Alex Massie

It is never difficult to distinguish between a batsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine...

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Scottish cricket is a tough school. Not so much because of the standard, but on account of the conditions cricketers must endure north of the border. The climate is not, to put it mildly, suited to the greatest game. And this summer has been especially bleak; my own club, Selkirk, haven't played since mid-July, rain forcing our last four fixtures to be abandoned without a ball being bowled. And that's in August. Early season play, in shivering April and biting May, is not for the faint-hearted. Playing cricket in Scotland one can never entirely escape the sensation, even under blue skies, that fate is lurking around the next corner, armed with rain...

In that sense, then, Caledonian cricketers must endure more difficult conditions than their comrades in other, more sun-favoured climes. Then too, there's the fact that plenty of folk still consider cricket a foreign sport in Scotland. Worse than that, an English sport. Hence articles such as this one by Jim Gilchrest in The Scotsman which must point out that the sport has been played in Scotland for more than two centuries. Selkirk, by no means the oldest club, were founded in 1851 and many Scottish cricket clubs are much older than their sister rugby and football squads.

I know this sort of piece, mind you; I wrote one of them for The Scotsman as far back as 1992. Back then, the idea that Scotland might one day have full international status seemed far-fetched. The idea existed however and it has grown to the point that, today, Scotland play England at cricket for the first time. Weather permitting, of course. And even though I rather deplore one-day cricket, I shall be there.

Though if you were to ask me whether I'd rather see Scotland take part in the next World Cup or England regain the Ashes next summer, I'd always take the latter, I'll be hoping the Saltires can cock a snook at the world rankings today and record an entertainingly embarrassing victory.

There's no real reason why Englishmen should be aware of Scottish cricket, though a number of Scots have played a part in the the game's history and two, DR Jardine and Mike Denness, have captained England, though with rather different degrees of success. Of the other Scots to have played the game, leg-spinner Iain Peebles was good enough to be one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year in 1931 while Bradman's contemporary Rutherglen-born Archie Jackson was a stylist in the tradition of the magnificent Trumper who might have achieved greater things still had he not died from tuberculosis, aged just 23. 

Domestically, the old Scottish County Championship enjoyed a healthy following until television and changing leisure patterns changed all that. Still, as late as the 1950s the Perthshire-Forfarshire derby drew crowds of more than 5,000 while my father often reminds me that as a youth in Aberdeen special buses would run bearing signs that proclaimed they were traveling  "to and from the cricket". And in 1948 it was at Aberdeenshire's home ground, Mannofield, that Bradman scored his final first class century, as the Australians finished their tour with a match against Scotland.

So it's irritating when some would-be wag or sneering hack (normally representing a Glasgow paper, admittedly) scoffs and decries the playing of this "English" game in Scotland. After all, plenty of the qualities demanded by cricket - the acceptance of fate (even while you alone bear responsibility for your downfall), the finality of the umpire's decision with no court of appeal, the certainty that past good works count for nothing once the match begins and the brooding knowledge that even now, in this game, a single mistake can undo everything - why, all these qualities, to say nothing of the sport's merciless habit of exposing its practitioners' sins for all to see in a pitiless demonstration of human frailty, positively reek of a stern and presbyterian ethic that, you might think, would be quite at home in Scotland...

Of course, we have golf instead. Like cricket, it's a sport that relishes comeuppance. Then again, the duality of cricket - the tensions between bat and ball, attack and defence, prudence and adventure, hunter and hunted, individual and team - might be considered ripe matter for the famous Caledonian antisyzygy...

It must be the weather. Rain is forecast.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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