10 Years Ago We Triumphed

03 May

From Neil Drysdale, Photos Donald MacLeod

Renowned writer and passionate cricket supporter, Neil Drysdale, gives us his first Cricket Scotland exclusive, as he looks back on a few memorable matches for the Saltires almost 10 years to the day. 

Team of 2003

It was early morning on May 4 in 2003 and several of us were heading down to Durham for the Scottish Saltires' first match against Durham in the Totesport League.

The mood in the railway carriage was a mixture of ambition and apprehension. Who knew how far the Scots could progress with the right momentum? So it was a little troubling that the train South was cancelled and we had to contemplate clambering on to a slow bus to the Riverside Stadium. Was this a metaphor for the problems the Scots might face? Was this a portent that the odds were stacked against Craig Wright's amateur brigade?

Or was it just a wonky rail trip?

For most of the rest of that wonderful day, those of us who ventured to Durham had no reason to  worry. In advance of their entry to the Totesport League, some had questioned whether the part-timers would be able to pose credible resistance to their English adversaries, who were accustomed to a rigorous diet of fixtures.

Yet, even with hindsight, the events of that maiden week in the tournament were still slightly incredible. It wasn't just that the Saltires were amateurs - this was long before the days of Associate personnel gaining contracts - but also that the likes of Durham and Somerset were full-time entities, utterly ruthless in their dealings with anybody who blocked their path.

But, luckily, nobody had told the Saltires that in the build-up.

On the contrary, the Scots, boosted by such irrepressible customers as Wright, Paul Hoffmann, Colin Smith, Majid Haq, Ryan Watson and Greig Williamson dared to call the shots and thrust down the gauntlet.

The hosts were on course for a decent score at the midway point of their innings, but their progress was dramatically derailed by a superb spell from Haq, who ripped the heart out of their middle order.

Eventually, the Durham brigade were restricted to a modest 167 for 7, with the 20-year-old Haq claiming superb figures of four of 36. Some of us could hardly believe our eyes, but Tony Judd, the Australian coach of the Scottish part-timers, wasn't unduly surprised by the outcome.

On the contrary, as he told Cricket Scotland this week: "It was a great time and I suppose it was the ultimate underdog story. I remember my then assistant coach, Mike Hendrick, asking me, before it all kicked off, what I expected of the Saltires side.

"He then alerted me to the fact that statistics would show that we would be lucky to win more than one in every 250 games against a fully professional side.

"That stung a bit. But the boys went out and proved everybody wrong."

Ryan Watson began with a coruscating response to being attacked by Steve Harmison. Dougie Lockhart was equally robust in dealing with the threat of Javagal Srinath and Dewald Pretorius. This was a Test-class line-up and the Saltires were battered and bruised as their charge continued. Wickets tumbled, nerves jangled, and even some on the sidelines started to fear this might be another case of the Scots being so near and so far.

But, as their big, brave wicket-keeper, Colin Smith, told me: "We never doubted our ability. We always knew it would be hard, because these counties were used to being involved in these sort of situations. But we had the attitude that if we could bat out our overs, we would win.

"And we did."

At the death, it was a close-run affair, with Smith eventually despatching Pretorius for the conclusive boundary. The looks on the faces of the Durham collective amounted to the thought: "What just happened?" But there was no time for the Saltires to enjoy their Sabbath triumph. Smith, a postman in the north-east, had to dash back up the motorway to deliver the mail the next day. Most of his team mates were similarly taxed. Even the press, who tend to savour these successes, headed straight back to Scotia.

After all, it was only five days before the next tussle against Somerset at The Grange. In fact, there was a meeting with the Cidermen before that, one which produced an utterly emphatic win for the Englishmen, where Marcus Trescothick unleashed a knock of terrible beauty in pummelling the Scottish bowlers to every corner of Stockbridge.

Just 48 hours later, on May 9, with a dank and dismal forecast predicting gloom for the combatants,  the same players turned up for a repeat performance.

It was one of those wondrous afternoons where the form book was not so much ripped up as completely eviscerated. But only after so much rain had fallen that many fans went home, convinced it was all over.

Finally, at after 5pm, Somerset batted in a match reduced to 16 overs, and Trescothick carried on where he had left off, 48 hours previously. He struck a resplendent  82 and, with Ian Blackwell and Michael Burns offering rapid support, the visitors' tally of 179 appeared more than sufficient.

Ryan Watson

At the interval, resignation reigned. But not in the breast of Ryan Watson. The cause might have seemed futile to the majority of those who had lingered around the ground, but Watson, mixing power and panache, and capably supported by James Brinkley, unleashed a magnificent counter-offensive in the throes of adversity.

Perhaps, his belligerence, which eventually saw him smash four consecutive sixes off the hapless Keith Dutch, sprung from the realisation there was really nothing to lose. Maybe Somerset subconsciously took it for granted they would prevail. But, whatever the reason, Watson blitzed his way to an unbeaten  103 from just 44 balls and, amazingly, the Saltires reached their target with three balls to spare.

It wouldn't be overstating matters to describe this as one of the most remarkable outcomes in the history of Scottish sport. Watson himself still seems slightly bemused by the fashion in which he destroyed a Somerset line-up which featured an array of proven Test bowlers.

"I guess I had nothing to lose, but there was a buzz around that group of players and we weren't going to faff around," said Watson. "At the start, I never really thought we could get 180 in 15 overs, but when I saw how James batted, I thought to myself: "Anything is possible."

Wright, the Saltires' ubiquitous skipper, eventually hit the decisive runs and still believes that the side deserved greater credit than they were accorded at the time.

Team CelebrateHe told Cricket Scotland: "The main memory of the match was obviously Ryan's innings which somehow overshadowed a brilliant knock from Trescothick that day.

"But I also remember the number of supporters, who were still at The Grange at the end, having stayed around through torrential rain to keep backing their team.

"That was really important, because with the way the weather was that day, realistically, there could have been virtually nobody there to see Ryan's unbelievable innings, which would have been a hell of a shame."

Those of us who were present will never forget that lustrous evening. The Saltires, who had been given no chance in advance of the campaign, had recorded a brace of memorable triumphs. A decade on, one hopes the new generation can tap into a similar well of inspiration when they meet Hampshire this weekend.

                            
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