Scotland's Maiden Foray into World Cup Action

19 Jan

The first in a series of features by Neil Drysdale on Scotland's previous World Cup adventures, starting with the 1999 Cricket World Cup in England, as the squad prepare for their latest World Cup trip.

If you venture into Aberdeenshire’s Mannofield club house, you’ll discover a treasure trove of cricket memorabilia for those who love the game. There’s a signed bat inscribed with the name of Sir Richard Hadlee – of the greatest all-rounders ever to grace the sport – and a large-scale picture of the day Sir Donald Bradman and his 1948 Australian “Invincibles” performed at the ground in front of thousands of spectators.

But, if you look behind the bar, there are also a number of bats bearing the autographs of some of the countries who competed at the 1999 World Cup. Most of the Indian names need no further explanation – it’s replete with legends. But at the end of the row, there are the signatures of those Scots who took part in their first-ever adventure on the global stage in the same tournament against many of the greatest individuals in the chronicles. 

It is only 16 years ago, but it might as well be 160, considering how much has changed in the intervening period. Back then, in the last century, the players who represented Scotland were amateurs who had to fit their net sessions in around work commitments. Occasionally, they enjoyed some success, and in the summer of 1998, Craig Wright produced the sort of match-winning display against Worcestershire at the Grange which made it surprising he didn’t make the final cut for the World Cup. 

Yet, for the most part, the Scottish squad was comprised of men who turned out every weekend for the sheer love of the sound of leather hitting willow. Financial considerations didn’t enter the equation. At that stage, despite the efforts of some of us to spread the gospel, many of the articles in the lead-up to the World Cup were along the lines of “Did You Know Scotland Has a Cricket Team?” 

Scotland and Australia fans are in good voice (Donald MacLeod)

Much of this stuff was sententious nonsense, oblivious to the fact the game had been in existence north of the Border since the 18th century, with several leading clubs including Grange, Clydesdale and Aberdeenshire’s origins far pre-dating football and rugby. But it was hard to argue with the central argument it remained a minority sport. That, at least, was something which participation in a global tournament helped to transform. 

All the same, the Scots knew they were facing the mother of all challenges when they were drawn in the same group as Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand, West Indies and fellow debutants Bangladesh. I recall chatting to the late Mike Denness at New Road in Worcester, on the Saturday prior to their opening contest against the all-conquering baggy-green brigade and asking him how he rated his compatriots’ chances against the Aussies, whose ranks featured the Waugh twins, Steve and Mark, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, Darren Lehmann and….but you get the picture. This was one of the most formidable one-day line-ups in history. 

Mike recognised as much and his analysis was straightforward. “The Scots simply have to go out and leave nothing on the pitch. If they play to the best of their ability, it still shouldn’t be enough, but what they don’t want to do is to come away feeling they have wasted the opportunity. Because these sort of occasions don’t come along very often.” 

I asked him about potential weaknesses in the Waugh machine. He put up his hands. 

“There aren’t any and that is the simple truth of the matter,” said Denness. “They are already my favourites to win the World Cup and they haven’t bowled a ball yet. They have won everything for the last few years, so you can’t argue with their record.”

In common with many other Scottish supporters, I travelled down to Worcester on Friday and discovered both a sizeable number of fans, many of them from West Lothian, en route to Middle England for the historic event. After speaking to several of them for a “Scotland on Sunday” feature, it was clear they were both excited and apprehensive on behalf on their side. On a positive note, Jim Love’s squad did include a good mixture of stalwart characters such as Bruce Patterson, Iain Philip, George Salmond and the twin Mikes, Smith and Allingham, allied to several promising youngsters in the mould of Gavin Hamilton and John Blain. But if it wasn’t mission impossible, it was close to it. 

