Scotland's 1999 World Cup Journey Continues

21 Jan

Neil Drysdale's second feature article on Scotland's first World Cup in 1999, where they encountered some of the biggest names in the cricketing world. Part 1 can be found HERE

It is impossible to overstate the quality of Test-class bowlers who were lined up against Scotland’s part-time brigade when they embarked on their maiden World Cup campaign across Britain in 1999. Australia had Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath in their ranks, while the West Indies were bolstered by their twin merchants of menace, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose. Yet it is safe to declare that nobody made quite the same impact on the Scottish debutants as Pakistan’s “Rawalpindi Express”, Shoaib Akhtar. 

The tussle between these countries took place on May 20 at Durham’s Riverside Ground in Chester-le-Street on a surface which offered plenty of fizz for those with the ability to land the ball in the right place. George Salmond’s decision to bowl first after winning the toss was wholly vindicated by the conditions and for a while, even as Asim Butt, James Brinkley and Gavin Hamilton made inroads into their opponents’ top order, some of the more dreamy-eyed pundits could begin to harbour reveries of a remarkable upset. 

With hindsight, it was a very peculiar affair. Normally, if one looked at the scorecard of an innings and saw that Pakistan’s first five batsmen had only mustered 6, 7, 12, 12 and 0 between them, you might imagine they were languishing at 40 or 50 for 5 and in all kinds of dire straits. But, in this instance, by the stage Inzamam-ul-Haq was smartly stumped by Alec Davies off Nick Dyer, his personnel had advanced to 92. That was explained by the sorry statistic that the Scots sent down no less than 33 wides and 15 no-balls in an extras tally which ultimately added to 59 – comfortably the second-highest contribution to a Pakistan effort which stuttered and shuddered, but eventually rose to the occasion.  

In many respects, it was a creditable display by the underdogs, with Ian Stanger running out Shahid Afridi, and Butt, Brinkley and Hamilton disposing off Saeed Anwar, Abdul Razzaq and Saleem Malik. But, just as he did on several other occasions, the then Yousuf Youhana (and now Mohammad Yousuf] proved the catalyst for a patient, consummately professional recovery from the Asian team, compiling an unbeaten 81 (from 119 deliveries), which was heavier on substance than style, as if that mattered a jot. 

When Moin Khan was caught by Brinkley off Hamilton for 47, the Pakistanis had still not reached 200 with only five overs remaining. But there was still time for a few pyrotechnics from Wasim Akram, whose rapid boundary-studded 37 came off a mere 19 balls. And, by the climax, they had advanced to 261 for six: a score which, minus the extras, would have been nothing better than average. Well, so most of us assumed…. 

Mike Denness, the former England captain, said at the interval: “That was another decent performance from Scotland. But now they have to get to grips with Wasim and Shoaib and lay some sort of platform.” As he later acknowledged, it was one thing to state that from the safety of the commentary box, but another matter altogether once Shoaib cranked into rhythm and created something similar to an explosion in a stump factory.

That next hour or so is lodged indelibly in my memory. Shoaib wasn’t just quick, he was devilishly accurate and would have taxed any opponents, let alone amateurs from an Associate nation. Wasim Akram instantly removed Bruce Patterson in the opening over, but that simply lit the touch paper for his compatriot and there was a terrible beauty about the mayhem which subsequently unfolded which meant we couldn’t avert our gaze. 

Crash: Mike Smith was clean bowled for three with a rip-snorting Akhtar attack. Bang: Iain Philip was plumb lbw for 0 from a brute of a delivery. Wallop: Salmond was caught behind for five from another wonderful ball and the Scots were in ruins at 19 for 5 in the ninth over. Lesser individuals might have capitulated completely, but praise be for Hamilton who was calm, courageous and compelling in the teeth of the onslaught. 

His knock helped explain why he burst into the spotlight and accumulated so many runs during the World Cup. It combined aggression with discipline and lashings of skill. Shoaib only bowled six overs – and took three for 11 – but Hamilton gave the Scottish supporters plenty to cheer about throughout his innings of 76, which featured three 4s and three 6s, and although it was in a losing cause, the towel was never remotely thrown in. 

