AS THEY depart New Zealand today, Scotland’s cricketers will be hoping to bring the essence of confidence and achievement home with them.
The Saltires will be back in New Zealand and Australia for the World Cup next year and, having completed the qualification tournament with a 41-run victory over the United Arab Emirates in the final yesterday, they now know the scale of the task which awaits them.
Group A, into which Scotland will now go, brings an enticing encounter with England in Christchurch but, before that, they must open up against the co-hosts in Dunedin. And, following clashes with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the finale of the opening round will take the Scots to Hobart to face Australia.
“We’re going to play some of the best teams in the world,” said stand-in captain Preston Mommsen. “It’s an awesome prospect. England will be huge for us. We’ll be looking to cause an upset. It’s happened before at World Cups and there’s no reason it can’t happen again.”
Having missed out on the 2011 World Cup and the past two 20-over showpieces, a return to the global stage was a necessity for Scotland, more so in light of the murky machinations within the ICC that will surely see the rich get richer and some of the sport’s minnows left to wither and die.
Scotland escaped that fate, and did so in style, with only a surprise loss to Hong Kong in their tournament opener as a blemish.
Much credit goes to Mommsen, who battled through a pelvic problem then inherited the skipper’s role from the injured Kyle Coetzer, and was named Player of the Tournament following a superlative showing in the final. With Calum Macleod out for a fourth-ball duck and Matty Cross falling for 14, Mommsen resisted the Emirates bowling, deftly compiling his maiden ODI century to steer his side out of potential trouble. Freddie Coleman added 31 in support, then Ritchie Berrington blasted 63 from 53 balls. Their skipper anchored in, eventually ending unbeaten on 139 as his side reached 285-5.
Unsurprisingly, given the ruthless edge that has been instilled by the caretaker coaching duo of Paul Collingwood and Craig Wright, the Scots turned the scew and Safayaan Sharif claimed 3-41, with Iain Wardlaw and Rob Taylor also securing three wickets as the UAE were held to 244-9. At the close, Swapnil Patel was stuck agonisingly on 99.
What a difference from two months ago when even acquiring one of six berths at the World Twenty20 proved overly ambitious.
“International cricket’s not a place to be soft,” Majid Haq stated. “You have to be tough. That’s something Colly and Wrighty have really hammered home. Over the last few years, we’ve had great moments once in a while but we’ve also let ourselves down. Here, if you look at Preston, Matt Machan, Calum MacLeod, they’ve all batted superbly. It’s great to see guys scoring hundreds, which has been a problem in the past.”
The significance of what qualification brings has not been lost on the players. Scotland’s one-day international status is safe for another four years, along with a diet of visits from the Test nations, starting with England in Aberdeen in May. An expenses account for tours and development will remain open at the Bank of ICC.
“Cricket in Scotland for the last four or five years has been a bit down,” Haq added. “You have to qualify for World Cups. That’s when you get the recognition. That’s where the money is, the sponsorship. Hopefully, it will bring interest for the sport, people wanting to get on board.”
It is doubtful that Collingwood will stay at the helm. He will return to Durham for one last season and, although Cricket Scotland will surely wish to keep him involved, the former England captain has ensured he will not be short of coaching offers when he leaves the Riverside.
Any successor will have the incentive of pitting their wits against the best. In the recruitment process, the players will merely ask for their voices to be heard.
“I would hope that there would be some consulting being done,” Coetzer said. “But I’m sure the right choice will be made.”