Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Twelfth Post : Scotland and Netherlands Look Forward to a Future Without the English Domestic League.

Now that the remaining associate nations having been removed from the English domestic limited overs league (the YB40 formerly the CB40) I though a chat with each of the respective governing bodies would be in order to see how they felt about the restructure that removed them and where they go from here in their search for international growth and development.


Even when I introduced myself to the receptionist at Dutch headquarters and explained that I would like to have a chat with someone regarding their involvement/non involvement in the English domestic league there was a feeling of disappointment with the decision “Well, I don’t know much about it,” she said “besides that we’ve been booted out of it.” It was a sentiment echoed by Roland Lefebvre, National Junior Coach at K.N.C.B.
“We are very disappointed to have been kicked out of it.” He told me in pleasant and even tones. “There are now 12 games that are missing from our calendar. Games that are vital for gaining experience and exposure particularly for our younger players. These were some of the biggest benefits of being in the English league. Sometimes it can take a year or more for a youngster to develop his game enough to compete at a national level and these games were vital to giving that time to develop and grow. The regular intervals of games, highly competitive nature of them, high class opposition. It all went along to help bridge the gap between Dutch domestic cricket and international cricket. The platform is something we found very beneficial and something we will miss.

The issue of experience is one that was echoed by Ben Fox, Media Manager at Cricket Scotland.

(The Scots) At a time when Scottish cricket was looking to push through the professional barrier we were offered a chance to play in a professional league. Against opposition who do this, play cricket, every day. It was an opportunity we wanted to take to give a lot of our younger players a chance to test themselves against tough opponents and see if they could raise to the challenge. It was a chance to blood new players and let them see what was required of them if they wanted to make it to the top level. The chance to be able to play against top international players that were playing in the English county teams was inspiring for a lot of guys. Being able to chat with them after the games, pick their brains about various things was something that would never have been able to happen in Scotland alone at that time.  To be able to do this and play top cricket on a regular basis was what we were looking for and it helped immensely.

So experience was one of the major benefits of being involved with the English league but I wondered if there were any detrimental issues to being involved in with it?

(The Dutch) Well, probably just financial strain. Dutch cricket is still a developing affair and we don’t have large resources of funds to draw upon. Funding the travel to England to play the away games was a burden that could cost 40-50 thousand Euros over the course of the season.

The issue of financing travel was also a concern to The Scots as well as home players coming to compete against them.

(The Scots) Cost was always a factor. It was costly to go on tour to the English counties and when they came up here it was up to us to fund their stay in town. And with associate cricket there just isn’t much money around. So that was always tough. And when we first started in the competition the English counties didn’t really know what to expect and I think we had the advantage of their     overconfidence. They thought they could come up and easily pick off the plucky amateur upstarts meanwhile we could field close to a full strength national side as not many of our national team were on county contracts at the time. So we had the advantage of surprise on our side at the beginning and we were able to pick up a few victories as they underestimated us. But as time went on they were able to do better research on us and prepare better and then our better players would get picked up by the counties and offered contracts and before too long they would be playing against us. With the addition of the change of heritage rules by the I.C.C. recently allows Scotland to select players with Scottish parentage but born elsewhere to be selected for the national team, bringing our selection policy in line with the rest of the world, means that players like Matt Machan, Iain Wardlaw and others already in a county contract to turn out for our national team but be playing against the Saltires in the English league. It was a very different situation at the end than it was at the beginning.

Was the failure attract a genuine oversees star a problem?

(The Scots) We had Rahul Dravid from India for most of a season and he brought some star attraction for us and helped us win a few games too. His experience was a great thing for our boys to learn from at that time and many benefited from his wisdom during our time with him. But the thing about oversees professional stars is that you would have to pay them and money was always an issue with us as a developing cricket nation.  We just don’t have the payroll might of a team like Surrey who can afford to have a Graeme Smith or a Hashim Amla on their books. There’s just no way we could compete with that level of payout. Sometimes the professionals wouldn’t contribute that much to the team in terms of community. They would show up on game day, play, maybe win a game or two, and then disappear after the game. Not share that much with the younger guys in terms of experience or sharing knowledge.
In this last year of the comp we took the view of just using it to bed in some younger guys and give them a taste of what’s expected from them at the next level. It’s a shame that we didn’t pick up any victories this year, it’s the first year that the Saltires haven’t managed a single win, but we didn’t see that as a problem because the experience has done the younger guys the world of good and will stand them in good stead for the future.

Would you have continued to stay in the English league if they’d invited you too?

(The Dutch) Oh yes. I don’t know why they felt we wouldn’t be invited to participate again. I know they are restructuring the groups but I still feel that we could have joined them. It would be good if England took a more inclusive attitude to the associate nations on its doorstep like the Asian nations do. It seems that Afghanistan and other developing nations from that region are always playing competitions which involve the test nation in some form or other. Right now there is an emerging nations competition involving Afghanistan, U.A.E. and other developing cricket nations against the four Asian full members under 23 teams. England could be as supportive to its neighbour if they so choose, although they would probably not have the equal funds as some of the Asian nations have at their disposal.

