SCottish cricketing prospect Michael Leask had a brilliant 2014 – and now he has his fingers crossed that he will be taking part in the sport’s main event in a few weeks’ time.
The 24-year-old hard-hitting batsman and spin bowler from Aberdeen made his one-day international debut in the World Cup qualifier against Canada in January.
And, since then, the Stoneywood-Dyce skipper has gone from strength to strength, the highlight being his innings of 42 from just 16 balls in an ODI against England in his home city in the summer.
With the World Cup getting under way in Australia and New Zealand next month, Scotland are preparing to finalise their 15-man squad on 7 January.
Leask, who was named in the 24-man extended party before Christmas, is fully expected to make the cut – and with determination and a real drive to succeed the best is yet to come from this exciting talent.
If he is selected in the XI for Scotland’s opening pool match against New Zealand in Dunedin on 17 February it will cap off a journey that began at People’s Park many years ago.
Leask said: “I was down at my local cricket club Stoneywood-Dyce in Aberdeen from a very early age because my dad was heavily involved there and it meant that I was always on the boundary playing about.
“As I started to get older, I began to play at the club and I was always looking to learn from those around me. To have the likes of Kyle Coetzer and Gordon Goudie, who I am now involved with at Scotland level, to look up to was great and I think the good thing about Stoneywood-Dyce is that they are always willing to give youth a chance.”
Having made his first XI debut for the club when he was 15, Leask’s career continued to gather pace and he played for various Scotland age-grade sides.
Fast forward to 2014 and, he played his part as the full Scotland team safely navigated through the World Cup qualifiers in New Zealand in January and February.
“To make it into the Scotland squad for the World Cup qualifiers in New Zealand was very special and to be picked to play in the first game against Canada made me feel more comfortable at that level. The way the boys gelled on that trip and came together as a unit showed me what we were capable of,” Leask said.
“Working with [former England player and now Scotland assistant coach] Paul Collingwood during that trip was really interesting. He has been there and done it and it was not so much on the technical aspects he helped, but on the mental side. He taught me a lot about pacing an innings and also about tournament play.”
Following those qualifiers – and with a busy year ahead of the main event – Leask then decided to give up his job in the banking industry to concentrate solely on his cricket.
And in the summer, as well as being first XI captain of his club, he was in top form with one knock of 132 for the Highlanders against the Reivers in Dumfries helping them to clinch the T20 North Sea Pro Series.
He also hit 173 not out in a three-day match for Scotland A against Yorkshire second XI at Scarborough to secure a draw and enjoyed a trial spell with Northamptonshire. However, he saved his most famous run-scoring exploits for the big stage against England.
He added: “That match against England is probably the highlight of my career to date.
“At the start of the day I wasn’t due to be playing, but with the match shortened the coaches thought I could offer something. Although we lost, to hit 42 off 16 balls against top class bowlers made me realise that I could play at that level. To do it in my home town of Aberdeen was also very special.”
Scotland are set to head off to Dubai and Abu Dhabi soon to play in four ODI matches against Afghanistan and Ireland in preparation for the World Cup.
“I’m excited about what can happen in 2015. I’ve been working hard on both my batting and my bowling and perhaps rather than being seen as a finisher at the end of the innings I can cement my place in the batting order for Scotland and show that I am capable of batting for 30 or 40 overs,” said Leask.
“For a country like Scotland to be able to play at a World Cup in Australia and New Zealand and take on the hosts as well as the likes of England in the pool is really the stuff dreams are made of, but we aren’t going there just to make up the numbers.”