Cricket: Scots’ hopes on a sticky wicket
It has been a summer of frustration for David Murphy after a spring that had promised so much. Scotland’s first-choice wicket-keeper had attained a similarly favourable status at Northamptonshire when the season began, the opportunity to solidify his standing for county and country of equal importance as the countdown to the winter’s World Cup began in earnest.
In only the second game of his campaign, a tweak to the thumb was eventually diagnosed as a torn ligament. The 25-year-old asked to be patched up and to soldier on. “But after five games I knew it wasn’t really helping the side so I sat out for five weeks,” he says.
First game back, and he dislocated a finger on the same hand. “The three weeks out after that were a total pain.” Which is why, on international duty this week, he would like to channel that inner torment into aiding the Saltires’ cause.
An innings of 31 on Friday against New Zealand hinted at a personal statement of well-being. Yet it came amid a crushing 199-run defeat that underlined the task awaiting new coach Grant Bradburn as he tries to mould a squad capable of holding their own in the southern hemisphere next March.
The three-match series, which resumes this morning in Ayr and concludes in Edinburgh on Thursday, was pre-destined to be an important barometer for the hosts. Bereft of regular contests against the Test nations, Cricket Scotland has petitioned for a diet of encounters with their second strings as a bridging mechanism.
On the evidence presented two days ago, Bradburn has a body of engineering work to undertake. “Parts of our bowling were pretty effective for 30 overs,” Murphy, left, asserted. “We did a decent job. But it also shows the gulf in quality between where we need to be and where we are at the moment. I think we can play better. It’s six months out from the World Cup. But we know more now about what we need to work on.”
Taming BJ Watling and Grant Elliott, both of whom helped themselves to controlled centuries, should be an immediate priority. Increasing the collective batting tally beyond 148 is another, with only a patient score of 42 from Richie Berrington achieving any real indent on the Black Caps. Today’s availability of Warwickshire’s Freddie Coleman – potentially at the expense of Hamish Gardiner – may add a little extra fuel, but there remains, Murphy suggests, a streak of naivety which must be wiped out.
“They were bowling really well, though, and we have to find a way to deal with that,” he insisted. “Part of it is application. The guys have maybe got to look at the conditions more and assess what a good shot is on that wicket.
“We have to find ways to rotate the strike more without taking too many risks. If you can do that, you can keep the runs ticking over and that’s going to be a big thing for us.”
Bradburn will pray for small gains.
When the series decamps for the Grange, he will lose the services of stand-in captain Matt Machan, but regain Calum MacLeod, buoyant after earning his county cap at Durham last week. Murphy is likely in a straight battle to retain the gloves ahead of the injured Matthew Cross.
“That’s the way I view it,” he says. “I’m sure it’s the same for Crossy. I know I’m here to use these three games as an opportunity to show Grant what I can do.
“Everyone’s aware we’ve started the build-up. We know what we do now matters. We didn’t get together that often so when we are here, you feel you have to all pitch in and work to move us collectively up to the right standard to be competitive at the World Cup.”
Bradburn will feel out his champions as he goes along.
“He’s finding out who we are,” Murphy adds. “We’re finding out who he is and how we can fit into his vision and the brand of cricket he wants us to play.”