Scotland’s rollercoaster of a season continued in Papua New Guinea as the national side missed out on the opportunity to cement their place at next year’s ICC World Cup Qualifier. The World Cricket League (WCL) series draw continued a frustrating pattern for the Scots as they followed up a commanding performance in the first ODI with defeat in the second for the fourth time in succession.
Whilst the quest for consistency remains ongoing the inherent ability contained within the Scotland squad is still apparent, however. Both Richie Berrington and Calum MacLeod recorded centuries while Kyle Coetzer became the first Scot to reach the landmark of 1500 ODI runs, and with wickets spread amongst the bowlers, too, Scotland will head into December’s final round of WCL fixtures against Kenya looking to build some momentum as well as finally confirm the qualification that their pool of talent demands.
For Safyaan Sharif frustration at a chance missed is tempered by an acknowledgement of the progress the side has made in recent months. Although realistic about the up-and-down nature of Scotland’s year the all-rounder points to the lessons that have been learned both in PNG and the summer just ended.
“Over the course of the year the team has learned a lot about itself,” he said. “There have been times when we have been absolutely outstanding but then we’ve followed it up with a bad day.
“That pattern of winning the first match then losing the second [has been frustrating]. We did it against Sri Lanka, Namibia and Zimbabwe and then we did the exact same thing against PNG as well.
“As a group we have talked about it, particularly at the end of the PNG tour, and we just need to keep working together to find the way forward.”
After drawing their Intercontinental Cup (I-Cup) match Scotland claimed a 101-run victory in the first ODI before falling to a five-wicket loss in the second.
“On the first day of the I-Cup game we didn’t take our chances but on the second we pulled it back, managed to get the last wickets quickly and then batted really well with Richie Berrington scoring a century,” said Sharif. “Then in the first [WCL] game Calum MacLeod played an absolutely amazing innings [of 154, his fifth ODI century] to set the tone for that win.
“With the bowlers also doing their job in the first match it was obviously really disappointing to lose the second. It was an important game for us to secure our place at the Qualifiers but unfortunately we didn’t play at our best and PNG got the win.
“So overall we played some good cricket, some bad, but we showed some of the best of what we can do.”
With his probing fast-medium and big hitting Sharif has become a key member of the Scotland side. After guiding Eastern Premier side Glenrothes to their highest-ever top flight finish, too, the twenty six year-old points to the high standards he sets for both himself and his club-mates as being fundamental to his development as an international player.
“It comes down to your own personal responsibility,” he said. “For myself I try to maintain my standards in whatever game I am playing. I tell my team that too, that this is the way we want to work, to play to the highest standard we can every time.
“There is a big difference between club and international cricket,” he continued. “When I made my debut I went from playing for my club straight into the international world which was a big step up for me. The first time I played four-day cricket was in Namibia and I struggled because I didn’t have the overs behind me to be able to bowl twenty, twenty-five in a day.
“You have to keep to a professional standard and play every match like it’s an international. The only way that you will be able to maintain that level is if you take it out on the park every time you play.
“It doesn’t matter what standard you are playing, if you always show your professionalism then the tasks get a lot easier when you go out and play against a big international team.”
Sharif also highlights the growing influence of the Cricket Scotland Pro Series in the continued development of Scotland’s players.
“[The Pro Series is really] starting to kick on now,” he said. “The last two years have been really good. The standard is higher and the fact that every team can have one overseas pro is a good step. If we can continue to improve the quality and get the structure and everything else right then it’ll become an even bigger part of the Scottish game.”
For the remainder of the year, though, attention is firmly on Dubai. Scotland will play two further ODIs against PNG and a four-day I-Cup match against Ireland in late November before those crucial meetings with Kenya at the beginning of December, and Sharif is looking forward to the opportunity to get onto the field once more.
“[After our experience in PNG] everyone has clarity,” said Sharif. “We have talked about how we can change the outcome to a win rather than a loss and hopefully we will have learned from our mistakes.
“Overall, though, Scotland has had a good year and with the remaining fixtures we still have a lot to look forward to. We know that if each of the eleven players on the field to do their job and we do the basics well then we will be in a good position to get the results we want.
“We are playing three teams that are very capable. Ireland still has the likes of Ed Joyce and Boyd Rankin, they are a top quality side. But we shouldn’t be looking to put ourselves under pressure. If we can play our game then we will do well.
“These are really important games for us because we want to make a clear statement that Scotland are one of the best teams in the Associate world.
“That’s what we want to show everybody.”