After a testing summer it is perhaps ironic that sustenance for Scotland’s cricketers is to be found in the desert. As Grant Bradburn’s men prepare to take on Hong Kong in the opening match of the Desert T20 in the United Arab Emirates they will be looking to make the most of the precious opportunity for competitive time in the middle that the new tournament brings and, with it, make the best possible start to their new year.
Leading that charge at Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Stadium will be Kyle Coetzer. Following on from his personal success at the 2015 World Cup and 2016 World T20 Scotland’s interim captain enjoyed a prolific summer with the bat as he helped his side to four crucial victories in the World Cricket League, and as 2017 begins the experienced thirty-two-year-old is keenly anticipating what the next days and months may bring.
“This tournament is massively exciting,” said Coetzer. “We’ve never had such a gap between tours or from one game to the next so just getting these games is so important. It’s a tournament that might keep going for the next couple of years, too, which would be brilliant.
“Our preparation has gone really well,” he continued. “It’s obviously not ideal that we have to train inside at this time of year but the guys have been getting their heads down and working really hard. We’ve done a bit at MES [the Cricket Scotland facility in Edinburgh] and a bit at Fettes College, too. That’s been excellent because it’s a different type of surface in there.
“But to be honest the guys can’t wait to get outside and onto grass again. That’s where the real prep will begin.”
The Desert T20 will be played in a round-robin followed by knockout format over seven days, culminating in a Finals Day in Dubai on January 20th. Scotland has been drawn into Pool B for the initial stages of the tournament alongside Hong Kong, Oman and the Netherlands. With Afghanistan, Ireland and Namibia lining up alongside hosts UAE in Pool A, Coetzer is looking forward to some highly contested encounters.
“Whichever way the groupings turned out we were going to be happy,” he said. “I think the two groups are fairly mixed up. Every side in there has won big games on the big stage.
“It should be a really good tournament.”
The competition also gives Coetzer the opportunity to reprise his role at the helm of the Scotland side. A long-term successor to Preston Mommsen will be announced in March but the Aberdonian, having previously led the team in 2013, is looking forward to taking on the responsibility once again in the meantime.
“It seemed the right time for me,” said Coetzer. “Obviously, it’s just for this tour and it was an easy fit with me being vice-captain, but I feel I’ve learned from my experience in the past and I’ll try to put everything in place for the guys to perform the way that they know they can.
“Preston was given a great opportunity [away from cricket] and, of course, we couldn’t hold him back. But we are really sad to lose him from the team.
“When it comes to my style I am maybe a bit more of a talker on the field. Preston kept a lot inside whereas I am maybe more outspoken in terms of getting ideas out to the players and putting the ownership onto them. Preston did that too, of course, but I am maybe a little bit more vocal.”
Coetzer goes into the tournament after scoring 253 runs at 50.6 over the summer, becoming part of the select band to reach the thousand run mark for his country in the process. With a top score of 127, scored at more than a run-a-ball against UAE in August, he is enjoying life with the national side again after a long stint in county cricket.
“Last year felt very different,” said Coetzer. “It was my first year out of the county scene. That was a challenge in itself to try and balance everything, move the family up north and so on, and for me it was also my first year of being a fully contracted player for Scotland. That was a real honour and hugely exciting at the same time.
“So there were quite a few changes in my life but all changes for the good. I had found myself in an interesting place during my last couple of years in county cricket. I wasn’t enjoying it as much as before or as much as I thought I should. There was never any problem, though, when I would go and play for Scotland.
“I was over the moon with how last season went for me on the field. There were always going to be questions asked about whether I could maintain what I’d done or whether I would improve or go backwards or whatever, but I felt fresher in my mind and had a new and refreshed understanding of my game. And it all came together in runs.
“I’m really happy being where I am now and that’s a massive part of everything. Pulling on that Scotland shirt is the most important thing.”
With the final fixtures of the World Cricket League to be played over the coming season the senior members of the Scotland side will have a crucial part to play in what could be a significant year for the future of Scottish cricket. It is a challenge, and an opportunity, which Coetzer relishes.
“It promises to be an exciting year. The loss of Preston is hugely saddening as we look forward but it does mean a new era for this group of players, a fresh start.
“I’m not saying that we have to lose or change anything that was done previously but it’s an exciting time for Cricket Scotland. There’s going to be someone taking up the opportunity as captain and there’s that extra position in the team, too, so there’s a chance there for someone who might have been waiting in the wings for a while.
“We’ve got a great bunch of players, as strong a squad as we’ve ever had and some good new players coming through. I’m really excited for the next couple of years. There’ll be some massive positives to come out of it I’m sure.”