As we walked to New Road on Sunday morning, one of the tartan-clad throng asked me for a prediction. “If we can keep it competitive for four or five hours, we can’t ask for much more,” I replied, and I still believe that was an honest answer. The Aussies, let’s not forget, were the reigning world champions and not so much a sporting unit as an irresistible force of nature, equipped with shock and awe in every department. In my heart of hearts, I prayed Scotland would win the toss and insert the Australians. But the very opposite occurred and thus it transpired that Patterson and Philip strode out to confront their rivals while those of us on the periphery crossed our fingers. 

These next few minutes were a revelation. When Damien Fleming’s opening delivery was nonchalantly stroked to the boundary by Patterson, the explosion of applause from the stands was wonderful to hear. And although the subsequent few overs confirmed the scale of the Scots’ task and they lost wickets regularly, their response was as hard-bitten as you might anticipate from any group coached by a tough-as-teak Yorkshireman. 

Patterson departed for ten, Philip for 17 and despite a gritty knock from the skipper Salmond, who hit 31 in a 56-ball stay at the crease, his exit, caught behind by Gilchrist off the bowling of Steve Waugh, meant the underdogs were 105 for 5 in the 38th over. It was hardly the stuff of dreams, but nor was it a meek capitulation and Hamilton, whose reputation increased with every outing in the tournament, ensured there was no abject fizzling out at the climax of the innings. 

Hamilton pulls a delivery by Shane Warne (Getty)

On the contrary, he and James Brinkley – who was born in Helensburgh, as he told me repeatedly when I foolishly described him as “Australian” – hit half-a-dozen boundaries between them, while adding 62 for the sixth wicket and Scotland eventually progressed to 181 for seven from their 50 overs. Nobody was naïve enough to imagine that would be sufficient, but it had been an impressively collective effort. The Waughs and their compatriots hardly looked worried at the interval. But nor were they swaggering around. 

Warne, if anything, looked as if he had spent better days with a nagging toothache. For much of the proceedings, he had been fielding on the boundary and several Scottish supporters started suggesting that he wasn’t exactly Twiggy. It was worse than that, actually. The chant “Save the Whale, Save the Whale”, rang out over New Road and the man who was probably the best-ever spin bowler in cricket history, didn’t relish the taunts. As one might have anticipated, he was typically penetrative with the ball, taking three for 39 from his ten overs, but, briefly, one or two of the Aussies looked irritated or even annoyed that the minnows hadn’t come out with their hands up. Which was nice. 

The pattern continued when they started their reply. Asim Butt, who is sadly no longer with us, dismissed the dangerous Gilchrist early on, and, try as they might, the star-studded personnel could hardly hit him off the square. He finished with one for 21 from ten overs and Blain was similarly effective, removing Ponting for 33 and gradually building up a decent head of steam. In the midst of this, Mark Waugh was a composed presence, striking five 4s in his 67, but when Lehmann was removed for a duck by Nick Dyer to leave his side at 101 for there, there was an ever-so-slight chink of light. 

And it could have been even more interesting if Steve Waugh had been given out lbw, following a massive appeal from the Scots when he was rapped on the pad. Even at this distance, it looked plumb, but he survived and immediately began to stamp his authority on the match, advancing to an unbeaten 49, as his men triumphed by six wickets with 31 deliveries remaining. Yet this was no rout or anything to be ashamed about for Scotland.

At the climax, some of the Australians made flattering remarks about the skill and intensity demonstrated by their opponents. Warne wasn’t among their number, although he later told me: “Cricket needs the Associates to keep raising their game.” 

As for Denness, he put his thumbs up in my direction at the denouement and one sensed as much relief as pride in his gesture. “That was a damned good effort and the fact they kept the game going for nearly 95 overs speaks for itself,” he said. “I don’t think any of us ever imagined that we would beat these lads – they are a truly magnificent team. But every single one of our boys can hold their heads high after that performance.” 

The adventure had commenced in stirring style. It was a measure of the advances which had been made that every member of the Scotland line-up involved in that magical mystery tour was making their ODI debut. As for the fans, it was time – after some liquid refreshment – to return home and prepare for the next joust with giants. 

That meant a trip to Durham to see Pakistan and, in particular, a certain Shoaib Akhtar.

View other news from January 2015

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