The yawning gap between cricket's haves and have-nots
Jon Coates, The Scotsman
Kyle Coetzer's decision to stay with Durham rather than represent Scotland against Pakistan on Sunday didn't register on the Richter scale, but it was the latest sign of cricket's haves and have-nots being split by a yawning gap.
The International Cricket Council issued a directive this year that was well-intentioned but, in practice, not worth its weight in paper. Professional county, state and provincial teams would have to submit to "mandatory release" of cricketers from Scotland, Ireland, Canada or other associate teams when their countries went into one-day international with elite nations. It should have meant that the ambitious amateurs could make the best possible fist of contests they have no right to win. But the exploitation of a loophole has rendered it meaningless.
Scotland are not in great shape for Sunday's first of five ODI assignments in six weeks, the return of the resurgent Pakistanis to Edinburgh. The hope was that two English-based professionals, Dougie Brown and Coetzer, would fill the two places in the faltering Scottish Saltires line-up vacated by the overseas players. Scotland would still be underdogs but would at least be equipped to convey an accurate impression of the growing strength of the game.
The injury that ruled out Brown was a setback, but the news that Coetzer, whose batting has made a strong impression this summer, could not answer the call was exponentially worse. His employers have Twenty20 commitments tomorrow and on Saturday, but no match on Sunday or Monday. Besides, the 22-year-old has never made the Durham team for the short format. And yet the Aberdonian has been backed into a position where he feels he has no choice but to say no to his country.
The guardians of English cricket made sure the ICC's new law was communicated to the 18 counties. Durham should have been powerless to stop Coetzer reviving his international career. Cricket Scotland was within its rights to name him in Ryan Watson's team. Yet the player eventually said no, citing "lots of pressure from both sides" which had led him to stay at the Riverside in fear of losing favour. "My aim is to have up to 15 years as a first-class cricketer so this is the right decision for the moment," he concluded.
Hang on. Pressure from Durham? This plunges us into an ethical minefield where the word honour is consigned to another era. Coetzer has been grounded like an errant teenager. Durham coach Geoff Cook is understood to have been worried about the disruption caused by his involvement in what would have been the biggest challenge of his career. Even at the start of last week, Cook was reacting to queries about Coetzer playing for Scotland with as much enthusiasm as a cat at a ford.
Brown, now nursing an Achilles problem that threatens to terminate his senior career, has been in his younger countryman's predicament many times. He stayed with Warwickshire when Pakistan arrived in the Scottish capital last year, but in 2005 he negotiated his release for a fortnight of the summer to fly the flag in the ICC Trophy.
Speaking earlier this week, Scotland's longest-serving county professional said: "It's not an easy situation to resolve. Kyle has made a career down south and that's unfortunate for Scotland, but until the game is fully professional up here this will always be something we have to contend with. I can sympathise with Kyle because all he wants to do is play cricket at the highest level.
"If he feels that he can't play for Scotland because he might lose his place at Durham, then it's a ridiculous situation to be in," said the World Cup all-rounder. "Scotland are not a fully-fledged ICC nation as yet and there is still a reservation within the counties that 'it's only Scotland'. Hopefully a time will come when we don't have to fight our corner.
"Ireland's Eoin Morgan made the same decision for the recent one-day internationals against India and South Africa. He felt he was being put under pressure by Middlesex and in the end made a decision based on the longevity of his career, and opted not to play for Ireland. My heart goes out to people who have to make this decision. The counties need to realise that playing a major Test nation is more beneficial to a young guy than just another county game. Sometimes they want to have their cake and eat the whole thing."
Coetzer, who has been replaced by Qasim Sheikh, spoke of pressure from both sides but there was no "pressure" from Scotland, only a summons. It is known that the youngster, who has only just convinced Cook of his first-team credentials, was desperate for the matter to be sorted out between his coach and Scotland's Peter Drinnen. But there was no hope of that when all Cook had to do was warn Coetzer his chances of a contract extension depended on his utter commitment to Durham this summer. "We will have to wait and see whether Kyle features in our Twenty20 squad," Cook said 10 days ago, with no interest in an ICC law designed to cut out such chicanery.
"The ICC is aware of the broader issue regarding availability of players who have county contracts but come from associate countries," said James Fitzgerald, ICC communications officer. "We are in constant contact with, in this case, the ECB, to try and ensure that associates can field as strong a side as is possible, particularly against full member nations.
"The English counties are aware of the directive but I am not sure there is anything we can about it when a player chooses his county over his country."