SOMEHOW, amid the maelstrom, the Scotland cricket team will take to the field in Edinburgh this afternoon for their most high-profile home contest for four years.
At just about any other time the visit of New Zealand to the Grange would have been the only topic on everyone in Scottish cricket’s lips, the 2019 World Cup runners-up providing the opposition for two T20Is and a one-day international over the next five days. Not since England were famously beaten in 2018 has a full member nation of this calibre been in town.
The shocking events of the past few days, however, have turned this series into something of an afterthought. The resignation en masse of the Cricket Scotland board on Sunday was the precursor to the publication of an astonishing independent report that found the governing body to be institutionally racist and generally not fit for purpose.
It has left the game at crisis point and facing a very lengthy and painstaking rebuild. It will have undoubted ramifications for cricket at elite level, especially with sportscotland threatening to remove their £460,000 per annum funding from an organisation not exactly flush with cash to begin with.
“It’s been a difficult time for the sport and the ongoing independent review is clearly showing there is an issue with racism and discrimination within cricket,” admitted head coach Shane Burger.
“As someone with a deep love for cricket and for everyone involved in the sport, I think we all want to ensure everyone feels welcome and has access to equal opportunities within the sport.
“I hope in time, cricket can heal and we can look to a brighter, fairer and more inclusive future. We all have a role to play in calling out racism and making it clear it has no place in the sport.”
That’s all for the medium to longer term, however. More pressing for Burger and his players is how they cope with the threat of a New Zealand side arriving in Scotland fresh from 3-0 whitewashes over Ireland in both T20 and ODI formats.
Even without many of their Test regulars – Kane Williamson, Devon Conway, Tim Southee and Trent Boult haven’t travelled – the number one-ranked ODI country in the world will still test Scotland’s mettle like rarely before.
“First of all it’s just very exciting to be hosting a country like New Zealand after all the challenges we had trying to bring games here during Covid,” added Burger.
“They’re one of the best teams in the world. They’re missing some of their big guns but they’ve still brought a really talented squad filled with experience and also a few younger ones that they’re looking to push through.
“It’s going to be a tough challenge for us but also a good way for us to measure where we are as a team ahead of the T20 World Cup at the end of the year.
“After the experience of last year’s World Cup we said we wanted to have more games against full members and now we have three this week against one of the best. And we want to win.”
It will be the beginning of a new era in more ways than one. There will be no Kyle Coetzer in the Scotland line-up for the T20I matches, the opening batter having chosen to step away from the shortest format to concentrate on the 50-over game. The timing seems odd this close to a World Cup but Burger insists it was the former captain’s call.
“It was Kyle’s decision to retire from the T20 format and we have to respect that,” he added. “We’ve had a lot of chats over the last year about the best way to prolong his career but also to provide more opportunities for the next group of players coming through the system.
“It will be great to have Kyle still around to share his knowledge and to bolster our ODI team. But he’s decided to take a back seat in the T20s and that’s the right decision for him and for Cricket Scotland. Now it’s up to those pushing through to show they can take their opportunity. We believe we’ve got some really exciting talent knocking on the door.”
Burger will be hanging around for a while yet, however. The South African signed a new two-year deal at the end of last year – there was no official announcement at the time – and hopes that 2023 will bring with it Scotland’s return to the 50-over World Cup stage.
“My first initial contract ended at the end of 2021 and I was offered and accepted a two year-extension,” he revealed. “I’m really glad that I could carry on. I felt that Covid meandered on a lot longer than anyone had expected and it took a lot of cricket time away from us. So it’s exciting to still be in charge for the T20 World Cup this year and hopefully leading Scotland to the 50-over World Cup next year too.”