SCOTLAND last night held their nerve to stay on course for automatic World Cup qualification with a thrilling 12-run victory over Kenya at Mannofield, Aberdeen.
A superb century from Matt Machan put them on course but the Africans fought all the way and looked the likelier for much of their innings as they chased Scotland’s 242-4.
However, Kyle Coetzer’s side stuck to their plans and produced some excellent bowling at the death.
They had made the ideal start when Iain Wardlaw broke through in the second over, trapping Alex Obanda in front for a duck. However, Morris Ouma launched a hard-hitting counter-attack with three boundaries off Neil Carter in one over.
Ouma and the more circumspect Irfan Karim quickly had the Africans up with the required rate, although the Scots gave both batsmen a “life.”
Karim was on 12 when he edged a Majid Haq delivery only for Preston Mommsen to put down the catch.
Haq’s second over brought further woe when centurion Machan put down a straightforward chance to remove the dangerous Ouma. The former Kenya captain made the most of his reprieve, moving to a swift half-century with four boundaries.
Machan eventually atoned for his earlier drop with the wicket of Karim, well caught by David Murphy for 30 as Scotland stuck to their task.
A fine spell from Leicestershire’e left-arm seamer Rob Taylor was rewarded with the key wicket of Ouma who chipped a catch to Mommsen at midwicket to depart for 57.
Mommsen was again the catcher as Machan struck for a second time to dismiss Kenya captain Collins Obuya for a duck as the visitors wobbled on 103-4.
However, the pendulum swung again in Kenya’s favour as Tamray Mishra and Ragep Patel embarked on a stand that brought 84 runs.
Patel led the way with a six and four boundaries in his half-century before becoming Machan’s third victim.
The Kenyans – needing seven-an-over for the last six overs and with five wickets in hand – were still in charge.
However, Calum MacLeod removed Ragheb Aga before Wardlaw struck three times in quick succession, leaving Carter to clinch victory with the first ball of the final over when Mishra holed out to Freddie Coleman for 61.
Earlier, Scotland’s batsmen had appeared to get their tactics right after being sent in to bat on a wicket that offered plenty of assistance to a lively Kenya attack.
Runs were hard to come by but Kyle Coetzer looked every part the in-form batsman he has been for Northants during a recent purple patch. Coetzer got the board moving by clipping Ragheb Aga over the in-field to the mid-wicket boundary and followed it up with back-to-back fours off Nehemiah Odhiambo.
Coleman, meanwhile, was finding it tough to get the ball away but a crisply struck shot to the straight boundary suggested the Warwickshire recruit was finding his touch.
However, the introduction of Nelson Odhiambo immediately brought Coleman’s downfall with a miscue to Obanda in the covers. Coetzer, having reached 37 with six boundaries, survived a scare when Nelson failed to hold on to a sharp return catch.
However, the Scotland skipper failed to make the most of his reprieve, falling without addition to a Nelson delivery that appeared to keep low.
When MacLeod went cheaply, edging the same bowler to first slip, the Scots, on 68-3 and with a modest run-rate, desperately needed a substantial partnership. It was provided in some style by Machan and Mommsen who steadily rebuilt the innings before grabbing the initiative during the batting powerplay overs which yielded 43 runs.
Machan moved to his first ODI half-century from 70 balls with four boundaries but the Sussex batsman accelerated impressively to reach three figures at almost a run-a-ball.
He opened his shoulders to despatch consecutive James Ngoche deliveries for maximums over long-on. Machan struck an even bigger and straighter six off Nogoche as he moved towards a memorable century.
The effort included seven boundaries and he added a further two before finally succumbing for 114 to a delivery from Mishra that hit middle stump. Mommsen, meanwhile, was content to offer his partner the strike but was still able to score a half-century of his own as the pair put on 162 for the fourth wicket.
Coetzer last night hailed centurion Machan and insisted there was more to come from his World Cup hopefuls.
Coetzer said: “Matt is a classy batsman and has already been on the verge of a performance like that in his short Scotland career.
“It was a great innings and his partnership with Preston [Mommsen] is one of the best I have seen by Scotland in an ODI. They gave us exactly the impetus we needed when they came together.”
Coetzer’s men meet Kenya again tomorrow when victory would take them second in the eight-team table.