We need to invest locally to improve cricket, not look overseas for a Messiah, Scotland's schools cricket coach tells Roddy Mackenzie
Scotland's best young cricket players are being starved of the competitive opportunities they need to fulfil their potential, according to Vedam Hariharan, who has nurtured some of the best players this country has produced over the past 14 years.
Hariharan, known throughout the cricket world as Hari, played first-class cricket in India and was one of the most exciting talents of his generation. Today he runs coaching academies in Brisbane, Australia, and Bangalore, India, but spends the summer months in Scotland. As well as being the cricket coach at Glasgow Academy, Hari, 51, still coaches and turns out regularly for Glasgow Accies in the Western Union League.
But, as he works with players aged as young as eight at the school, he admits he is concerned that national league clubs in Scotland do not give players enough chances when they reach their late teens. "Opportunities for talented players are few. There are Mickey Mouse leagues where players at Under-18 and Under-15 level can play 20-over matches, but that doesn't help," he says. "Where will the young players get the mental maturity to play full matches if they do not get the chance at that age? Too many clubs fill their teams with overseas players - amateurs and professionals - when they should be investing in their own young players.
"Maybe the standard would go down for a couple of years if teams did not have overseas players, but it would be worth it in the long-term as the young players would get a chance and be able to develop. Now, if you get a promising young player, he maybe gets put in for a couple of matches and gets a pat on the back and is then left out."
Hari believes clubs should look inwards instead of trying to lure a Messiah from countries such as Australia or India.
"This may sound controversial but it's something I feel very strongly about as young players need match experience," he says. "Even if you look at Cricket Scotland's elite squad of players, it is very small, due to lack of funding. We need a proper funding policy to bring on players between the ages of 16 and 23."
Two former Glasgow Academy pupils, Neil Dowers and Richard Andrew, spent from September to March at the Australian Sports Gateway Academy in Brisbane under Hari's wing as part of their gap year. They are expected to make an impact in the new season which has just started.
"It's important they imbibe the culture of training and competition," he says. "The players go out to the academy and see what makes a champion.
Places are open for any players in the UK right through from young players to English county players. Countries such as Bermuda and Canada send players over because it gives youngsters the chance to work with elite players.
"In Scotland, it's more of a lackadaisical approach to sport," says Hari.
"That's not meant to be a criticism of the culture, it's just the way it is here."
Glasgow Academy, named as the best cricket school in the United Kingdom in 2004, boasts excellent facilities from a refurbished sports hall with four quality net areas for indoor play to outdoor facilities including a large artificial grass pitch.
Hari hosted a course for any interested 10-13 year-olds in the city during the Easter holidays and will host similar courses throughout the summer months.
Cricket is part of the curriculum at Glasgow Academy during the summer term. From P4 when they start playing Kwik Cricket, there are inter-school matches from the age of 10-11. Every year the school has a cricket XI and they play 10 to 12 matches a season, almost exclusively against other private schools.
Hari was acknowledged in Indian cricket legend Kapil Dev's autobiography Kapil as having more talent than he did, but he laughs off such a compliment and says: "It was the spin era and there was no place for a fast bowler."
Now he is focused on trying to improve Scotland's lot. While stressing that Cricket Scotland owes a debt to the private schools, he knows there have to be more pupils playing the game "Unless there is a broad base, you are not going to get the competition that you need for players to come through to the top. There are hundreds playing in Scotland. You just need to go to Inverleith in Edinburgh or to Glasgow Accies to see how many play at weekends.
"The private schools have done a lot for the game in Scotland. Not only are primary schoolchildren coming through, but there are girls too - at Glasgow Academy we have 40 girls playing regularly.
"We need to keep widening the base to create the level of competition right throughout the age groups. That is what happens in India and Australia. but there is not the same sporting culture here.
"There is also a problem with the weather. The season is so short. You need to be playing 10 to 12 months a year to be an international sportsman.
"I don't think the game would happen for children without teachers and coaches. I have been given tremendous support by the school. We have first-class facilities. Teachers from other subjects are all willing to help out and that makes my job easier."