The issue of continued involvement raised a more circumspect response from The Scots.

(The Scots) That’s a difficult one. I think that we at Cricket Scotland through our involvement in the competition had run its course. That it is time to move on to new challenges and start forging our way and concentrate on international cricket. We have a lot of cricket on these days too and finding time for all of it is something we have had to factor in. There’s a T-20 qualifier this year in November and if we don’t make the 2nd place in the world cricket league championship we will have to go to New Zealand to try and win our way in from that qualifying tournament in January. So it’s a busy winter and we often find ourselves playing cricket all year long. Plus the new Pro Series is giving us lots of cricket to keep up with and to keep challenging us.

While it was clear that The Dutch still wanted to remain in the English domestic league and The Scots were happy to give it a cheery wave goodbye I wondered if The Scots wished they had pulled out of the competition earlier?

(The Scots) No. we feel that it was good for the length of time that it lasted. That it has come to a natural end. It was good while it lasted, and it’s sad to see it go, but its time to move on.
Exciting time await us.

What now for Dutch/Scottish cricket?

(The Scots) Well, now we have to look to fill the gap in fixtures.
(The Dutch) Well, now we have to look to fill the gap in fixtures.

Filling the gap in fixtures is the tricky part though.

(The Dutch) Well, sometimes we have a very busy schedule and sometimes our schedule is quite empty.  It often depends on what qualifying events we have to attend. For example the world cricket league championship is wrapping up soon and depending on results in that will determine if we gain automatic qualification to the 2015 world cup. If we don’t gain automatic qualification we go to a further qualifying tournament in New Zealand in January. But that is one thing. Another is developing the Pro Series which we have already started with the North Holland Hurricanes and the South Holland Seafarers. We are looking at competing against regional teams from Scotland and Ireland and this could be the way to provide regular experience and competitive cricket at a high level and fill the gap left by been left out of England’s competition.

The Pro Series and potential Euro League is an attractive prospect for The Scots too.

(The Scots) Well, that is the challenge. There is now a gap of twelve games to fill. We obviously hope to attract some more full members to play us and of course there is the Pro Series that will provide high level competition for the players who are breaking through. There are even plans for a Euro League with teams from Ireland, Scotland and The Netherlands competing against each other. One of our teams, The Highlanders, went over to Holland recently and one of their teams visited us in Scotland to play some games against The Reivers and it seems to have been a success, so, that’s something hopeful and interesting for the future.

Will T.A.P.P. (Targeted Assistance and Performance Program) funding from the I.C.C. be used to attract international games?

(The Dutch) Hosting more international games against the full members is an objective but the costs involved are often prohibitive. We would like to hold some three game series but with the costs of a home series being met by the home nation it is often
out of our reach. T.A.P.P. funding could partly finance something like this but at the moment we are looking at developing our raising own domestic cricket level and also the Pro Series.

The Irish had been competing in the same English domestic leagues as The Scots and The Dutch but left the tournament in 2010 to focus their resources on international cricket. Is this the model to follow to progress?

(The Scots) Yeah. Probably. The Irish left the English league a few years ago to focus on international cricket and that seems to be working out for them.
We try not to look at Ireland through the green eyes of envy, but they are doing very well at the moment. We have always had a great rivalry with Ireland that dates back as long as anyone can remember and they are our natural rival in cricketing circles.
Mind you, we can all remember a time a few years ago when Scotland used to beat them on a regular basis and win all the trophies going. So hopefully we can get that cycle working in our favour again.
We will be doing everything we can to do so and also to close the gap between us and the full members.

(The Dutch)  I know that the Irish left the English domestic league after a few years because they had quite a lot of their own cricket lined up and though it would be better to focus on that rather than the county scene. They have been quite successful in getting full member opposition to play them, although, still not as much as they would like.
That is now the challenge for Dutch cricket too. We need to attract big nations in order to fill the calendar and to keep moving forward.
It’s an exciting time.

Both countries have admitted that missing the experience provided by the English domestic league will be something they will have to counter and both are looking to their respective Pro Series and the proposed Euro series to fill the gap. An additional drive to get top international sides to tour is a common desire too while both admit that this is a financial difficulty that is hard to navigate. The only major difference in thinking from each nation was in their point of view regarding the end of their involvement in the English league with The Dutch desiring to remain in it while The Scots are happy to call it an amicable end. Both nations will now have to forge their own identity internationally. One thing that is certain is that Exciting and interesting times lay ahead for both nations.


 

I spoke with (The Dutch) Roland Lefebvre, National Junior Coach K.N.C.B.  and (The Scots) Ben Fox, Media Manager, Cricket Scotland, both of whom graciously gave up some of their time to have a pleasant conversation with me and make this article possible.

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