Father of all hundreds by Neil McCallum rescues Scots

PROUD dad Neil McCallum last night dedicated his seventh Saltires ton to baby daughter Sophie. The 33-year old spared Scotland's blushes on the first day of the five-day Intercontinental Cup final against Afghanistan in Dubai with a superb unbeaten 104.

It was his first competitive innings since becoming a dad in September and the Grange batsman said: "That one is definitely for my wee girl. My celebrations were maybe a bit over the top - I didn't realise I could jump that high - but I was so chuffed.

"I've had a few memorable innings for Scotland but this one was right up there with the best of them. We were in a bit of bother and we knew we would have to get stuck in.

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"It was a case of sheer hard work and concentration and I also had great support from Richie (Berrington] and Smudger (Simon Smith]."

McCallum, who needed treatment for severe cramp in his wrist with his score at 88, added: "At that stage I could hardly hold the bat but I was determined to go on and reach the hundred. There is a long way to go in this match and we are still well in it."

Having won the toss and elected to bat, the Scots had slumped to 19-3 when the Grange batsman strode to the crease still in the first hour.

However, while his team-mates fell further into the mire on 97-8, McCallum refused to be hounded by a dangerous Afghan attack. Instead he dug in for the long haul and finally found a like-minded partner in Grange team-mate Simon Smith as Scotland fought back to post 212 before Matty Parker claimed a bonus wicket as Afghanistan closed the first day on 18-1.

Having reached his first 50 from 146 painstaking deliveries, McCallum allowed himself the luxury of two expansive hits in Abdullah Mazari's first over, the left-arm spinner finding himself swept in trademark fashion and then driven firmly over mid-on.

The 50 partnership followed soon after as Grange wicketkeeper Smith grew in confidence with a couple of fine blows of his own. His disappointment was clear when, having contributed 36 to a 107-run stand, he edged Hassan to Mohammed Shahzad with his partner just four short of a century.

There was no stopping McCallum, though, who went on to reach three figures with the 18th boundary of his innings. He had faced 221 balls for his 104 when Ross Lyons was last man out.

Earlier, the Scots had failed to negotiate the crucial first hour as Preston Mommsen, Fraser Watts and Kyle Coetzer all went cheaply.Skipper Gordon Drummond knew he was exposing his top order to the danger posed by Shapoor Zadran, and especially the excellent Hamid Hassan, by electing to bat first.

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And Afghanistan's bowlers got the breakthroughs they wanted to reduce their rivals to 19-3 within 10 overs.

This called for major repairs but only minor ones were forthcoming in the form of a 32-run stand between Greenock's Richie Berrington and McCallum.

Berrington reached a fluent 29 with four boundaries, before getting the thinnest of nicks on a delivery from Mirwais Ashraf. Gregor Maiden followed soon after when he was unluckily adjudged lbw for three.

So the Scots reached lunch on 61-5 and Parker was trapped in front for nine by Ashraf shortly after the resumption. Majid Haq and Drummond followed in quick succession and the Scots, on 97-8, were staring at possible humiliation.

After the slight recovery, coach Pete Steindl paid tribute to McCallum, saying: "Neil's innings was outstanding - mentally and physically it was tough today. It's exactly what we needed after a bad start and he should be applauded for it."