A new year and new aspirations for Scotland. A new start for Calum MacLeod.
And both team and individual got 2017 off on the right note yesterday in the opening game of the Desert Twenty 20 Challenge in Abu Dhabi, blowing off the wintry cobwebs amid swirling winds with a 24-run victory over Hong Kong.
It was a Scottish T20 international record stand of 127 between MacLeod and Richie Berrington which factored heaviest but there were positives aplenty at the outset of the week-long shoot out between the leading Associate nations.
Hong Kong’s fielding hindered their cause as the Saltires reached 189-3 from their 20 overs at the futuristic Sheikh Zayed Stadium. And Mark Watt was the pick of the bowlers with 1-20 as the Asian contenders were held to 165-6 despite an unbeaten 42 from Ehsan Khan.
“It was a good win,” said MacLeod, who like Berrington, notched 60 with the bat.
“There was a lot of good work by the openers to set things up and give us a platform for the performance. It was tough at times to play with the wind but that’s where winning the toss helped. It was easier to set a target and let the conditions play out and we kept things under control. And it was good to start the year well and show that kind of focus from the outset.”
Kyle Coetzer, as interim captain, led from the front with 31 before striking out in the covers after fellow opener George Munsey was trapped on 22, with Khan the bowler for both. Yet MacLeod, the eventual man of the match, fired seven boundaries in his 34-ball innings before he was caught at square leg.
Hong Kong never looked like reaching their target. MacLeod ran out Aizaz Khan on the fourth ball of their response with Safy Sharif’s slow ball tempting Babar Hayat to slog to Josh Davey after notching 22 off as many balls. Watt removed Waqas Khan but Brad Wheal taking out Shahid Wasif on 40 was arguably the fatal blow.
Only MacLeod, delivering a single over of off-spin, was off the mark but it was heartening to see him in form elsewhere. Released by Durham at the end of last season, the 28-year-old is starting again outside the county system but with an international contract softening the blow.
“I’m a little unsure about the future,” he admitted. “I’m in the process of talking with a club in Newcastle about playing there but also coaching. If that’s sorted, that will be my focus this summer. But I still think I’ve got a lot to give.”
Once a prolific seamer before his technique collapsed, MacLeod has reinvented himself before. Spinning might not be the route third time around, he acknowledged. “I tried it a bit before in India but one of the pros knocked me all over.”
Next up for Scotland is the Netherlands on Tuesday, with the Dutch first meeting Oman today in their respective Group B opener. It’s potentially a pivotal contest in the opening phase as both set their sights on next weekend’s final in Dubai. MacLeod added: “Everyone’s looking forward to it. We were due to meet them in the final of the World T20 qualifiers but it was rained off.”