A year which began and ended in the Dubai desert may well come to be regarded as one of the most significant of all in the evolution of Scotland’s national side. With fifty-over victories over two Full Members, a strong showing in the ICC World Cricket League Championship and an unbeaten run to the semi-finals of the Desert T20 Grant Bradburn’s side has continued to build on the solid foundations of 2016, and with more high-profile opportunities to come in the months ahead, too, Scotland’s cricketers go into the New Year keen to show that their ambition of Full Member status is well justified.
“In many ways it’s been a year to remember,” said Kyle Coetzer. “We achieved some iconic victories which have put down a marker for the whole future of the team.
“We’ve broken some boundaries this year and there is a lot to be positive about.”
The headline victories over Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe will particularly stay in the mind. Scotland’s win over a strong Sri Lanka side was sealed with more than eight overs to spare after Coetzer and Matthew Cross put on an opening partnership of 201. Both hit centuries as the sixth-ranked side in one-day internationals was humbled by seven wickets.
“The Sri Lanka match was a considerable milestone for us,” said Coetzer.
“The fact that it wasn’t classed as an official ODI did lead some people to try and chip away [at the achievement] and say that they didn’t field a great team and so on. As far as I’m concerned, though, they fielded everyone that they should have and they scored near enough to 300 [as a result].
“To chase down a score of  against a Test nation is something that everyone should be very proud of. We gave a performance which set a standard for the new players coming through and for the team as a whole.”
Less than a month later another century from Coetzer propelled Scotland to a second win – their first over a Test-playing nation in an ‘official’ ODI – as Zimbabwe were toppled by 26 runs (D/L method) in a breathless encounter at the Grange.
“These were hugely significant days of cricket for us,” said the Scotland captain. “To back up the Sri Lanka win with the one against Zimbabwe made an important statement not only to ourselves but to the wider cricketing world.
“We are not just looking to make up the numbers. We’re here to compete.”
Scotland’s year had begun in the UAE with the Desert T20. Although defeat to Ireland was to end their campaign at the semi-final stage the Scots performed well throughout the tournament, finishing the group stages unbeaten after registering comfortable wins against Hong Kong and Oman. Sandwiched between the two came their most striking performance, however, as Scotland drove home a stunning backs-to-the-wall victory over the Netherlands.
After restricting the Scots to 148-7 the experienced Dutch side looked well-placed as, with wickets in hand, sixteen runs were required from the final two overs. Three wickets in eight balls, however, saw Scotland home by seven, the victory being sealed via two consecutive run-outs. It was a memorable, and ultimately revealing, night.
“That was a game which we might not have been able to pull out of the bag in previous years but it shows the distance we’ve travelled since Grant has taken over as coach,” said Coetzer. “[His impact] has been significant. Finding that team culture, fighting spirit and ways to win games of cricket is what it’s all about.
“The Desert T20 was a new sort of tournament for Associate nations,” he continued. “We don’t generally get to play in competitions like that where there isn’t something really significant at stake. It was nice to know that our whole careers weren’t necessarily on the line this time!
“[But as a result] some of the cricket played during the tournament was outstanding. The whole thing was a great experience and it’s definitely something that we need to see a bit more of.”
As the year progressed there were mixed fortunes for Scotland in the final stages of the ICC Intercontinental Cup (I-Cup) and World Cricket League (WCL) competitions. Scotland’s I-Cup weather jinx continued in Ayr as their match with Namibia ended in stalemate before a draw in Papua New Guinea and last-round loss to Ireland confirmed a final placing of sixth. The Scots fared considerably better in the WCL although dropped points against Namibia and PNG meant that they had to settle for second place in the table.
“Those are two games where we look back and say, yes, if we’d won them then we would have been right in contention [to win the Championship],” said Coetzer. “But in the case of Namibia we feel that we didn’t lose that game because of our own performance, they won it from theirs [and they should be given credit].
“They are a strong set-up. They’ve been very consistent over the last while and [after Scotland’s victory in the first match] in the second game they played really well.
“It was different in the PNG game where we did feel that we underplayed after winning the first match in the series,” he continued, “Having said that we think we would still have won that game had [Mahuru] Dai not played one of the best knocks he’s ever had.
“So overall we were disappointed to lose those games but it’s fair to say that we were beaten by a good side in one and were on the end of a match-winning knock in the other.”
Scotland’s year concluded at the Dubai International Stadium with wins over PNG and, crucially, Kenya to seal a place at next year’s ICC World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe.
“There were a few challenges there but in the end it was convincing,” said Coetzer. “Getting back-to-back wins against PNG at the start [of the tour] and then doing the same against Kenya was very satisfying. Kenya are a dangerous side with some good cricketers but I was very pleased by the way we went about our game.
“I think it gives a good indication of where we are as a side.”
The Kenya matches put a seal onto what has been an outstanding year for Coetzer on a personal level, too. His man-of-the-match innings of 121 in the second game was his fourth limited-overs century of 2017 and took the Aberdonian to 1071 runs, the highest number ever scored by a Scotland player in a calendar year. It has been a remarkable, and prolific, season, yet the Scotland captain is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
“Every player has their moment and I feel that I’ve matured a lot over the last couple of years,” he said. “My game has gone from strength to strength but I’m still very realistic about it because as with any player there are going to be times where I know that it’s going to get tough again.
“But I’ve still got that inner drive. I really want to see these guys develop into a team that we’re all really proud to be a part of and, for me, be one I’m proud to let go of in the end, hopefully in a few years’ time.
“I’m very thankful for Grant’s support and how he’s helped me during my transition from being a county player to where I am now. If it wasn’t for that then I may not even still be playing cricket. The flexibility and trust that we have has enabled me to go further in my career.”
Scotland, too, have much to look forward to in the New Year as, after another trip to Dubai for January’s ODI Tri-Series with Ireland and UAE, they prepare to head to Zimbabwe.
“We’re looking forward to the World Cup Qualifiers in March,” said Coetzer. “Then in June we have the England ODI and Pakistan T20s in the space of a week in Edinburgh.
“It’s going to be an exciting time. On the back of a pretty tough Ashes tour England might be on a bit of a rebound so that will add to the challenge for us.
“But we are in a good place,” he said. “We have people challenging for places and the natural outcome of that is that people know that they have to keep performing. They have to find another gear and another level to either keep themselves in the team or push themselves into contention for a place.
“You have to say how good a year it has been given the fact that we’ve had Preston [Mommsen] leave and Freddie Coleman stop playing and Matt Machan retire,” he continued. “Getting the results we have this last year when at least two out of those three would have been likely members of the starting line-up has been pretty impressive.
“But it’s all there in front of us. As we’ve shown this year, give us an opportunity to express ourselves and see how we get on.”