There was always the danger that Scotland would be crippled by a hangover from the negligible returns achieved from their winless odyssey to cricket’s 50-over World Cup five months ago. Cumulatively, coach Grant Thorburn has dished out a large helping of the hair of the dog to quickly quell the pains. With Scotland shifting their focus towards the 20-over format over the past month, any lingering frustrations have been chopped through extra cover for four. Rejuvenation has been quick and painless.
In Malahide this afternoon, the Scots will face the Netherlands, with the championship trophy from the World Twenty20 Qualification Tournament on the line.
Among the flurry of prizes on offer through the ICC’s largesse, it is distinctively middle of the pack. Yet, for those involved, these are coronations of significance.
Both teams have already secured their spots at next spring’s global showpiece in India. Yet the victor at the close of 17 days of competition on both sides of the Irish Sea will secure a better seeding in the sub-continent. There is also pride to be taken.
Granted direct passage into the semi-finals following their dramatic group victory last weekend, the Scots showed no rust from their lay-off yesterday when despatching Hong Kong by five wickets in Dublin with 7.4 overs to spare. It was ruthless and efficient. They are, Ali Evans says, not done yet.
“This was our aim going into the tournament,” said the former Derbyshire bowler, who took three for 17. “We could be happy going to another World Cup but that’s not enough. We want to be seen as the leading associate nation. The performances we’ve had against Afghanistan and Ireland over the last couple of years show we’re there or thereabouts. If we keep playing as we are, we won’t be far away. And winning the tournament would be another step.”
Hong Kong’s itinerant bunch offered little resistance of note once Evans had removed opener Jamie Atkinson with the innings’ fourth ball. Rob Taylor, the ultimate man of the match, matched his colleague’s bowling returns. Safyaan Sharif, a revelation now he has been granted an extended stint with the ball, claimed three for 29, with only cameos of 31 from Aizaz Khan and 24 from Mark Chapman providing resistance.
All out for 116 with two balls left, Hong Kong were swept away by a Caledonian swirl. Calum MacLeod was out for a duck but Kyle Coetzer and Matty Cross added 52 in tandem, the former eventually out for 33, the latter 39. It became a matter of how soon, not if. With pressure off, it was left to Josh Davey to smack the single that confirmed Scotland in the finale with a definite aplomb.
“It’s all been a huge boost for our confidence,” Evans said. “We’re still a relatively young squad with only a couple of guys in their thirties. It’s taken us a little time to build together but we’re getting momentum together and winning games regularly.”
In yesterday’s second game, the Netherlands shocked Ireland with a five-wicket win.
A stunning collapse left the hosts struggling to put 128 on the board in their first innings. And with Ben Cooper firing a rapid 43 and skipper Peter Borren knocking off 36, the Dutch hit the target with 11 balls to spare to progress to today’s final against Scotland.
From Dublin, Scotland go to Ayr for a two-match World Cricket League series against Nepal that begins on Wednesday. Back to 50 overs. Up for a fresh challenge in the chase to supplant the Irish or Afghanistan from the official ODI rankings.
“It’s vitally important,” Evans added. “We want to push up on all three formats but I think we’ve done that over the last 18 months. We qualified for a 50-over World Cup. Then we had a positive result against a very effective Afghanistan in the four-day game. Now the World Twenty20.
“We know Nepal are a dangerous side. They’ll be fired up after under-performing here. We won’t take them lightly. But we want to take a run at becoming the top associate nation again and the way to do that is by being as professional as possible and winning every game we can.”