In the five short years since his international debut in 2015, Mark Watt has established himself as a central cog in the Scotland machine. Now 24, the slow left-armer played a crucial role in the side’s win over England at The Grange two years ago, but as he looks back on how his journey into the team began, it is clear that at the very beginning making history as a cricketer was the furthest thing from his mind.
“When I was at school, I wasn’t really a big fan of the sport to be honest!” he laughed. “It was my Dad who played. He’d come home and tell me how many runs he’d made and wickets he’d got, and I’d have no idea what he was talking about. Football was my sport – I used to play a lot when I was younger. But I got injured, so ended up going along to watch my Dad. I started messing about with a bat and a ball, enjoyed it, then went to a few training sessions and ended up playing alongside my Dad in the Third XI at Leith FAB.
“It was great,” he said. “The guys were brilliant with me and there were some really competitive matches, so it was a great learning experience. I really enjoyed my time there, but I got to the stage where I wanted to take my cricket a bit further and try a different club out. It was going to be either Stewart’s Melville or Heriot’s, but as I went to [Steve Knox’s] summer camps when I was younger, the STK Cricket camps that ran in the school holidays, I ended up going to Heriot’s because that’s where Knoxy was. I was actually a leg-spinner then, but Knoxy banned me from bowling leg-spin at the first session I went to – ‘you’re left-handed,’ he said, ‘bowl offies,’ so I did. After that things started to pick up. After a season of playing in the Heriot’s Twos, I was into the Ones.
“I played in the Scottish Cup final against Watsonians in 2012. I was bowling at the likes of Craig Wright and Dewald Nel, but at that stage I had no idea who they even were, as I was still more into playing cricket than following it. I think I might actually have given Wrighty a bit of chirp as well! But after that I went into Gordon Drummond’s academy, and that’s when I really kicked on. The sessions clashed with football training, so I had to make a decision between the two. I think I made the right one to be honest!
“And then pretty soon I was playing in the Scotland Under-19s,” he went on. “I was actually playing in an Under-17s trial, and while the match was going on Wrighty was walking around talking with my Dad. At the end of the game Dad came up and said that Wrighty wanted me to play Under-19s instead, and go away with the squad to the World Cup qualifier [European Under-19 Championship] that were being played in Holland that summer .
“I had this lad’s holiday booked to go to Spain with eight of my mates, and I remember my first reaction being, ‘I’m not playing cricket, I’m going on holiday’, and Dad replying, ‘I think you’re maybe going to have to have another think about that!’” he laughed.
“I played, of course, and it was massively the right decision. It was the best I’d ever bowled. I took two for 2 off ten overs against Guernsey and a four-fer against Ireland to seal our qualification to the Under-19 World Cup. When I got home, I got chucked into the men’s set-up as well, going to training with the senior squad at MES, and that was really good.”
Mark’s full international debut came against Ireland in a T20 at Bready.
“Honestly, that first ball I bowled was like I didn’t even bowl it, it was like I blacked out, I was so nervous,” he said. “It was bizarre. But that was the only time I’ve ever been nervous bowling a cricket ball, my debut for Scotland. Apart from that I absolutely loved it. I took a catch early on, which settled me down.
“It is such a small ground at Bready, and when I came on to bowl it was against Andrew Poynter, and I remember thinking, oh no, he could hit me into these housing estates, focusing on what could go wrong instead of what could go right. I did okay though, and we won that series as well, which was great.
“But what was really nice was that it was Wrighty who presented me with my cap. He’d seen me through all the stages of youth cricket after me bowling at him for Heriot’s back in 2012.”
Mark’s journey from Leith FAB to international cricket has brought him many high points already. So looking back, what might his advice to his younger self have been?
“Remember that games come thick and fast, so if you have a bad day, don’t dwell on it, and if you have a good day, don’t think you’re the world’s best,” he said. “There’ll be another game coming where things can go wrong if you’re overconfident.
“Don’t get too high, and don’t get too low.”