Bold Scots sent spinning by English

GAVIN Hamilton's last decision as Scotland captain was groundbreaking and courageous. One seasoned observer, arriving at Citylets Grange on Saturday morning, winced after hearing that Scotland had won the toss against England and chosen to bat first.

Scotland's Douglas Lockhart bats from Graeme Swann

In the bad old days, when fixtures such as these carried not a flicker of competitive importance, it was agreed that the stronger team would bat first in the hope that an early finish could be averted. Had the Scots been skittled for 101 and the one-day international been over at five past two, as happened when New Zealand visited Aberdeen two years ago, it would have been a commercial drain and a desperately off-putting spectacle for any first-timers in the crowd.

But accidents happen; teams get nowhere if they do not volunteer to stand out in the sun and take the heat. Besides, the pitch was a belter.

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Hamilton made his choice for all the right, positive, aggressive reasons. It is not for him to ensure that patrons' entertainment lasts the maximum 100 overs, and would anyone really have preferred a re-enactment of the Australia game of last August, when the tourists smote their way to victory by 189 runs?

England's triumph was similarly facile. When conditions are good, the gap yawns open. Just as David Hussey's power hitting took last year's game away from the Scots in the middle of the first innings, here Michael Yardy, the left-arm spinner from Sussex, plucked out Scotland's Nos 3, 4 and 5 like sticks of asparagus at harvest time.

Kyle Coetzer had, until then, dominated proceedings to such an extent he looked like an England player in the wrong shade of blue. As strong off the back foot as the front, Durham's Aberdonian unleashed eight boundaries and added 86 with Hamilton for the second wicket after a rudely premature call to the crease.

Yardy's expertise – he induced a leading edge from Coetzer on 51, then faded one back into the pads of newcomer Josh Davey, and persuaded Richie Berrington to take the aerial route in a bid to assert himself – had more bearing on the margin of victory than the dashing strokeplay of England openers Andrew Strauss and Craig Kieswetter, which inspired them to finish the job in the 34th over of the reply. Yardy's spell, allied to the precision of Graeme Swann at the pavilion end, forced Scotland into a conservative stupor between the 20th and 30th overs, in which they slumped from 87-1 to 121-5.

Glasgow stockbroker Dougie Lockhart, who won his first Scotland cap in 1995, is cast as more of a Boycott than a Botham but his intelligent gathering of runs during the home team's Powerplay carried Scotland to the refuge of 200, before the impressive Ajmal Shahzad and Jimmy Anderson brought out their yorkers.

The level-headed Gordon Drummond, who will take over as captain, did not summon his usual accuracy and when he over-pitched the first ball of the reply, Strauss set out on an innings of wonderful urgency, striking most of his 12 fours out of harm's way along the ground.

"The strange thing from our point of view is that we got ourselves into a good position," said Lockhart, who made 46. "Gavin and Kyle had a great partnership and at 70-1 off 15 overs, we had established a base. But then the spinners came on and took the pace off the ball, tried to squeeze us and we lost four wickets.

"With the start we got, if Gavin or Kyle had got an 80 or a 100 then we could have chipped in around them and 250 could have been a possibility.

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"England got off to a bit of a flier. It was great that the spinners, Majid (Haq] and Ross (Lyons], bowled exceptionally well but 210 was always going to be a tough total to defend on that wicket."

Australia and South Africa might have shared 700 runs on that wicket. Any fears that the lack of spice in the contest after the first hour-and-a-half might have damaged Scottish cricket are offset by the quality of the venue.

Cricket Scotland chief executive Roddy Smith hopes to bring Sri Lanka or South Africa north from their English exertions next summer, and if the hosts are not more competitive by then something will have had to go badly wrong. "We're playing more and more of these games now and there's frustration in the changing room that we didn't get more of a total, because we've got the batting strength there," added Lockhart. "We didn't play to our maximum potential, and that's always the thing: you need all 11 players to be at their best to have any chance, and hope that they have an off day."

Perhaps even the greatest off day could not have made England, World Twenty20 champions, fail this assignment, but it is tempting to wonder if their struggle would have been greater on the kind of dark and damp day that greeted our neighbours under Kevin Pietersen's captaincy two years ago.

An immaculate playing surface and smooth outfield was a credit to Grange CC. It might have played into England's hands, but it also allowed a decorated Scottish cricketer to make his final call as captain among his most admirable.