Scottish Cricket's new youth development manager has big plans to get the ball spinning in schools, writes Roddy Mackenzie
Peter Drinnen appears to have been handed an unenviable task. It is his job to coax Scottish schoolchildren to set football aside, for the summer term at least, and pick up a cricket bat and ball.
Mr Drinnen has recently been youth development manager by Scottish Cricket, the game's governing body. Having played first class cricket in his native Australia, there is no doubting his credentials; and having been involved as a professional in Scottish cricket for the past nine seasons since arriving here, he knows the set-up as well as anyone.
Mr Drinnen gives the impression that he will meet the challenge with no shortage of enthusiasm and optimism. He has previously been a development officer for Tayside and has worked with many of Scotland's most promising talents.
Given his pedigree in the game, he has to be taken seriously when he asserts that Scottish children are potentially as good as their Australian counterparts and all that is missing is a fully-funded programme to give them the opportunity to reach their potential.
One of Mr Drinnen's most difficult tasks will be trying to persuade businesses to help finance more opportunities, as he will have a limited budget. However, he feels there are suitable foundations in place on which to build his vision of the future.
"What is very important is to create an identity for youth cricket," he says. "It needs an identity to help us sell the game to children and it needs to be seen as cool to play cricket.
"In Australia, it is the national sport and is part of the culture, just as football is part of the culture here. Of course, the weather plays a big part, but I think it is easy to make excuses here. In Australia, if there were hurdles to playing when we were young, then we simply found ways to get over them."
Scottish cricket has always been keen to point out the statistic that there are more cricketers than rugby players in this country and certainly there is no shortage of matches across Scotland on any summer weekend.
"There is a lot of good work being done in different areas throughout Scotland," Mr Drinnen says, "but the job we have to do is to align all of it with ourselves at Scottish Cricket. We have to bring everyone together and that is maybe something we have not been doing in recent years.
"We need to educate the clubs and they need to be aware that we're here to give advice and resources if they need them.
"In the past, our links with some of the clubs have not been as good as they could have been, but we have some excellent people now putting in a lot of hard work to pull everything together."
Mr Drinnen is aware that cricket is strong in the private schools sector, where they have access to better facilities, but he wants every school to get a chance to play.
"Facilities are an issue. If I could get pound;7,000, then I could build a proper facility in the north, which would mean young players would not have to travel so far to play," he explains.
His priority initially is to get all primary schools playing kwik cricket - the introductory game - and hopefully see players graduate to national youth squads at various levels.
"Secondary schools are certainly going to be attacked down the track but first we want to increase the awareness of the game in primary schools and introduce a structured development," he says.
"We already have national squads at under-13, under-15, under-17 and under-19 levels and that's how it should be. I don't envisage going any younger.
"At under-12 level it should be about learning and fun activities and they should graduate to the hard ball at 13, though that's not to say the fun element is ever abandoned."
Mr Drinnen will have four development officers working with him - in the north, south, east and west - but his ideal would be to have four full-time regional managers with nine part-time development officers working under them.
"Without question, young players in Scotland have the same potential as young players in Australia but they have to be given the chance to reach that potential," he says. "They have to have the resources and opportunities and access to extra competition at the right age as well as the correct coaching input.
"We need hands on deck and the more hands on deck we can get, then the better it will be for the future of the game here.
"We have already seen top Scottish players going south, like Gavin Hamilton, because the opportunities are not here.
"Youngsters need role models playing in this country to look up to if they are to keep going in the sport."
This summer will see a Scottish international team - the Scottish Saltires - playing in the National Cricket League against established English county sides, which will give the sport considerably more exposure north of the border and help Mr Drinnen meet his challenge.