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Independence could increase Scotland player pool

espncricinfo | Posted on 2014-09-17 04:13 PM

If professional cricketers formed a constituency, one imagines they would rival David Cameron's Witney as the safest Conservative seat in the country. So it came as no surprise to learn the Scotland cricket team's take on the independence referendum. "We're all against it," one player said after the ODI victory in Ireland last Friday.
Scottish cricket does not appear to have much to fear from independence but there is one way that it could benefit: a loosening of the eligibility requirements to play for the international team.
Scotland does not currently issue its own passports, meaning that players whose grandparents were born in the country are not eligible to play international cricket, and it cannot issue passports to fast-track talented cricketers who live in Scotland. That would change in an independent Scotland, which would increase the pool of players available to the national selectors.
"If Scotland has the ability to have its own passports that would change our eligibility rules positively from our point of view," Roddy Smith, chief executive of Cricket Scotland, said. "Funding wise it would not affect us. It would not affect us with the ICC."
As it is, Scotland remains handicapped by current regulations, even after a relaxation of rules two years ago allowed the team to pick cricketers with Scottish parents. Neil Carter, David Murphy, Matt Machan, Rob Taylor and Ian Wardlaw were among the first of the newly available cohort to be picked.
Many complained at the time, believing that it sent a poor message to locally produced cricketers in Scotland. Smith does not agree. "It was far from controversial from our point of view," he said. "It was simply going a very, very small way to leveling a very un-level playing field. Every other country was able to pick people whose parents were born in the country whereas we weren't because we are geared by the British passport - there's no separate Scottish qualification.
"Other countries are able to pick players whose grandparents were born in the country, so it's still not level."
Whichever way Scotland votes on Thursday, the side goes away next week for an acclimatisation tour to Australia and New Zealand ahead of the World Cup. They then expect to play in the Caribbean domestic 50-over competition in January before beginning their World Cup campaign against New Zealand on February 17.
"We can hopefully spring a few surprises against full members," Smith said. "Bangladesh and Afghanistan are two huge games for us. It's a really tough draw but that gives great opportunities."
None more so than the chance to match Ireland's victory over England in a World Cup - potentially as an independent nation. "It would have a huge effect. The profile and newsworthiness of that game would be absolutely enormous."
And Paul Collingwood could yet be involved in trying to plot a victory over his former England team-mates, potentially as an assistant to Grant Bradburn, recently appointed as Scotland's head coach. "There's always a bit of a chance, if things go well negotiation-wise," Smith said. "We'll just have to wait and see."
If Collingwood can help Scotland have a successful World Cup, it would strengthen Scotland's argument against the 2019 World Cup being limited to only 10 sides. "They'll certainly be lobbying involved," Smith said. "The Associate representatives on the ICC Board have been pushing hard for it but there are sound commercial reasons as to why they want a 10-team World Cup. There are also some not so sound cricketing reasons why it's a 10-team World Cup.
"I don't think anyone wants to see cricket being a game that's retracting in numbers at the World Cup. Other sports such as rugby and football are expanding their World Cups. There will be pressure on the ICC no doubt."
Uncertainty still surrounds Scotland's fixture list in 2015 and beyond - though they will be part of the Intercontinental Cup, and thereby have a chance of qualifying for the Test Challenge in 2018.
"We'd love to play Test cricket but we'd have to be very careful about how we marketed it and who we played against," Smith said. "You'd have to choose your games carefully and not play too many and make them real occasions. If that was the case then, yes, it could be commercially sustainable."
In the meantime, Scotland are hopeful of getting more games against the lowest-ranked Full Members. "There's talk about having a bigger Future Tours Programme but we've got nothing specific on that - all that we know is we're going to try very hard to play more cricket against the lower-ranked Full Members over the next few years. Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are probably more reticent than most to play against the leading Associates.
"That's where the ICC need to take far more proactive steps and actually say to these countries 'You need to go and play the leading Associates'."

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