Calum MacLeod Interview
From Neil Drysdale, Photos Donald MacLeod
Three years ago, life looked sweet for Calum MacLeod. At just 21, he had represented Scotland on several occasions, was in receipt of a county contract at Warwickshire, where he was being coached by such stellar figures as Allan Donald, and appeared blessed with some prodigious hitting ability to accompany his pacey bowling. What could possibly go wrong? Yet, as MacLeod now recognises, there are few sports capable of inflicting such quiet cruelty as cricket on days where the wind always seems to be blowing in your face or every nick lands straight in the wicket-keeper’s gloves.
During the last fortnight, Calum’s road to redemption has been one of the more heartening aspects of some otherwise disappointing results for the Scots, both in the YB40 competition and against a star-studded Australian A ensemble. There was maturity, professionalism and no shortage of quality shot selection throughout his knocks of 51 and 30 not out against Brad Haddin’s side at the Grange, but it was the sight of MacLeod bowling effectively and taking wickets on the international stage which provided the most cheer. Many people believed it might never happen again, not least the man himself, following the shattering after-effects of his action being ruled illegal by the ICC in 2010: a decision which threatened dire sporting consequences for this genial character.
In the short term, he lost his job at Edgbaston, spent months engaged in remoulding his action, and returned to Scotland to rejoin his grassroots colleagues at Uddingston. Quietly, impressively, in a situation which might have knocked the stuffing out of many players, MacLeod reinvented himself as a batsman and forced his way back into the Scottish fold, as the prelude to orchestrating a series of superb knocks for his homeland, both against counties such as Nottinghamshire and on Associate duty against the Netherlands and Kenya. But, as for the bowling, well, even a year ago, he said: “I don’t think the pace and consistency is quite there to go out and perform at international level.” His action was no longer the issue. But the days when this son of Lanark used to send the ball snorting into the ribs of opponents seemed to have vanished for ever.
Praise be, therefore, for the return of MacLeod, first in the YB40 at Chelmsford and subsequently against the touring baggy-green brigade. A brace of wickets in the first innings and one in the second added up to a significant haul for the 24-year-old, who makes no secret of the fact he loves the longer forms of the game. And while MacLeod has tasted too many travails on his travels to take anything for granted, he is still young enough to develop into a serious all-round option for the Scots in future campaigns.
“It feels good, it is a step in the right direction, and it has happened quite quickly after a period where I didn’t bowl for the best part of three years for my country,” MacLeod told Cricket Scotland. “I went through a difficult time after what happened [in 2010], but my skills have changed and I have become a different type of bowler. When I was younger, I was quite aggressive and I used to rush in and send it down as fast as I could. But these days, I am making up with swing and variation what I used to do with pace and, hopefully, I can keep building up greater control as I put in more and more overs.
“I am not getting ahead of myself. But, in a strange way, being dropped for the Pakistan [ODIs] matches last month forced me to re-assess where I was and made me ask myself: “Right, how do you feel about bowling?” [National coach] Pete Steindl was supportive of how my career had gone, and the fact I had switched all my focus on to batting and fielding, but he never gave up on the possibility of me bowling again and I am grateful for that. I suppose I had missed the sensation of taking a wicket and the umpire’s finger edging upwards. So it was definitely a nice feeling to pick up a few of the Australians in Edinburgh, even if the outcome of the match was a sore one. [A 360-run loss].”
MacLeod, to his credit, has never been interested in sugar-coating defeats. Other, more egocentric individuals might have attempted to derive solace from hitting a half-century against a Test-class attack, but instead, he chose to examine the Catch-22 scenario in which he and his compatriots currently find themselves. On the one hand, they require extra exposure to these sort of high-intensity fixtures to become truly competitive against the likes of Australia, England and the rest of the ICC Full Members. But, for as long as they are only involved in three or four first-class matches a season, and otherwise restricted to limited-overs fare, how can they expect to nurture their talent, let alone persuade the ICC’s grand panjandrums to create extra spaces in the schedule?
“Nobody is kidding themselves that the performance [against the Australians] was acceptable. We didn’t play at our best and didn’t do ourselves justice and, although we knew that guys such as [James] Pattinson and [Peter] Siddle would be challenging, we should have coped better than we did,” said MacLeod. “What is annoying is that we want to showcase our skills, but we obviously need more of these games to give us the knowledge and awareness to deal with quality opponents. In shorter formats, we have done quite well recently, but, in the longer versions, our lack of experience is telling against us. How do we solve that? I don’t know. It is pretty Catch-22, isn’t it?”
The looming Pro Series might offer assistance in that direction. It may be that more youngsters need to chase contracts in England, although the absence of Kyle Coetzer, David Murphy and Rob Taylor from the A squad accentuated the difficulties which can materialise once players are gaining their wages outwith Scotland. Yet, if there is no panacea to these problems, MacLeod realises that he and his confreres have to regain the winning habit quickly, considering the string of important matches on the horizon.
“Our next four-day contest is against Kenya in the Intercontinental Cup [in Aberdeen] and we have to bounce back from how we struggled against the Aussies, so we will be working even harder, and just never stopping until we have turned things round,” said MacLeod. “The ODIs [against the Africans] are two of the biggest games of the whole summer, because if we want to be involved at the next World Cup, we can’t afford to lose them. But I am absolutely determined that we get back on the winning trail. Whether I score runs or take wickets doesn’t matter anything like as much as Scotland qualifying for these major tournaments. None of us was happy on Sunday. But at least we have plenty of opportunities to transform matters in the next few weeks.”
MacLeod isn’t dwelling on the bare bones of his imminent return to Mannofield; the ground where his career was so badly disrupted back in 2010. All he wants is to demonstrate that he can maintain his rehabilitation in his nation’s cause.
His nickname might be “Cloudy”. But Calum’s objective is to ensure it is his opponents who are complaining about the storm in their midst as the summer progresses.