Jon Coates, The Scotsman
Peter Drinnen, Scotland's cricket coach, has been forced to miss one of the most important weeks of the season for health reasons. However, his future in the job looks increasingly precarious and there were no guarantees last night that he would coach the team again.
Scotland go into their four-day Intercontinental Cup match at Ayr against United Arab Emirates, and Sunday's one-day international against Pakistan, without their Australian mentor as he rests a chronic back condition. Andy Tennant, Cricket Scotland's head of education and development, will take temporary charge of the team.
Drinnen, 39, who has suffered from back problems in the past, spent much of last week flat on his back and yesterday consulted an orthopaedic surgeon. However, the knives are already out for a man who has spent 17 months in what is rapidly becoming one of Scottish sport's least stable positions. His predecessor, Andy Moles, lasted less than a year.
It is understood Drinnen's absence coincides with a growing consensus among senior players and CS board members that he should not be awarded an extension to his contract, which is due to expire in December. Talks over the extension have stalled while the CS hierarchy gauges opinion over his performance. Meanwhile, Drinnen has submitted written reports of the team's long winter of touring and the direction in which the game should head.
The nine-man board will have to weigh up the coach's submissions against the view of a clutch of experienced players who have reported a loss of faith in Drinnen's ability to get the national team back on track. Their view is certainly not universal in the dressing room - the coach is known to have the support of the emerging players he has nurtured - but they could seal the former Queenslander wicketkeeper's fate.
Scotland embarked on a uniquely challenging tour program stretching from last December to the end of March, culminating in a World Cup appearance where they failed to honour their potential. It is thought that relationships became soured over the course of a long winter through regular conflicts over team selection and man-management philosophies, and the atmosphere in the dressing-room deteriorated badly as, back home in spring, the Scottish Saltires' Friends Provident Trophy campaign lurched from initial highs to a series of limp defeats.
Smith denied last night that Drinnen's position had become untenable, but failed to extinguish the suspicion that one or more players had come to him and expressed a vote of no confidence in their coach. It would not be the first time.
Smith said: "Peter's position is that he is contracted to Cricket Scotland until the end of December. A review will be undertaken, like any other staff member, within the contractual time frame.
"Whether or not players or any other individuals have come and spoken to me is confidential, and I am not going to discuss the contractual obligations of a staff member with third parties.
"Peter is physically unable to work and we agreed with him that he should take a week's sick leave."
Smith went to lengths to emphasise the extent of Drinnen's back injury, saying: "He is unable to sit or stand for eight hours of a cricket match. Anyone who had seen him at the weekend would testify to that."
However, when a Scotland Select took on the United Arab Emirates on Monday in Greenock, Drinnen was present all day, walking around the boundary and even carrying drinks. That might have worsened his condition, but it's hard to believe there are no reasons other than the physical that have led to Drinnen's absence this week.
Sunday's visit of Pakistan marks the tenth time in history that Scotland have met a full ICC member nation in a one-day international. The coach is a passionate man desperate to improve Scotland's standing in world cricket. He has already racked up thousands of miles this summer to guide his various representative teams. Why rule him out of a monumental fixture five, or even six, days before it takes place?
The nature of Scottish cricket - the players' amateur status, the obscurity of many of the tours, the number of decisions taken by forum - seems to lend the national players a peculiar amount of power. It is thought that Moles, an old-school coach, had no prior warning that he had "lost the dressing room" when he was summoned for crisis talks that led swiftly to a parting. The team, ironically, had been successful under his charge, winning the ICC Trophy at a canter.
Sad as it is, it is possible that Drinnen's enemies may be more numerous than the quota that de-seated Moles. Poor results have come at the worst possible times. A winless World Cup was perfectly predictable but no less infuriating for the travelling observers who left St Kitts with a bitter taste, knowing how badly it would reflect on the strength of the Caledonian game. Home performances in this year's Trophy at the Grange, where the blazerati gather, were a good deal worse than those on the road.
Drinnen is a tee-totaller who espouses healthy living. His work ethic and enthusiasm, not to mention Level 4 coaching qualifications, won him the right to take over from Moles. At the start, he was seen as a safe pair of hands who could bring the best out of a pyramid of local coaching talent and scattered part-time players, but somewhere along the line, possibly in the four weeks this summer he has devoted to the Scotland A team, once-loyal henchmen began to grumble, and now he is fighting for his job.
A squad of 13 was named yesterday to take on Pakistan on Sunday in Edinburgh. Dougie Brown of Warwickshire and Durham's Kyle Coetzer are both involved in Twenty20 cricket this week but their counties have no games on Sunday and, according to ICC rules, have no power to withhold them. However, Brown injured his Achilles in Warwickshire's Twenty20 clash with Northamptonshire at Edgbaston last night and looks certain to be ruled out.
The surprise pick is the inexperienced Gordon Drummond ahead of Paul Hoffmann, who took three for 22 against Pakistan last June. If Brown is out, the Watsonians captain might be given a baptism of fire. Drinnen would cherish such a development, having been on a mission since the World Cup to reduce the age of the squad. That's a mission he now seems unlikely to be allowed to complete.