The leaves have long since turned in Edinburgh but the season is far from over as Scotland’s cricketers head to Dubai for a year-ending triple assignment against Ireland, Kenya and Papua New Guinea. With memorable victories over two Full Members already pasted into their 2017 scrapbook Scotland will be looking to add the scalp of the newest Test-playing nation, too, as the national side builds toward the crucial World Cricket League (WCL) matches with Kenya which will determine whether they reach next year’s ICC Qualifier for the 2019 World Cup.
On a more prosaic level the trip presents a precious opportunity for time in the middle, too. October’s tour of PNG was Scotland’s first international outing since June, yet despite the all-too-familiar challenge of a stop-start season Head Coach Grant Bradburn is confident that his side can continue their upward trajectory.
“There have been some iconic victories over the past two years, particularly over the last few months, and the guys have taken a lot of heart from that,” he said. “The overall results show that we’re not yet as consistent as we want to be but we are very pleased at the fact that there has been some real improvement over the past year.
“The two games against PNG and the four-day game against Ireland will have us absolutely prepared to take on Kenya. We’re not shying away from the fact that there is a lot riding on the last two games, but then again there always is in Associate cricket. I think the world is starting to appreciate that there is no such thing as a dead rubber in the Associate game.
“We are well aware that we need to be playing our best cricket at the end of this tour but it doesn’t take away from the fact that every single game is vital for us. [Competitive matches are] the fertiliser that our guys need to grow.
“So we’re very much looking forward to this tour. We’ve got eight days of cricket ahead of us which represents a third of our total season.”
Last month’s tour of PNG brought mixed fortunes. After two warm-up victories against Auckland Aces and a highest-ever first class total in the Intercontinental Cup (I-Cup) a commanding Scottish victory in the first WCL match was followed by a five-wicket defeat in the second.
“We were bitterly disappointed to lose the last match in PNG,” said Bradburn. “It put a real dampener onto what had been a fantastic tour.
“We played some very good cricket against Auckland [on the Gold Coast] then went to PNG as prepared as we wanted to be. After playing so well in the first matches we just didn’t bat well enough on the last day. We weren’t as good as we know we are but we’ve taken the lessons from that.”
The 1-1 series draw was Scotland’s fourth in succession but the Head Coach cautions against overstating the significance of the statistic.
“I don’t necessarily read too much into the fact that we have been winning the first then losing the second,” said Bradburn. “We wish we were playing lengthier series but unfortunately we are only playing two-match contests. It’s not unusual in a three, four or five-match series for the first couple of games to be shared. But having said that we’re working very hard to improve our consistency.
“We need to make sure that each and every game is separated. The fact that we won yesterday doesn’t give us the right to win tomorrow, so we need to make sure that we step up our performance from the last game rather than dwell too much on what has just happened.
“Yesterday was yesterday and tomorrow we will face another challenge against a team who will now know more about us than they did before.
“That’s the attitude we’re taking forward.”
The chilly Scottish autumn may be far removed from the conditions awaiting the squad in Dubai but Bradburn’s team have become adept at making the most of the training facilities at their disposal.
“We’re becoming very good at having a good imagination!” he smiled. “The players have plenty of experience from around the world and a big part of our preparation has been making sure that we capture all that learning.
“We look to identify those parts of the game that we know we are going to be challenged with and simulate them which is where the skill of the staff comes in. You’ll see in training that the guys are very competitive with a lot of ‘live combat’ as we call it.
“But it’s been really nice to be working with the players on more of a one-to-one basis, too,” he continued.
“Some of the players have been very comfortable in subtly changing some quite significant things in terms of their bowling run-up or their set-up when batting, for example. We have been very particular in treating everyone as individuals and looking at improving those parts of their game that they know serve them well.
“And I’m really happy with where they are. [Strength and Conditioning Coach] Simon Smith does an amazing job, he is one of the best that I’ve worked with. For a decentralised squad which is not together all the time this team is fitter than they have ever been before.
“It gives us a little edge. It gives [National Performance Coach] Toby Bailey the freedom to take our fielding to another level, for example. We know we’re physically prepared so let’s use that and be confident that we can make good decisions and stay in the contest for long periods of time.”
After two ODIs against PNG at the end of November Scotland meet Ireland in the I-Cup before playing Kenya on December 6th and 8th at the Dubai International Stadium.
“We’re looking forward to meeting Ireland again,” said Bradburn. “It gives us another opportunity to test ourselves against our traditional rivals who now have the added factor of being a Test nation. In my time of being involved with Scotland it has been an absolute pleasure to be involved in these contests. The guys will certainly relish it and as they have shown in history they will rise to the occasion.
“But clearly making the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe is the number one goal for us. We need to win at least one game against Kenya to do that. We have shown this year that we can beat Full Member nations and if we’re not in the Qualifier we miss the chance to continue to do that so the team is totally focused on trying to achieve that goal.
“And if we win both matches then we give ourselves the chance of winning the World Cricket League. Cricket is a funny game, so we will just focus on what we are in control of and see what happens after that.”