After successfully negotiating the Qualifier for the ICC Men’s Twenty20 World Cup last month, Scotland end the year with a return to both ODI cricket and the UAE as they resume their Cricket World Cup League Two campaign in Sharjah. Scotland and the USA will join the hosts in December in contesting the third round of ODI double-headers at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium and ICC Academy Oval as the world governing body’s new pathway competition to decide qualification for the fifty-over World Cup continues.
The Scots head a four-way tie at the top of the table after recording three wins out of four against Oman and Papua New Guinea at Mannofield in August. Shane Burger’s team recovered from the setback of an opening loss to Oman to re-establish its credentials as one of the favourites for the tournament which reaches its climax in January 2022.
That a revival was required was down to a fine all-round performance from an Omani side which left Scotland with three victories of its own. The momentum provided by the last-gasp win over PNG on opening day had also provided Zeeshan Maqsood’s side with crucial early experience of a surface on which no team would reach 250, and while four Scottish seamers took to the field to face them in Match Two, the four spinners named in the Omani line-up spoke volumes of what they had learned.
Seam has long been the first line of attack on Scottish pitches which carry something of a greenish tinge even in the height of summer, but on a slow, dry surface it was pace off the ball which was the order of the day. Oman’s spin attack prospered against Scotland, pinning them back from 71 for 0 to 168 all out with more than five overs to spare. Leg-spinner Khawar Ali led the way with 4 for 23, and with only two specialist spinners to contend with in response, the all-rounder could afford to take his time in marshalling his side to victory with a well-paced innings of 79 not out.
The Scots learnt their lesson swiftly. All four spinners entered the fray for the games that followed, and ever more emphatic wins came as a result.
The final statistics of that first round provided a telling illustration. Scotland’s seamers, in action for 24.1 overs against Oman, bowled only 33 more between them in the three matches which followed, with Safyaan Sharif adding four wickets to the one taken by Adrian Neill in that first game. Mark Watt, Hamza Tahir, Michael Leask, Tom Sole and Calum MacLeod, on the other hand, took a combined total of 22 for 454 in the 126.2 overs they subsequently sent down. Conditions may not have been archetypally Scottish, but the resilience and adaptability which was demonstrated within the squad certainly was.
Tahir, playing in his first ODI series, was a revelation, his ten wickets at 10.10 including a best of 5 for 38 in Scotland’s second match against Oman. By then the twenty-three-year-old was full of confidence after returning debut figures of 4 for 37 against PNG, and his drift and flight asked searching questions of a team hardly unused to facing such challenges. After another fine performance at the World Cup Qualifier, Tahir’s ever-growing role in the Scotland attack is clear.
Fellow left-armer Mark Watt finished that assignment as Scotland’s leading wicket-taker, and in August was unfortunate not to gather more than the five wickets he claimed at 21.40. His miserliness opened up opportunities for others, however, and with both Tom Sole and Michael Leask absent from the squad for the upcoming round, the man who has now risen to fifteenth in the ICC T20I bowling rankings will be more crucial than ever.
While Tahir and Watt took many of the plaudits at Mannofield, it was Kyle Coetzer who again shone with the bat. Scotland’s talismanic captain came the closest of anyone to the tournament’s first century by way of his magnificently controlled 96 against PNG, and with three fifties contained within his return of 214 runs at 53.50, the ageless Aberdonian reaffirmed his status with another imperious performance.
The contribution of Richie Berrington was similarly integral. His innings of 68 against Oman and 81 against PNG – a knock which showcased all the facets of his game in its mix of vigilance and ruthlessness – provided the characteristic stability to the middle order which had been so missed in Scotland’s narrow loss to Sri Lanka in May, while Craig Wallace, batting at six, contributed a terrific 49-ball 53 not out to turn a competitive total against Oman into an unassailable one. The same match saw Calum MacLeod post his 2000th ODI run and Matthew Cross his 1000th on his way to matching Wallace with a crucial 59 to steer his side out of early danger. Recent wobbles with the bat notwithstanding, emphatic wins when it mattered leave Scotland confident in the face of any adversity it might encounter.
Hoping to provide the Scots with plenty of it are the UAE, who have done well to cope with more than their share of trouble themselves of late. Despite the suspension of four players – including former captain Mohammed Naveed – for breaches of the ICC Anti-Corruption Code on the eve of the T20 World Cup Qualifier and the mid-tournament departure of wicket-keeper Ghulam Shabber, Dougie Brown’s team still managed to advance from Group B in third place after four wins including a five-wicket victory over Ireland. Heavy defeats to the Netherlands and then Scotland subsequently ensured they would progress no further, but on home soil and with plenty of talent still in the ranks – not least Rameez Shahzad, who starred in his side’s 37-run warm-up victory over the Scots two days before news of the suspensions broke on October 16th – the Emiratis cannot be discounted.
The same is also true of the USA, who responded to their capitulation in the T20 World Cup Regional Finals with a terrific comeback performance against PNG and Namibia in Round Two of CWCL2 in September. The Americans’ 62-run mauling of PNG in the third match of the round represented their third straight win, and while JP Kotze’s bludgeoning 138 stopped the USA’s hope of a clean sweep in its tracks, only net run-rate now separates Saurabh Netravalkar’s team from the other three teams at the top of the table. Slow left-armers Karima Gore and Nisarg Patel shared fifteen wickets between them in Florida, while the classy batting of Monank Patel and all-rounder Steven Taylor will again be central to their team’s ambitions.
Scotland will arrive in the UAE with Stuart Whittingham and Michael Jones back in the fold, while Dylan Budge, who was flown out as a replacement for the injured Oli Hairs during the latter stages of the World Cup Qualifier, retains his place in a squad which remains full of attacking options with both bat and ball.
If there is one message to be taken from recent events, however, it is the reiteration of the ever-closing gap within the Associate game. Scotland travel as strong favourites for the second time this winter, but with the story of the Qualifier turning out to be the competitiveness of even its most unfancied participants, the third round of CWCL2 is sure to take on a new and even more intriguing dimension.
Fixtures (All matches start at 10:00 local time)
8 December: UAE v USA (Sharjah Cricket Stadium)
9 December: USA v Scotland (Sharjah Cricket Stadium)
11 December: UAE v Scotland (Sharjah Cricket Stadium)
12 December: UAE v USA (ICC Academy Oval 1)
14 December: USA v Scotland (ICC Academy Oval 1)
15 December: UAE v Scotland (ICC Academy Oval 1)