwe’s Sikander Raza as he collected the Man-of-the-Series award at the end of the World Cup qualifying tournament in March. The expression on his face was not one of joy but was instead full of emptiness. He might have won a personal accolade but his dream of representing his country at next year’s World Cup proper was no more. He was distraught.

His words were pointedly directed at the ICC’s decision to limit next year’s tournament to just ten teams. In 2015, there had been 14, a number which had included Scotland, Ireland and Zimbabwe. None of these three worthy sides will be at the 2019 World Cup after West Indies and Afghanistan finished as the top two teams in the qualifying tournament.

Raza’s eloquent and damning comments echoed the thoughts of many. At a time when football and rugby are looking to expand their World Cups, cricket is contracting its own for financial reasons. By reducing the number of teams, the chances of one of the big Test match nations being knocked out early is reduced, thus ensuring maximum broadcast revenues. The ICC don’t like upsets. Sod growing the game, eh? Upsets cost money.

While the dreams of eight of the ten teams who battled it out during the qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe were, using Raza’s word, “crushed”, Scotland’s omission was particularly painful. They were beaten by West Indies in their final Super Six game, a defeat which sent the men from the Caribbean through at Scotland’s expense but the margin of defeat – by just five runs on DLS – was galling for the Scots. So near and yet so far.

But it wasn’t simply the closeness of the result which hurt. Scotland were victims of a shocker of an LBW decision just before the rain came which put them behind the DLS rate and with no further play possible, it cost them the match. Remarkably and unbelievably, DRS was not available for the competition which meant the decision couldn’t be reviewed. There was no reserve day in case of rain either. Given the ICC made more than USD$200million last year, a few thousand dollars to stump up for DRS or an extra day would hardly have broken the bank.

And at the end of it all, Scotland, who defeated Afghanistan and tied with Zimbabwe during the competition, both full members of the ICC, will not be at next year’s World Cup. They missed out on a GBP 700,000 windfall too which, when you consider Cricket Scotland’s profit in 2017 was just over GBP 47,000, would have made a huge difference to the game in Scotland.

“The only people shocked by our performance in Zimbabwe were the people who hadn’t had a good look at us,” Malcolm Cannon, CEO of Cricket Scotland, tells Cricbuzz. “We are a good side and they performed very well but ultimately we failed. We failed in our task to quality albeit narrowly and in circumstances which we wouldn’t wish on anyone else. But we failed. We’ve now got to pick it up, go again.”

The players, crestfallen, largely kept their own counsel after the defeat to West Indies despite the circumstances and although they have now moved on, Cricket Scotland will keep beating the drum for an expanded World Cup in future editions. “The major concern for anyone interested in the game of cricket is that it seems incongruous that when other sports are increasing the size of their World Cups, cricket has gone the opposite direction,” says Cannon.

“If it truly is to be a global sport, the growth is going to come not from the full members but from elsewhere and that’s why we need to keep on making the point that a larger World Cup is beneficial to the sport. It’s not in the best interests of a few nations but for the majority, it is very much in the interests of them. It is disappointing but we are where we are, we knew it was a ten team World Cup and we failed. Our time will come, it’s just a question of when.”

Scotland’s white-ball form in 2017 was excellent so the performance in Zimbabwe earlier this year was no surprise. They beat Zimbabwe in an ODI in Edinburgh last June, the first time they had ever beaten a Test nation, and then thrashed Sri Lanka in a practice game in Kent, chasing down 287 for the loss of just three wickets which included an opening stand of 201 between Kyle Coetzer and Matt Cross. It wasn’t an official ODI but it was a smashing performance nonetheless.

That good form continued throughout the World Cup qualifying campaign and now, with an ODI against England on Sunday followed by two T20Is against Pakistan the following week, all at The Grange in Edinburgh, Scotland are presented with further opportunities to showcase their talent and their progress. Hosting the two number one ranked sides in limited overs cricket is a “huge time for Scottish cricket” according to Cannon. “It’s massive. It’s a big ask but we are up for it.”

Associate teams don’t tend to make money when hosting big games. There are no bumper broadcasting deals so much of the revenue comes from ticket sales and they often cost money to put on. The England match is a sell-out of around 4,000 but sales have been slower for the two Pakistan matches although Cricket Scotland hope for some late uptake. Cannon hopes the matches can result in a small surplus but in many ways, these games aren’t about the money. They’re about opportunity and exposure.

“The women’s team narrowly missed out on last year’s World Cup but are improving – and the All Stars Cricket programme saw 1,000 children between the ages of 5 and 8 years-old sign up” – Cannon. Photo credit – Cricket Scotland © Agencies
These are the sorts of games Scottish cricket needs but struggles to get. Cannon will push to host more international teams but recognises the packed Future Tours Programme and financial constraints make things difficult. The Zimbabwe games last year were the first time Scotland had played a Test nation in an ODI since the 2015 World Cup and although the ECB do support Cricket Scotland financially, England have not visited their neighbours since 2014.

“These games are put on because it’s right for the sport,” Cannon says. “Whether it’s men’s or women’s, full-team or age group, we need to put these games on to keep the profile of the sport high, to give our players at whatever level as many opportunities as possible to play against top quality opposition.”

The type of exposure that high-profile matches bring is also important to help continue the strides that cricket has recently made in Scotland. There has been a huge increase in funding for the women’s game where, according to Cannon, “the opportunities for growth are enormous” – the women’s team narrowly missed out on last year’s World Cup but are improving – and the All Stars Cricket programme saw 1,000 children between the ages of 5 and 8 years-old sign up last year. Despite the difficulties faced by most amateur sports clubs throughout the UK, Cannon thinks grassroots “cricket in Scotland is in a reasonably healthy place”.

Finances will, however, continue to be a problem given the inequality in the way money is given out by the ICC. In the latest revenue sharing model agreed last year, India will receive almost double of what all the Associate members – put together – will get. Scotland’s funding has been cut for 2018 because they will not take part in an ICC global tournament this year. They do what they can – and there has been increased investment in the men’s and women’s national squads as well as into facilities – but there are also things they would love to do that they can’t.

Despite these constraints, there is no lack of ambition within Cricket Scotland’s head offices in the capital. After seeing Ireland and Afghanistan reach full member status, that is next on Cannon’s agenda for Scotland. “The great thing about Ireland and Afghanistan becoming full member of the ICC is that it proves that restriction that was there for 25 years (18) after Bangladesh became a full member has been removed,” he says.

“We now know what’s required. We passionately believe we are the next obvious full member of the ICC, not only in terms of men’s and women’s rankings but in terms of governance, financial stability, grassroots development.”

Despite the folly of the ICC’s decision to reduce next year’s World Cup to just ten teams, countries like Scotland, Nepal and Holland are continuing to produce good players and good teams. Indeed, the strength at the Associate level has probably never been better. They just need to be given far more opportunities to progress. In the meantime, Scottish cricket is doing what it can. And what it can is pretty bloody good.