SCOTLAND play their most important match in years today as they face their old rivals from the Netherlands with one of the last two available berths at the World Twenty20 finals at stake.
After a comprehensive fourth win in a row knocked Italy out of contention and consigned the Scots’ appalling start to the qualifying tournament to memory, they now face a familiar foe in Abu Dhabi for the right to join Ireland, Afghanistan, Nepal and the United Arab Emirates at the finals in Bangladesh next year.
Nepal will be major tournament debutants at the finals and it will be UAE’s first encounter with the elite since they competed at the 1996 World Cup. It will not flatter the Scots or the Dutch to be qualifying in their wake, but at least the European duo got this far in the face of improved Asian competition, unlike Canada, Kenya and Namibia.
Perhaps crucially for a new-look side still trying to find their feet in the international arena, Scotland go into their Abu Dhabi finale having beaten their opponents by 15 runs only six days ago, as they fought back to qualify from Group B.
Yesterday’s win was very businesslike from a side who had previously struggled every time they had been asked to bat second. But their recovery has been marked by free-flowing runs, to the point where Matt Machan and Calum MacLeod are now the top two scorers in the tournament.
It was MacLeod who took the initiative as Scotland set off in pursuit of a very attainable 126 for victory. The former Warwickshire fast bowler, who has remodelled himself as an explosive weapon at the top of the order, struck consecutive boundaries in the second over to get the Scots above the required run rate early.
Richie Berrington soon brought his cultured strokeplay to bear on the Italian bowling and the pair matched each other stroke for stroke as they scored rapid half-centuries and compiled an opening partnership of 112.
Italy rallied briefly as they claimed the wickets of both openers and Machan for just one, but captain Kyle Coetzer still had 15 balls in reserve when he stroked the winning single.
The Aberdonian reserved most of his praise afterwards for a bowling contingent who never let the Italians build on a healthy start by Gareth Berg, who hit 24 off 16 balls before being clean-bowled by Safyaan Sharif.
Neil Carter (2-26) and the ever-economical Majid Haq also produced the goods for a Scotland side showing no signs of nerves when faced with the sudden-death format.
“It was a good, solid performance and we did a good job with the ball. Majid, Sharif, Carter all put their hands up, before we knocked the runs off easily,” said Coetzer.
“Their main player, Gareth Berg, played a few nice shots, but that’s what we expect in T20 cricket. Thankfully Saffy bowled a nice straight one which hit leg stump and we were off and running.”
Nepal, who finished ahead of Scotland in Group B by the smallest possible margin on net run rate, confirmed their qualification with a final-ball thriller against Hong Kong.
The Dutch lost by 10 runs to the host nation, only managing 107-9 in response to the UAE’s 117-8. Hong Kong play Papua New Guinea this morning for the right to join the winner of the Scots-Dutch clash in Bangladesh.
G Berg b Sharif 24 (16)
A Northcote not out 46 (54)
P Petricola b Sharif 3 (8)
D Crowley c Cross b Carter 10 (10)
C Sandri st Cross b Machan 10 (9)
J Perera c & b Haq 7 (9)
M Raso c Haq b Taylor 13 (10)
D Marage run out 1 (1)
V Pennazza c Leask b Carter 1 (3)
Extras (b6 lb3 w1) 10
Total: (8 wkts, 20 overs) 125
Fall: 1-31, 2-41, 3-66, 4-82, 5-98, 6-114, 70-116, 8-125
Bowling: N Carter 4-0-26-2, M Machan 4-0-24-1, S Sharif 3-0-19-2, G Goudie 3-0-20-0, M Haq 4-0-14-1, R Taylor 2-0-13-1.
R Berrington b Sandri52 (44)
C MacLeod c Perera b Sandri56 (45)
M Machan b Pennazza1 (5)
M Leask not out8 (4)
K Coetzer not out4 (7)
Extras (lb1 w4)5
Total: (3 wkts, 17.3 overs)126
Fall: 1-112, 112, 117
Bowling: G Munasinghe 3-0-21-0, Crowley 3-0-22-0, Pennazza 3.3-0-22-1, Berg 2-0-17-0, M Fernando 1-0-9-0, Sandri 4-0-30-2, Marage 1-0-4-0.
Scotland won by seven wickets
Qualifiers: Ireland, Afghanistan, Nepal, UAE
Today: Hong Kong v PNG (6am), Netherlands v Scotland (10am), live on Sky Sports 3