After a start to the year which has tested the emotional resilience of everyone connected with cricket north of the border, Scotland’s players have returned to the normality of the domestic season as their preparations for the international summer begin. Eye-catching performances at the ICC World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe brought Grant Bradburn’s side plaudits from around the globe, and with matches against England and Pakistan in June offering the chance of further Full Member scalps, Scotland’s compelling case to be given more opportunities to play the top sides in the world game could yet be strengthened further.
Ali Evans has been an integral part of the Scotland set-up since his debut in 2009, and as the Carlton fast bowler takes a moment to reflect on the current position of the national side, any recent disappointment is tempered by approval at the direction in which the squad is travelling.
“We’re very much further forward now than we were a couple of years ago,” he said.
“[After the 2016 World T20] Grant Bradburn made the point to us that there were two possible routes which the team could now take. It would have been easy to continue as we always had done – maintaining our place at the top of the Associate ladder, getting a couple of wins here or there, never getting across the line enough when it mattered – but that’s not what we expect from ourselves and it’s not what the country would expect from us either.
“So at the heart of everything has been a fundamental change in our culture,” he continued.
“Just keeping your place in the team isn’t okay any more. Getting pretty thirties isn’t okay any more. Getting 2 for 35 off your ten overs isn’t okay any more. What will bring us dividends is playing the type of modern one-day cricket which is the way now – being on the front foot, looking to take wickets, looking for the batters to take the game to the bowlers.
“Things like that are easy to say but harder to do, but the fact that there is now much more accountability between the players as well as to the coaching staff has been a big factor in driving the improvement of the team.”
Peer reviews after each game focus on all aspects of the team’s performance.
“Beyond the usual team debrief we get into small groups of players to both review our own performance and have it reviewed by the remainder of the group,” said Ali.
“In a process like that it’s easy to focus on only the negatives but we look to strike a balance between what we commend as well as recommend. It’s about recognising what we need to produce more winning performances and significant contributions because the more of those we have the more games we win.
“And all this is happening with a younger generation,” he continued. “If you look at the team that went to Zimbabwe there were two guys in their thirties, two aged twenty-nine and the remainder were twenty-seven or younger. The guys who weren’t able to make the trip – Josh Davey, Ruaidhri Smith, Scott Cameron, Dylan Budge, Mitch Rao and so on – are all under twenty-five as well. So not only are we changing our culture but we are going about it with a young squad.
“This is going to be how it is going forward. This is the expectation and the standard, because if we are not accountable to ourselves then we’ll keep going on that easy road. We’ll test a Full Member here or there or we’ll do okay in the I-Cup, for example, but we’ll sit around on the same sort of ranking.
“But that’s not what we want and we aren’t prepared to settle for it.”
With 41 ODI and T20I caps thus far, including four from the 2015 ICC World Cup and two more from the 2016 World T20 in India, Ali is one of the most experienced members of the Scotland squad. With a fresh battery of fast bowlers pushing for inclusion, though, he is taking nothing for granted.
“For a number of years Safyaan [Sharif] and myself were pretty much the staple of the bowling attack,” he said. “But especially for me in the last year or so it’s become apparent that that alone doesn’t guarantee anything. I may have the experience that the younger guys don’t yet have but if I’m being honest they have caught up with me.
“Bowlers are there to take wickets and if you look at the wickets they have taken against the wickets I’ve taken over the last eighteen months they have taken more than I have. Yes, it might be more expensive at times and it might not have always been the prettiest but it’s been very effective and that’s what counts.
“As a result it has given me a real reality check in that my place in the team or even the squad is not a given. Not that I ever thought it was, but in what is such a wonderfully exciting time with six or seven quality fast bowlers any of them could be picked to play over any of the others.
“It’s changed a few things that I do in terms of trying to take more wickets in various different ways, and I’m continuing to work hard. I am almost thirty now and they always say that the later you get in your career the more you have to put in. This is a big summer for me because positions are very much up for grabs and I need to make sure that I’m continuing to put myself in the frame through my performances.”
Under new sponsorship from the Tilney Group, the Regional Pro Series forms a fundamental part of the season ahead. With international players equally distributed between the three squads the early matches have been keenly contested; a situation that is, says Ali, crucial to Scotland’s ongoing development.
“In the last five or six years we’ve toyed around with the Regional programme to some extent but we are now at a point where we have some real continuity,” he said. “This year it is more structured and more professional with the Academy programmes running underneath and everything under one head coach, which from what I’ve heard has been excellent. We are in a real position to grow this into the competition it need to become.
“Our biggest challenge going forward is going to be getting proper buy-in from the clubs. Understandably they are very protective of their players because they want to succeed, but there are going to be times where a player might have to choose between club and region.
“But a major factor in moving Ireland ahead of us, for example, has been that they established a proper List A structure beneath their international team,” he continued.
“Where we need people performing for us is at regional level and I know that Grant has been very big on that. The message he has sent is that if you perform well in the regional competition then you will get your shot.
“There are still guys coming into the Scotland set-up because of club performances. That’s fine, but in the future that’s really not going to cut it and we all need buy in to that. I’d love there to come a time where regional cricket is played on a Saturday, whether in a blocked-out period of time or running alongside the club game.
“For me it is about how we get the best thirty-three cricketers in Scotland playing against each other. The domestic game needs to be regional first and club second if we are serious about moving cricket forward in Scotland.”