FOR Scotland, the road to the 2015 World Cup will go through New Zealand, not Stormont. Defeated on Friday by one wicket by Ireland, with just one ball remaining, hopes of avoiding the lottery of next January’s ten-team qualifying tournament were cruelly crushed.
The Celtic rivals meet again today in Belfast but there is little meaningful at stake.
The Irish have long since assured themselves of a place in cricket’s showpiece. The Scots, now unable to finish in the top two of the World Cricket League, must resolve to earn one of the two final berths which will be on offer in the new year when they travel into the summer sunshine of the southern hemisphere.
Matt Machan is 23 now. The Sussex batsman, though still an unpolished gem, is aware that a failure to come up trumps then would mean he would have to wait until the age of 28, at least, to appear on the sport’s grandest stage. Before he made his Saltires debut earlier this year, he had watched and dreamt of pitting his wits against the very best.
“And now there’s that possibility for me, it would be amazing to do it. Being at a World Cup, it’s the pinnacle for any cricketer, isn’t it? So being at the next one would be ideal.”
Participation is critical. The Scots were out-classed by Australia last Tuesday in Edinburgh but retaining one-day international status facilitates such glamorous visits. For Cricket Scotland, it is a vital financial stream. For their players too, the additional exposure accrued by a good performance against a leading power opens doors.
“It can put you on the map,” Machan concedes. “You might get invites to Twenty20 competitions from different teams across the world in addition to playing for Sussex. But even if that’s the goal, once you get there, you have to perform.”
That has become the hallmark of the Irish, who were pushing England to the brink while the Aussies were putting Scotland to the sword. Even with Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin switching allegiances, standards have barely slipped. Some argue that they have profited from a perfect storm which has thrown together an unusually talented group. Machan senses that the current crop of Scots, now fortified by a English-born group who have been co-opted by parentage, can soon enjoy similar gains.
“In five years’ time, we could be doing what they’re doing now,” he said. “They might be doing better at the moment. But I wouldn’t say that they have better players with more skill. They just have the experience. We don’t, and that may let us down. But in a couple of years, we’ll be able to compete and do well.”
In and out at Sussex, Machan will hope to impress Ireland’s Ed Joyce, his county captain in Hove. “Hopefully if I get him out, he’ll give me a bowl at Sussex. It wouldn’t do me any harm to get a few wickets.”