Cricket: Scotland's future seems assured regardless of result against Afghans

TODAY'S final of the ICC Intercontinental cup in Dubai brings an end to the longest-ever season for Scotland's national cricket side. A visit to Kenya last January was the first challenge of many faced this year by Pete Steindl's young and developing side.

Although qualification for the World T20 was not secured, this was the only disappointment in a year full of promise of better things to come. Home and away victories over Leicestershire, a stunning victory over India A and a second-place finish in the World Cricket League Division 1 all point to significant progress in 2010.

The transitional nature of the side can be seen by the many new young players who have been given their opportunity to shine. Batsmen Ollie Hairs, Freddie Coleman, Euan Chalmers, Preston Mommsen and Ryan Flannigan all made appearances, with not one of them yet 22. Opening bowlers Gordon Goudie and Matthew Parker, aged 20 and 22, spearheaded the attack all year. With so many young players experiencing cricket at this level for the first time, there is undoubted depth now for the Scottish coaches to work with, hopefully laying the foundations for successful sides in the next few years.

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Scotland's competitive batting performance against England was the last match for Gavin Hamilton as captain. When he took over the captaincy after the disappointing 2009 World Cup qualifying event, he was clear he would commit to the job until a long-term successor became apparent. After a year in the role it was clear that, in Gordon Drummond, the new leader had been identified and he left the stage as Scotland's best batsman of the last decade. Drummond had previously captained the four-day side to the wins against Canada and Kenya, and the draw against the Irish which set up his new-look side for their challenge to reach the Intercontinental Cup final. His first major challenge as full-time captain came in Division 1 of the world cricket league in Holland. Although they eventually lost the final against Ireland, after being in a dominant position at one stage, the progress was clear for all to see. Wins against four of their five peers in the ICC's high-performance programme showed clearly that this was a side on an upward curve.

A further victory against the Dutch, and a loss to Afghanistan meant their path to the final was blocked by Zimbabwe, who had entered the competition as part of their path back to Test status. This match was unfortunately taken over by politics on both a macro and cricketing level and never took place.The Scots, although disappointed to miss out on an opportunity to play a full ICC member side, reached the final of the competition they last won in 2004.

They are undoubtedly the underdogs against a highly- talented Afghanistan side who have made a meteoric rise in the game over the last four years. The Afghans have proved they are fierce competitors and have dominated the competition to win the group stage convincingly. In Hamid Hassan, they possess the best bowler in the Associate world and how the Scots cope with his reverse swing will have a major impact on the outcome of the game.

For the Scots to succeed they will have to be disciplined with both bat and ball. The Afghans will thrive on any loose bowling as they ruthlessly showed in their win against the Scots in Ayr. However the Scottish bowlers know that, if they can be frustrated and their run- scoring opportunities limited, they will be vulnerable as the Scots have proved in recent one day success against them. When batting, the Scots must occupy the crease for long periods of time and be prepared to bat for session after session. A five-day game is a new experience to the players and they must adapt to the concept of batting for more than a day, not just for 50 overs. When players get in they must convert their starts to big scores.

Drummond's new young side has been built on the premise of the team unit and not individuals and each victory it has achieved has been on the back of a number of players delivering in each game. However, in the challenge that faces them over the next five days they will need their main batsman, Kyle Coetzer, and bowler, Majid Haq, to perform strongly. It is difficult to see a Scottish victory without big performances from these two.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the Scottish resurgence is that fact that, of the 14 players in Dubai, 13 of them are direct products of the Scottish youth system. All bar Preston Mommsen, who finished his schooling in Scotland, learned their cricket in Scotland and come through the ranks of age grade and Lions cricket. With the success of this year's Under-18 and Under-15 side in dominating their European championships there is a healthy conveyor belt of talent coming through. With their peers in Ireland and Holland still relying to differing degrees on hereditary passports and residency qualifications for many of their key players, the future is bright for the game in Scotland, irrespective of the result in this week's game.