If a certain brand of Danish lager was to turn its attention towards Scottish cricket it could not have conjured a better day for the national side than Sunday 21st May. The Scots’ seven-wicket victory over a full-strength Sri Lanka was outstanding as much for the dominance with which it was achieved as the fact that it happened at all. This was no ground-out, down-to-the-wire larceny from plucky underdogs – here was a win secured at a canter against the side ranked sixth in the ICC standings by a team laying bare their hunger for opportunity to the entire cricketing world.
Although Scotland was destined to fall short in the second match in Kent as some semblance of the natural order was restored, the nine-wicket defeat on Tuesday, while tough to take, could not remove much of the gloss from what had been a truly extraordinary performance two days earlier.
“I’m so pleased for the players, they have worked hard for that success,” said National Coach Grant Bradburn on the squad’s return to Edinburgh.
“To beat a quality side that also played very well during the game was fantastic. It wasn’t as if the Sri Lankans had an off day – our guys had to get through lots of pressure moments in the game and although it’s never as straightforward as that they seemingly won with ease.
“I’m very pleased for the whole group. We certainly enjoyed it and we made sure that we soaked up as much learning from the experience as we could.”
It had been a day for superlatives and as the match was reported around the world there was to be no shortage of them. But, perhaps most significantly of all, as we look to the future of Bradburn’s side we can honestly say this was not a result that should be viewed with particular surprise.
The win over Hong Kong at the 2016 World T20 might have brought that first major tournament success but it was the Desert T20 in Dubai at the turn of the year which provided the clearest indication that this is a team determined to become the architect of its own fortune.
Although ultimately missing out to Ireland at the semi-final stage of that competition Scotland ended the group stages unbeaten, registering comfortable wins against both Hong Kong and Oman in the process. But the most significant moment came at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, however, as the Scots recovered from considerable early setbacks with both bat and ball to drive home a stunning backs-to-the-wall victory over the Netherlands.
This was a game which Scotland could, probably would, have lost in the not-so-distant past. At the World T20 they had been in strong positions against Afghanistan and Zimbabwe but both times had failed to land the knock-out blow. This time, however, against a rival with a proven pedigree on the international stage, the boot was firmly on the other foot.
And now, with this victory to factor into the equation too, the evidence is mounting that Scotland are continuing to learn from those experiences in some style.
Bradburn is understandably delighted with the progress his side has made so far.
“The past few months have been an indicator to all of us that we are on the right track and I’m very pleased about that,” he said.
“The Netherlands game was a real confidence boost. We proved that in a tough situation with a game in the balance we could get over the line.
“We have confronted the scars that we knew were there,” he continued. “There is a long list of almost-victories where for a number of reasons the team has had victory in sight but has been unable to walk through that door. We have exposed that and we’ve recognised that winning performances have to be our currency, whether for individuals to secure their spot or collectively for us all.
“We’re being realistic about what is needed to win at this level. We make no apologies for demanding the best from each other and the group is bonding because of that.”
Stuart Whittingham and Dylan Budge both made their debuts for the full side against Sri Lanka and Bradburn points to Scotland’s growing strength in depth as an important factor in maintaining those high standards.
“The performance squad is getting bigger and there are a number of players putting pressure on the top team which is a really good thing,” he said.
“We don’t want players to feel uneasy but we want them to know that they have to be playing at their best to be chosen in the eleven.
“At the end of the day this is international cricket and it’s not meant to be easy.”
Scotland has not had it easy in other ways either, and the fixtures in Kent provided a rare and priceless chance for the team to test itself against Full Member opposition. Victory sent a timely message, too, and as the ICC looks again at the structures of international cricket Scotland will hope that more opportunities will follow.
Bradburn is both honest and realistic about the challenges his side faces.
“It’s tough for the players,” he admitted. “We don’t get to experience the level of cricket that we have over the last few days often enough.
“At training we try and simulate that standard as far as we can. That’s fine, we understand it and the team is constantly driving itself towards new levels. But we don’t want to be just a great training team, we want to be a great playing team and the biggest part of that is getting more playing opportunities.”
Much comment on social media had been surrounding the lack of ODI status given to the matches in Beckenham. The reason for the decision, however, highlights a second major handicap facing both Scotland and the wider world of Associate cricket as a whole.
“Both teams would have loved for the games in Kent to have been ODIs and there’s been a fair bit of talk about that,” said Bradburn.
“The reality is, though, that there is a cost associated with staging ODI cricket,” he explained.
“It’s not that Sri Lanka didn’t want to or that the ICC didn’t want to – the truth is that as an Associate nation who is fighting hard to be creative with the funding that we get we just couldn’t afford to have them as ODIs.”
To their credit Sri Lanka, however, was happy to facilitate the next best thing.
“ODI or no ODI we were adamant when we went down there that we wanted to treat them as such,” said Bradburn. “I did have to have discussions with the Sri Lankan camp who were understandably very keen to play twelve or thirteen people in each of the matches.
“But I stated our case that the last time we played [a fifty-over match] against a Full Member was when we played them in the  World Cup. They were very surprised by that and were very understanding about how tough it is for an Associate nation to get this level of competition.
“We wanted to respect the matches and respect them by playing eleven on eleven so we were really grateful to Sri Lanka for giving us that opportunity.”
The financial realities surrounding international fixtures have other consequences to deal with, too.
“The ICC rankings came out about a month ago confirming our team as number eleven in the world in T20,” Bradburn continued.
“The irony of that situation, though, is that we simply can’t afford to play any more T20 cricket for the rest of 2017. The only way we will move up or down in those standings will therefore be by other teams’ results.
“We don’t moan or groan or wallow in that, it’s just a fact, and our organisation is working hard to bring in more funding to enable us to play. But we would love to have more opportunities like we have just had because as a group we genuinely feel that we are not too far away from matching other Full Member nations.”
And Scotland is undoubtedly proving that. Whatever the constraints, the performance gap is clearly closing.
Bradburn, too, has cause for optimism after signing a new deal with Cricket Scotland too continue to lead the national side which will see him extend his Scottish stay until the end of 2018.
“It is a very exciting phase for this team,” said Bradburn. “Coming up we’re well aware that we have pressure on us against Namibia and that there’s now going to be a lot of expectation around the Zimbabwe series but we are keeping our feet firmly on the ground and focusing on one task at a time.
“But the one thing I am demanding from the players as they go back to their clubs is that they keep putting forward winning performances each and every time they step onto a cricket field.
“That’s the attitude we are determined to keep bringing to international cricket too.”