Instead, backed up by cameos from Brinkley (22),  Davies (19) and Extras (37) – Pakistan themselves bowled 17 wides, which meant there were a staggering 50 in the match – Scotland managed to post 167, which was around 100 more than had seemed likely at one stage. “Can we describe it as a glorious defeat?” asked one journalist. “Why not?” responded one former Scottish player. “Or you could always ask Shoaib to bowl an over at you to find out what it is like.” That was one job with zero applications! 

But if that left the majority of onlookers feeling respectability had been attained, there were different emotions when the Scots entertained fellow debutants Bangladesh in Edinburgh. It was true that Salmond’s troops were never at the races against the West Indies – who skittled them for just 68 at Grace Road, with Walsh and Ambrose wreaking havoc – while New Zealand made quick work of chasing down a paltry 122 target at The Grange, though not without John Blain taking five wickets in the two fixtures. 

Yet the young paceman’s heroics merited a better outcome when Bangladesh came to leafy Stockbridge. Beforehand, one always felt this was an ideal chance for Scotland to claim their maiden victory on the global stage and, even at this distance, there really was no reason why they should not have cemented success against their rivals. 

Blain himself could not be faulted in any respect, once Salmond inserted the opposition on a surface which looked more conducive to bowlers than batsmen. Immediately, as they struggled to cope with the conditions, Bangladesh were tied in knots and had lost half their line-up for just 26, with Blain ripping through their ranks and, apparently, laying the platform for a memorable success. However, one vital catch was shelled, another opportunity went a-begging and Minhajul Abedin gradually steered his side towards a competitive score, remaining unbeaten on 68 as his country reached 185 for 9. Blain celebrates (Getty)

This was no mean achievement, given they had been 96 for seven at one point, but still there was ample optimism among the Scottish supporters who talked to me at the midway point. “If we can just make a decent start, we should be okay,” said Colin Stewart from Glasgow, while Ally Scott from Linlithgow added: “We’re good enough to do this. We only need two or three batsmen to play long innings and we will beat them.” 

What wasn’t in the script was that the hosts would quickly slump to eight for 3 with Patterson, Smith and Philip all back in the hutch. Or that they would keep losing wickets when it seemed they might be launching a recovery, oblivious to another sterling contribution from Gavin Hamilton, who was entitled to ask for greater support. 

And yet, and yet, this definitely belonged in the category of “the one that got away.” Tension enveloped the ground when Hamilton and Alec Davies amassed a 50-plus partnership for the seventh wicket and at 136 for 6 after 41 overs, the Scots required less than a run a ball. It was nail-biting for us on the periphery, so heaven knows how it felt for the fellows in the middle, but suddenly, Hamilton was removed for an excellent 63 and although Davies did his best, he was dismissed with his men needing another 28 from five overs and there was pretty much nothing left in the tank. Their ultimate tally of 163 all out – a 22-run defeat – felt worse, because it should have been a different outcome. 

It certainly led to conflicting fortunes for the respective combatants. Scotland returned to the realm of Associate cricket and would not have another taste of World Cup action for eight years. Bangladesh, on the other hand, were granted full Test status within the next 12 months and, whatever some of us might think about their lack of development in the last 15 years, their advancement might never happened if the Scots had grabbed that game by the scruff of the neck. Sport often revolved around wafer-thin margins. 

None the less, it had been a memorable few weeks for those in the squad and those who followed them on their journey. I asked Denness to sum up the campaign and he thought about it long and hard. “It was always asking a lot of these lads with jobs to adapt to a situation where they were taking on Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand and the West Indies in the space of a fortnight,” he replied, with a patent determination not to denigrate their efforts. “But I did think we had Bangladesh on the rack. The thing is, though, we need more opportunities to get into these positions, and I hope the ICC realises that. 

Mike is sadly no longer with us. But these words are as valid now as they ever were.

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