Best Saltires XI?

14 Aug

SaltiresOn Thursday, when the Scottish Saltires entertain Lancashire in Glasgow, it will mark the final contest in a decade-long campaign by the Scots, who made their debut in a variety of 45-over and 40-over competitions when they took on - and defeated - Durham in May, 2003.

That outcome was an auspicious introduction by the Saltires to regular meetings with their English county opponents and Craig Wright's personnel famously beat Somerset and Lancashire to record three triumphs in their first four matches before the Indian maestro, Rahul Dravid, arrived to lend his lustre to the Caledonian cause. Even if life, predictably, grew tougher for the Scots as their rivals stepped up their game, the Saltires have managed 19 wins - to date -  and a tie during their jousting with myriad illustrious giants on the one-day stage.

In doing so, the sport has gained a significantly enhanced profile in Scotland and these county clashes helped the best players achieve their goal of earning greater ICC recognition and advancing to the present situation where the elite performers are on full-time contracts.

All of which is surely a cause for celebration, on the eve of the last tussle at Titwood. In which light, here is a list of the players whom, in my opinion, have shone the brightest while on Saltires duty. It is, of course, just one person's view - and, before anybody complains, Dougie Brown is not included because he never actually turned out for the Saltires - but these men have done their team proud at different stages of the last 10 years. Oh, and Mr Dravid makes the list, both because of the grace and dignity which he displayed throughout his visit to Scotia, and for being one of the greatest stars in cricket history.

Ryan Watson1) RYAN WATSON: If he wasn't a household name before his astonishing demolition of Somerset at The Grange in 2003, "Rhino" certainly grabbed the headlines by the scruff of the neck and later displayed his ability to dismantle the best of attacks with a bonnie, brawny panache. In the days before Twenty20 became a global phenomenon, Watson's rampant destruction of the Cidermen was one of the most unforgettable acts of derring-do which Scottish fans had ever witnessed and if Peter Capaldi manages anything on the same scale in the Tardis, we are in for a treat!

2) GAVIN HAMILTON: One of the few players who have represented Scotland and England, the Broxburn-born all-rounder was Captain Defiant when he returned to his homeland and eventually skippered the Saltires with a combination of they-shall-not-pass obduracy and no mean skill. Few Scots have managed to hit hundreds in the limited-overs sphere, but Hamilton demonstrated his ample qualities with an excellent knock of 131 against Leicester in Edinburgh in 2006.

3) RAHUL DRAVID: There was much incredulity when reports first emerged that "The Wall" was committed to playing for the Saltires a decade ago, but, befitting a man with a perfectionist philosophy, Dravid poured himself into the job and produced several thrilling examples of his sublime batting skills. He said later he was disappointed he didn't inspire more wins for the underdogs, but he couldn't be faulted, providing three centuries in only nine matches, against Northants, Somerset and Sussex, exuding the class which subsequently saw him become the ICC's No 1 ranked Test batsman.

4) KYLE COETZER: The current Scottish captain has emerged as one of the leading performers of his generation and showed his gifts when he struck hundreds both for and against the Saltires in the same summer of 2011. He has continued to enhance his reputation and amassed his best-ever score - 219 - earlier this season when he put the Leicester bowlers to the sword. He has also reacted with tenacity to the task of orchestrating a young Scots' line-up as they challenge for a World Cup place in 2015.

5) NEIL McCALLUM: One of the unsung heroes of the Saltires during their tussles with the counties, the resilience and technical expertise of McCallum saw him extricate his side from several holes and, once he took root at the crease, he was like Barnacle Bill. Nor can one argue with the Grange man's statistics, given his fine average of over 44 from 14 first-class games and his prodigious haul of seven centuries for his country.

6) RICHIE BERRINGTON: On his day, the Greenock batsman can be one of the most destructive forces in his milieu and, though he might not have scored as many runs as he would have desired this summer, Berrington's barnstorming efforts have been the catalyst for several important wins, including his 100 from only 56 balls, which helped the Scots overcome Bangladesh last year. He also injected the va va voom with 56 from just 23 deliveries, which brought his confreres a dramatic triumph over Ireland in 2011.

Colin Smith7) COLIN SMITH: As a wicket-keeper, he was big, brave and ubiquitous for his country. As a batsman, he was good enough to have graduated to a county if he had truly wanted, but Smith excelled in the Saltires cause, both at home and south of the Border, and such displays as his 62 against Lancashire at Old Trafford in 2003 were instrumental in the Scots making an immediate impression upon their English opponents.

8) CRAIG WRIGHT (captain): There have rarely been any more whole- hearted individuals than the man who stamped his imprint all over Scottish cricket and who has just helped the Under-19s book their place at next year's World Cup. Wright never offered anything but 100% commitment and regularly made the breakthroughs which kept the Saltires in contentions during their early years of action in the firing zone. He was also a better batsman than he was given credit for, and one recalls him and Majid Haq launching a spirited fightback after Durham, fuelled by Shoaib Akhtar, reduced them to six for 5 in Edinburgh in 2003.

9) MAJID HAQ: He ripped through the Durham middle-order during the Saltires' maiden win and has been one of their most influential characters ever since. He has taken more than 100 wickets for the Saltires and, for any spinner to have an economy rate under five, they must have ample variation, guile and control: qualities which Haq boasts in abundance. He is also an accomplished batsman and has a first-class hundred in his country's cause as an opener. Mr Versatility.

Paul Hoffmann

10) JOHN BLAIN: One of the stars of the 1999 World Cup when his raw pace discomfited some of the biggest names in the sport, Blain turned out for both Yorkshire and Northants and proved his worth to the Saltires when he returned to his roots in 2008. As one of the few Scots to appear in two World Cups, he possessed the nip and venom to trouble most county players and is still assisting in the development of his homeland's game at West of Scotland.

11) PAUL HOFFMANN: Wherever this blithe fellow was involved, life seemed a little sunnier for the Saltires and he merits inclusion as much for his litany of skills as for his parsimonious bowling spells, which aided the Scots between 2003 and 2008. He could nag away at adversaries like the toothache when he was in the mood, but was also an accomplished pinch-hitter, whose clean striking made him a favourite with many fans. Quite simply, Hoffy was and is a gem.

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