Scottish cricket stumped by the Emerald Isle

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by Kenny Paterson

You have to feel for Richie Berrington. You can only imagine the Scotland international cricketer, who turns 24 on Sunday, has been looking on with envy as the World Cup has been played out in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

He is a talent that should be exposed to the global stage.  Only this month Scottish cricket was reminded of his performances last season when the South African-born all-rounder scooped both their batsman and all- rounder of 2010 titles, while he also rebuked an offer from Leicestershire to stay north of the Border.

The award of the accolades are backed up by cricket’s best friend: statistics.  Half centuries against the county that tried to sign him, as well as Kent, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire in the CB 40 League were eclipsed by a superb 106 in a dramatic and impressive one wicket victory over India A.

But Berrington’s exploits last year were overshadowed like Curtly Ambrose standing over Dickie Bird by the performances of his Irish counterpart Kevin O’Brien at the World Cup.

The whole of the Emerald Isle – even those who didn’t know their country had a cricket side – celebrated as O’Brien’s 50-ball century inspired his country to an incredible victory over England.

Berrington’s talents are in no way inferior to the fiery-haired Dubliner.  Yes, O’Brien has superior batting average and bowling figures and is a professional at Nottinghamshire, but his Glaswegian counterpart is three years younger and has to time to improve.

So why has the Glaswegian not had an opportunity to perform in front of the world like O’Brien and why have Scotland been left so far behind their Celtic neighbours?

Their decline can be traced back to July 2005, when the Scots clinched an ICC Trophy win – the qualifying tournament for World Cup 2007 – with a commanding performance against Ireland in the final.

However, less than two years later and it was the Irish who captured the World Cup headlines.

Their triumph over Pakistan in the West Indies took Trent Johnston’s team into the Super Eight stage where they were eventually knocked out, but not before also defeating Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, an ageing Scotland team were thumped off eventual winners Australia and South Africa in their group as expected, before their most convincing and disappointing defeat to fellow minnows the Netherlands.

And exactly two years later hopes of a third World Cup appearance disappeared as a fragile side, led by Zimbabwean-born Ryan Watson, were defeated by Canada, Afghanistan, Kenya and, of course, Ireland, who breezed through to this year’s 14 team global event.

Since that huge setback, coach Pete Steindl has been forced to turn to youth as a series of senior players have retired.  The loss of experience was highlighted by a Cricket Scotland presentation this month where six former players who had stepped down from national duty since the 2007 World Cup were honoured.  Between Craig Wright, Dougie Brown, Colin Smith, Dougie Lockhart, Paul Hoffmann and Gavin Hamilton, over 800 caps were collected.

In hindsight, it is apparent that fresh blood had to be eased into the side before 2007, but now youngsters such as Matthew Parker, Ollie Hairs, Ewan Chalmers and Marc Petrie have to learn for themselves how to compete at international level.

There were signs of recovery last season.  Scotland reached the final of the World Cricket League, only to lose out to, you guessed it, Ireland, thanks to a knock of 98 not out by – no points for knowing this – Kevin O’Brien.

However, in the process, they defeated Kenya, Netherlands and Canada – all associate sides who qualfied for the World Cup.

The fragilities of recent years resurfaced at the tail end of the year, however, as captain Gordon Drummond saw his side skittled out for just 82 in the second innings of their Intercontinental Cup final against emerging nation Afghanistan.

A clash with Sri Lanka – who are this writer’s pick to win the World Cup – gives the Scots a game to savour this summer, in a  tri-series event with regular foes Ireland.  The fact that Cricket Scotland have promoted the Irish coming to Scotland alongside the Sri Lankans again indicates their giant leap above Scotland, much like a teenager finding out he can at last smack his dad’s bowling out the back garden.

With quality such as Berrington still in their ranks, hope springs eternal for Scotland’s enthusiastic cricket community – just don’t mention the Irish.