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Lessons to be learned, but we have the right teacher

After what was just about the quietest ever June for Scottish international cricket, a frenzy of activity greets Grant Bradburn, the national team's new head coach, as he officially starts work today.

The Scotland cricket squad take instructions from new head coach Grant Bradburn during their final training session before three 50-over encounters against the Netherlands this week at Titwood. Picture: Donald MacLeod
The Scotland cricket squad take instructions from new head coach Grant Bradburn during their final training session before three 50-over encounters against the Netherlands this week at Titwood. Picture: Donald MacLeod

The New Zealander spent time in this country getting to know players and key personnel after he was appointed two months ago, staying on to see the team face England in this summer's solitary official one-day international in Scotland.

While the Netherlands' loss of ODI status means this week's trio of matches at Glasgow's Titwood today, tomorrow and on Friday do not carry the weight they might once have, they remain vitally important to the national squad.

The reality is that these matches and the brace of meetings with a New Zealand A team in Ayr next month are all that bridges the gap ahead of the next ODI series in Ireland in September.

Scotland's problems are by no means unique since even Ireland, who have enhanced clout in these matters as a result of claiming some major scalps while also steadily supplying England's squad in recent years, are by no means inundated with fixture requests from the leading Test nations.

However, if Bradburn was in any doubt about the nature of the challenge involved in trying to generate a team dynamic it was brought home with some emphasis when Freddie Coleman pulled out of representing his country in what it considers a full international, in order to play second XI cricket for an English county.

It must be stressed that the fact Cricket Scotland raised not the slightest objection to his late withdrawal or that of Ruadhri Smith by Glamorgan reflects the realpolitik both of the English counties far superior bargaining power, but also that playing consistently at that level is far more useful than playing occasional internationals.

That is the lot of the associate nations, which is why Scotland are being forced into an ever closer relationship with the Netherlands, among their nearest neighbours geographically but also their fiercest competitive rivals.

This week's matches can be seen as a natural climax to the contests that took place earlier this summer as the new North Sea Pro Series got underway involving two teams from each of these countries, playing in concurrent 50-over and 20-over tournaments, both of which were won by the Scottish Highlanders.

That was an important development in itself, largely because it has introduced a level that provides the Highlanders and the Reivers, the other Scottish team, as well as the Dutch Hurricanes and Seafarers, a proper opportunity to create professional sub-national team structures.

Andy Tennant, Cricket Scotland's head of performance, drew a very relevant parallel with the evolution of Scottish professional rugby when that competition ended last month, albeit acknowledging that it is vital the competition is commercially viable rather than reliant on support from the sport's global authorities.

That parallel seemed all the more topical over the weekend when the Scotland rugby team was mauled by South Africa after having been denied access by English and French clubs to its non home-based players.

Playing numbers are also pretty similar, but the two sports differ greatly in terms of resourcing which is down to historical factors, Scottish rugby having entered the professional era in the mid-1990s very much part of the global elite, founders of the international game and regular title contenders in the big money Five Nations Championship as well as serious World Cup challengers.

Even in relentless competitive decline, then, it has retained the kind of spending power that is the envy of every other minority sport in Scotland, whereas cricket has always been peripheral - even something of a curiosity in world terms - so has little to fall back on in terms of bankable assets or access to big money backing.

Yet that also offers a form of advantage as cricket cuts its cloth accordingly during the development process and seeks to steadily build a full-time professional tier on the basis of what is genuinely affordable and a realistic sense of where it is and what is achievable.

Generating additional commercial support will, of course, depend heavily on demonstrating that the elite end of the game is moving in the right direction which is the challenge that, starting today, faces Bradburn. To borrow from rugby once more, however, it was Scotland's 1990 grand slam winning coach Ian McGeechan who said, ahead of a tour there that year, that New Zealanders were Scots who had learned how to win.

Scotland's cricketers may have much to take on board in that regard, then, but as they get back into international action it would seem that they will be working under someone whose background suggests he is capable of teaching them what they need to know.

n The first of Scotland's three meetings with the Netherlands is due to get under way at 10.45am today. Entry is free.

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