Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Kilted cricket

YOU’RE Scottish and you play cricket? Sometimes it feels like being a mujahedin with a soft spot for George Bush, or a member of the High School Musical cast whose thing is bestiality. Still, there are worse guilty secrets, sports-wise. I could, like my brother, be a football referee.

It feels both liberating and strange to at last be playing the game in the country of its birth. Back home (Aberdeen) there is a lot of cricket played (it was once claimed Aberdeen had more cricket clubs per capita than any UK city except Bradford) and yet most people there are unaware of that. When I’d tell people I was a cricketer I always added the caveat “but my main sport is football” and that would just about halt eyebrows in mid-raise. In England what I do is accepted, though my nationality still ensures I’m seen as slightly odd. The fact I don’t play it especially well is probably reassuring. I guess Mike Denness, Dougie Brown, Brian Hardie - or back in the day, Douglas Jardine - had a lot more explaining to do. My other consoling thought: at least I’m not Gavin Hamilton. 

I like to think of Jardine as being the player who imbued his cricket with the most Scottishness. Born in India to Scottish parents Jardine was like Graeme Souness or Andy Murray, a craftsman who had a bit of what Australians would call ‘a bit of the mongrel’ about him. Scots like their sporting heroes on the rough side (when we miraculously produced a champion skier, Alain Baxter, he was stripped of his Olympic medal within days of winning it for taking recreational drugs) and Scottish education promotes independence and hard work. We seem to feel a lot less guilty about success and being driven about achieving it than the English. I was going to say, look at Gordon Brown, but maybe that’s no longer a good name to invoke. Gordon Ramsey, then. 

I digress. Jardine, Scotland. Think of what my country is very best at when it comes to sport: Surely it’s producing football managers. Jardine was an Alex Ferguson of cricket - with all the good and bad associations that suggests. For us to have produced two good England cricket captains, the other being Denness, is not at all bad. Which leads to another thought. Cricket is not a major sport north of the border but it’s bigger than the rest of the world realises. About 0.7% of us play regular cricket. In England the figure is larger, but not exponentially so: 2.5%.

Denness and Jardine, of course, are bygone figures. Currently, despite a couple of decent recent Twenty20 showings against New Zealand and England, Scotland probably isn’t pulling its cricketing weight. It’s partly because the structure of Scottish cricket does not enable players to stretch themselves on a regular enough basis before entering ICC competitions: without a national academy, and with a declining club game, talents aren’t maximised. The only solution is to go and play for an English county, a path followed by Kyle Coetzer, who now is doing well for Durham and has ambitions of playing for England. But with the examples of Scots prospering in the county scene limited the upheaval does not seem worth it to others and Colin Smith, who could easily have succeeded at first class level, decided early on to concentrate on his other career - in the police force - and keep cricket as a hobby.

If there were more Coetzers, Dennesses and Jardines I might not be seen as so odd. That said, I feel lucky to be playing in England because it’s a pleasure any cricket lover would savour. The clubs are bigger, friendlier, and with far lovelier grounds and better facilities. The standard is higher, the social scene greater and - not to be underestimated - the teas are better. Then there’s the weather. Here you don’t play in gale force winds or freezing rain. In Aberdeen you simply have to, or the league programmes would never get played. Numb, wet hands: that’s one of my earliest associations with playing as a youngster. Maybe it’s why I never learnt to bowl spin or play the late cut. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.         


  1. Mike Denness a good England skipper? Yorkshire will be furious.

  2. The lifetime absence of a wristy late cut and the inability to master the subleties of finger spin (either as batsman or bowler) I can certainly vouch for. But that studied forward defensive stroke is straight out of the Aberdeenshire Colts coaching manual...

    Jonny's Dad (from a distinctly sunny Aberdeen)


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