Cricket will always be a minority sport in Scotland, but the game is growing more popular in schools and clubs. Roddy Mackenzie reports
It may take some time for Scotland's involvement in last summer's cricket World Cup to bear fruit. Five defeats in five matches did not make for the best reading, but the exploits of the national team reached parts of Scotland which had previously been untouched by the game.
Entries for this year's Wrigley's Primary Schools Kwik Cricket tournament (a mini version of the game) have risen by 22 schools to 112 from 12 regions and the number of schoolchildren playing the game is clearly on the increase.
The Stanley Morrison Trust Scheme, designed to attract new junior members to cricket clubs, is flourishing with 32 clubs taking part (an increase of seven). This means that more than 4,500 schoolchildren have now participated in introductory cricket activities.
The Scottish Cricket Union offers pound;100 winter grants to clubs that operate youth coaching schemes. While the increase in clubs taking up the offer was modest in 1998-99, nine clubs have come on board in the past year. There are now 45 clubs taking part in the scheme and more than 700 children have benefited.
Last year, a Kwik cricket tournament was launched for secondary schools, with nine schools in the west taking part. This year the tournament was also staged in Tayside, with a further nine schools involved.
Iain Kennedy, Sportscotland's cricket co-ordinator, believes the new interest is down to the World Cup and its extensive media coverage in Scotland. "I think the real boom has been down to the World Cup. The Scotland team did not have any victories but the game had a big appeal, which I think filtered right down to the primary schools," Mr Kennedy says.
He admits that cricket is still played more in private schools, with many having access to their own facilities, but Kwik cricket has helped to open doors in the state schools. "There are now a lot of state schools playing and, in particular, the Glasgow Schools' Cricket Association is very strong," he says.
"We are moving away from the 40-overs five-hour matches, which I don't think were too popular with pupils and even less popular with teachers. But there has always been the problem of access to facilities. The fact that we can play Kwik cricket indoors helps, but we are looking for local authorities to put cricket nets into games halls."
There is also a problem getting into indoor facilities because of competing with, say, five-a-side football.
"When we staged the Kwik cricket tournament in Tayside in March there was no problem getting access to schools facilities from 4pm-6pm, but in Glasgow the lack of available facilities in schools has meant wehave had to use local authority halls," he says.
The problem with facilities will be alleviated later this summer, at least in the east of Scotland, with the opening of a national centre at Mary Erskine School in Edinburgh. The school will have full use of the centre during school hours, after which it will be open to clubs or youth groups. Mr Kennedy believes the centre will have a big impact on the game and is optimistic about the future of cricket in Scotland.
A Scottish Cricket Union initiative should ensure that the best young players are given the chance to reach their full potential. It operates four districts (east, west, north and south) and below that, 15 local groups, each led by a development officer who looks at the school's game and improving coach education.
"The Renfrew Cricket Development Group was recently awarded a National Lottery grant of pound;4,500. If each development group had a similar award it would be a major delivery arm for us," says Mr Kennedy.
With the recent restructuring of the national leagues for senior cricket clubs, it has been a stipulation of the SCU that member clubs - 30 in all - must have youth sections and two teams of different age groups playing in junior competition. There is now a total of 75 clubs in Scotland which have a junior section.
Mr Kennedy and Sportscotland believe it is important to develop club-school links and are now working closely with three clubs from different backgrounds - Ross County as a rural club in Dingwall, Corstorphine as a feeder club for national league sides in Edinburgh and Uddingston as an established national league side in South Lanarkshire.
In this way, it is hoped they will have a cross-section of the state of Scottish cricket and the problems some clubs have with such things as competition structures, recruiting coaches, umpires and administrators and, for the likes of Ross County, access to indoor facilities.
Mr Kennedy has been encouraged by the number of Asian players who are now involved with clubs and adding a new dimension to the Scottish game. Shawlands Academy, which won the west Kwik cricket tournament last year, was helped by the fact that it had a couple of talented Asian players in its team. Of the current Scotland Under-15 squad, five or six of the 14 are Asians.
"Asian players are migrating to Scottish clubs, with Clydesdale and West of Scotland having their share of players, and there are also one or two at my own club, Ferguslie," points out Mr Kennedy. "This can only be good for the Scottish game as there is a lot of talent in the Asian community and it will help the game to improve.
"I'm very encouraged about all these developments. I think the future of the game in Scotland is looking good."