A WINTER that began with the promise of entry to two elite tournaments continued to haunt Scotland yesterday, mocking the national team’s assertions of progress and brutally underlining their status among the also-rans of world cricket.
Scotland lost by 17 runs to Hong Kong in their opening match at the ICC World Cup Qualifier. That came less than a decade after they won all seven matches at the same tournament, then named the ICC Trophy, most of them by comfortable margins. It was two months after a series of poor performances at the World Twenty20 Qualifier, when the Scots endured four defeats in nine games.
Pete Steindl was relieved of his duties as head coach after that tournament, allowing his newly-appointed assistants, Paul Collingwood and Craig Wright, to take over. But yesterday’s potentially demoralising start to the team’s most important tournament in four years suggested there are more fundamental problems than a lack of motivation or direction.
If anyone thought Collingwood and Wright would engineer a fresh start, their optimism was quickly worn down by events in Queenstown, where Hong Kong were allowed to amass 263 for seven in their 50 overs. The extraordinary thing about this latest tale of woe is that it came in spite of one of the great rearguard efforts by a Scottish cricketer.
Preston Mommsen missed the recent misadventures in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and his participation was in doubt only days before this tournament began as he was still recovering from a hip operation and had not hit a ball in anger since last summer.
Mommsen’s innings of 118, off only 109 balls, only served to underline the paucity of performances elsewhere in the team. Far more often than not, hundreds like that are decisive in the winning of matches.
Kyle Coetzer, whose brief experience as captain has been wounding enough to already make him befitting of the description “long-suffering”, did not say anything in the aftermath that he had not said in the wake of humbling defeats in the Gulf in November.
“Our performance today wasn’t good enough and we fell short of the standards we set ourselves in each discipline,” said the Aberdonian, who made just seven from his new position as opener alongside Calum MacLeod. “Preston showed the way on his return from injury and made a magnificent hundred which got us close. Unfortunately, nobody was able to stay with him long enough to get us over the line. It is clearly not an ideal start to the tournament but our aim will simply be to play better in the next game and take it from there.”
There are about 500 weekend cricketers in Hong Kong, but none of them plays and trains full-time, as most of the Scotland players now do. Hong Kong, who were the sixth and last team to qualify for the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh, included in their number Mark Ferguson, a 33-year-old from Paisley who kept wicket for Scotland B as well as Greenock and Kelburne. Ferguson did not bat yesterday but his catch removed his opposite number, Matthew Cross, whose selection ahead of Northamptonshire’s David
Murphy was designed to symbolise a new investment of faith in Scottish-reared players.
The quick removal of Cross and Michael Leask occurred when Scotland were 144 for five, a position that had closely resembled Hong Kong’s at the same stage of their innings.
The double blow left the lower order with too much to do and, despite Mommsen adding 52 for the ninth wicket with Majid Haq, and another 22 for the last with Iain Wardlaw, his stand was finally ended by Nadeem Ahmed (4-37), when 18 were still required off nine balls.
Scotland’s next game is against Nepal on Thursday, by which time Group A favourites UAE will have had the chance to turn two points into four, with Scotland on zero.
Only two World Cup places are on offer to the ten teams in New Zealand.