Leask Ready For World Cup Adventure
Cricket Scotland feature writer, Neil Drysdale, chats to Stoneywood-Dyce and Scotland all-rounder, Michael Leask ahead of the 2015 Cricket World Cup.
When Michael Leask strode to the wicket at Mannofield last May to tackle the cream of the English bowling attack, the situation looked pretty forlorn for Scotland in the rain-truncated fixture. In the past, the contest might have fizzled out or the hosts simply folded like a Jiffy bag, but Aberdeen-born Leask grabbed the proceedings by the scruff of the neck, hitting five 6s in a rapid 42 which, however briefly, transformed the tussle’s tempo.
It was the sort of innings which thrills audiences and its impact was recognised by the England skipper Alastair Cook, who responded: “He was dangerous, wasn’t he? The only people who timed the ball were him and Belly [Ian Bell] and they both did it beautifully. He has got a lovely swing of the bat – and when he hit it, it really stayed hit.”
The latter statement embodies the no-nonsense attitude of the 24-year-old all-rounder, who has spent the last two decades developing his talents at Stoneywood-Dyce and has become so indelibly associated with the north-east club that it was surprising to hear Leask is moving to pastures new – most likely at Forfarshire – for the 2015 domestic season. For the moment, though, his sights are focused on serving out fresh displays of pyrotechnics at the World Cup next month and, having just returned with his international teammates from a warm-up tournament in Dubai, he was typically forthright in discussing how he feels the Scots are shaping up for their third appearance in the event.
“We were a bit scratchy when we arrived in Dubai, but I thought we got better as we adapted to the conditions and after beating Afghanistan [who were skittled for just 63], it was obviously a bit frustrating when the Ireland game was rained off,” said Leask, who took part in several patch-up operations throughout the series. “We can sense the excitement is building up as the World Cup gets closer and this is what I dreamed of when I was growing up, so I’m ready and raring to go and everybody in the squad is determined to do ourselves justice and take steps in the right direction.
“We have never won a game in the tournament, so that is a big ambition, but we are concentrating less on our opponents and working hard to realise our own goals. We have plenty of match-winners in the side, and our attitude is that we want to attack and will do our best to achieve that no matter whom we are playing. Clearly, we are up against some formidable rivals [including England, Australia and New Zealand], but I absolutely believe we have the quality to pose anybody problems if we perform as well as we can. We have good batsmen, good bowlers, some stunning fielders and the latter could make the difference against some sides. But we also have a lot of positivity and conviction.”
Leask has never been afraid of stakhanovite labour, and he isn’t interested in travelling all the way to the Antipodes simply to make up the numbers or strive for respectability. As he is well aware, the Associates’ place at the top table on the global stage is under threat and the only way to convince the ICC to change their current plans to reduce the number of contenders is in the hard currency of victories over the Full Members, such as Ireland famously managed over Pakistan in 2007 and against England four years later.
So what exactly would constitute a good campaign in his eyes? “I think anything is possible, I genuinely do,” he responded with trademark intensity. “We have to go for it 100% in every game and while we know there is a lot of buzz surrounding such teams as Australia and New Zealand at the moment – especially because they are the hosts – there is no reason why we can’t be confident if we build on what we’ve done in recent games.
“It’s true the top order guys didn’t score many runs in Dubai, but we can bat down to No 10 or 11, and you could almost reverse the order at times when you see somebody such as Josh Davey coming in at 7 or 8, because he has every shot in the book. We all trust one another as well. You can’t succeed every time you walk on to the pitch, but we have a great team ethic and it has helped us on a number of occasions. We maybe weren’t favourites after scoring 213 against Afghanistan, but we got stuck into them and Josh’s spell was brilliant. That is one of the big things about one-day cricket: believing in your abilities and backing yourselves to seize the initiative in any situation. I’m only 24 and it is a pretty young squad, so some of us can maybe play in two or three World Cups. But that will only happen if we score the runs and take the wickets and catches and we have steeled ourselves for that. This is the big stage and a great opportunity to put our case.”
Leask is an engaging character away, happy to chew the fact and share a joke away from the pitch. On it, he is a different individual, somebody who sets himself high standards, demands the same from others and who isn’t afraid to indulge in what Nasser Hussain described as “chin music”. He has no truck with those who believe the Associate nations deserve more cash being flung at them, or not without producing the results to justify the investment. When we talked, he was enjoying a temporary respite amidst his hectic winter schedule, but he was getting ready for a net session at his beloved Stoneywood-Dyce the following night. As he admits, he wouldn’t be where he is today without them.
“When I look back at the number of people who have helped me during what almost adds up to 20 years, I can’t stress how grateful I am to them all,” said Leask. “There were the youth coaches who used to put in a countless amount of hours encouraging us and passing on their knowledge; there were the volunteers who got the wicket ready or made sure the facilities were always improving and any number of former players, both amateurs and professionals, who always had time to nurture the next generation.
“Stoneywood has been a major part of my life and it was a huge honour to be the captain last season. That has definitely improved my game and choosing to move on has been a very tough decision for me. But I know I’ll be back there, because I have made so many friends down the years and I know they will be cheering on Scotland at the World Cup.”
Michael Leask is a thoroughly modern young player. He has the tenacity and talent to shine against any rivals, but he also understands that he and his compatriots have to prove themselves at the highest level. He doesn’t have any precise targets – or not for public consumption – but his final statement was delivered with a click of his jaw which brooked no dissent. “We haven’t won at the World Cup, but we’re better than that.”