ACCORDING to an Indian professor of sporting statistics, Hemanta Saiki: “Cricket is a relatively leisurely outdoor game played in a circular ground, where the interaction between the bat and the ball takes place in a 22-yard hard surface called the pitch.”

Of course, if test match cricket can occasionally resemble baseball on Valium, then 20-over cricket is more like baseball on steroids.

And so if the good professor was watching the India-Pakistan World Cup face-off last week, he would agree it was more akin to the immortal Bill Shankly quote about football being “not about life and death but much more important than that.”

After all that excitement I settled down to watch the Pakistan/Scotland match last Sunday afternoon, secure in the knowledge that Pakistan were already through to the semi-finals and that Scotland had excelled by qualifying for the Super 12 for the first time.

Pakistan duly won a good-natured game and the Scotland team will benefit greatly from playing what is currently the best T20 team on the planet. Indeed there is a charming post-match video of the two teams enjoying tea and cake together, with the Pakistani bowlers hopefully imparting a few tips to their Scottish counterparts!

But here is a reflection on why Scotland are capable of humbling the high-flying Australians at rugby, on the same afternoon as we were outclassed by Pakistan at cricket.

The answer is simple. Look at any picture of the slums of Karachi, Lahore or Islamabad from 20 years ago and you will see hordes of young urchins with a bat and ball in the streets, honing the ball skills which now make their googlies unplayable or their sixes soar into the stands.

Babar Azam, Pakistan’s captain in all cricket formats and top batsman, was born in 1994 in the Walled City of Lahore and recalls the memories of “playing cricket and roaming around like a free bird in those streets”.

Back in the 1950s you would have found similar scenes in Glasgow for fitba or in the Welsh valleys for rugby. Thus in the 60s Celtic became champions of Europe with a team born within 20 miles of the dear green place while, in the early 70s, Barry John’s Wales dazzled the international rugby field.

The National: The Lisbon Lions parade the European Cup at Parkhead after their famous victory in 1967The Lisbon Lions parade the European Cup at Parkhead after their famous victory in 1967

There is no great secret to any country’s route to excellence in any sport. Enlarge the base of the triangle and the greats will emerge a generation later at the apex. Success is directly related to the number of youngsters introduced to the game at an early age.

The resurgence of Scottish rugby over the last 10 years has reflected a similar process. Under first Vern Cotter and now Gregor Townsend, the team sheet no longer reads like the Balmoral guest list or the table settings at Muirfield’s captains’ night. The SRU’s state schools policy has paid off handsomely with the only silver spoons now on display at Murrayfield being those at the post-match dinners.

After serving as a trustee for more than seven years on the Scottish Women in Sport board, I have a good idea of the challenges. It is tough for sports to compete with the many other diversions around for youngsters. That is the case for boys and is even more the case for girls. However, where opportunity is provided, the returns in success are exceptional as witness Scotland’s current crop of world-class female athletes.

Golf provides another example. After a fallow period, the Scottish youth game is resurgent and breakthroughs are now emerging at the highest levels of the game such as Louise Duncan’s triumph in the British Amateur Championship.

MY view is that this is directly related to the campaign, through club golf, of giving 50,000 nine-year-olds across the country the chance to try the sport.

This was started as part of the Ryder Cup bid of Gleneagles 2014 and the dividends are becoming clear today. If it is sustained then Scottish golf will produce an assembly line of great players. If it falters then so will Scotland’s future as the home of great golfers as well as the home of golf.

So what can be done right now as we emerge from pandemic to boost the prospects of Scottish sporting success? Invest the £200 million required to allow local government to make all sporting facilities free to all under 18-year-olds. It will save many future millions for our NHS in promoting healthy living and tackling obesity.

Back it with a T20 World Cup bid and an inclusive schools cricket participation programme then at some point in the 2030s I confidently expect to be sitting in the new stands at Hamilton Crescent watching the Scotland v Pakistan showdown.

The only question at that friendly final would be which team would be carrying most home support!