Having confirmed their place at the ICC World Cup Qualifiers in convincing style against Kenya, Scotland’s men have been rewarded with what is perhaps their greatest ever challenge. With ten teams – including four Full Members – competing in Zimbabwe for only two places in the final stages of the competition to be held in England next year, the governing body’s decision to limit participation in its showpiece tournament to only ten teams has stacked the odds firmly in the favour of those who are already blessed with a place at the top table of the world game.
With that challenge, at least, comes an opportunity, and after an historic year in which Scotland recorded victories over two Full Member nations Grant Bradburn’s team has moved into the final stages of their preparation determined to make the most of a chance to repeat last summer’s heroics.
For George Munsey and Matthew Cross the tournament offers an opportunity to continue their strong progress in the national side. Both come into the competition on the back of memorable performances, and as they look ahead to Zimbabwe the two are looking forward to the prospect of continuing their success on African soil.
“It’s an exciting time,” said George. “There are some great teams in our pool with two Full Members in Afghanistan and Zimbabwe making it very challenging, but it’s a challenge that we are ready for.”
“The way the tournament is structured we pretty much have to beat everyone,” added Matthew. “But it would be a brilliant start for us if we manage to knock Afghanistan off in our first game. That might give us the momentum to go all the way and see it home.”
Scotland’s preparation for the competition included January’s ODI Tri-Series against Ireland and UAE in Dubai.
“The trip to Dubai was really good not only in honing our technical skills but in our fitness levels as well,” said George.
“Our practice and build-up has been very relatable to what we’re likely to see in the Qualifiers. The pitches probably won’t be too different and I’m very much looking forward to getting out there and trying to score some runs.”
“After Dubai it was nice to have been home to work on a few little things and get the energy back before heading off again,” continued Matthew. “It’s a long time to be away with a lot of important games of cricket so it’s been good for everyone to be able to recharge for a while.”
The visit to Dubai featured a notable landmark for wicketkeeper-batsman Cross as he scored his first ODI century. His unbeaten 107 included ten fours and two sixes and ultimately proved to be the difference in Scotland’s 31-run win over UAE.
“Hopefully I can take that form to Zimbabwe but I’m very much taking each game as it comes,” he said. “We’re going into a different kind of cricket, more intense, and every single result is going to be significant.
“It’s been important to put in some performances that have contributed to us winning games,” he went on. “Scoring runs is fine but if it doesn’t help the team to win it means nothing.
“The most memorable aspect of the match against UAE was that we won from a situation where we were behind in the game. As a team we managed to pull through and that was very satisfying.”
Last season brought a notable breakthrough for Munsey, too, and after recording his maiden first-class hundred the big-hitting batsman is keen to continue the development of his all-round game.
“At the moment I’m trying to figure out how I play the game in all formats,” he said. “That’s the biggest challenge for me in coming from what you could call a power-hitting background.
“It’s about developing my game for each situation and each format and trying not to overcomplicate things. Something I’ve been guilty of in the past is overthinking about how the format should be played rather than concentrating on how I am actually playing.
“So that’s what I’ve been focusing on and it’s starting to come good. I’ve managed to get my way into the side by being myself and trusting myself in every situation.”
After warm-up matches against PNG and Ireland in Bulawayo, Scotland play their first match in Group B against Afghanistan on March 4th before continuing against Hong Kong, Nepal and Zimbabwe.
“It’s going to be a different experience for everyone as none of us have played in Zimbabwe before,” said Matthew. “It’s going to be something that we will all embrace and enjoy.
“It’ll also be different in that we’re essentially playing knock-out games from the beginning. Hopefully that will be pressure that we will thrive under.”
The likely playing conditions have also been the subject of much discussion.
“There’s been a lot of chat about that but to be honest we don’t really know what the pitches will be like,” said Matthew.
“We think they might be a bit slow and low and take a bit of spin.
“Conditions might change as the tournament goes on, too. Some days we might get a really good wicket and then play on others that are a bit tired but we’ll just take everything as it comes.”
The challenge facing Scotland may be considerable but the pressure it brings is, at least, nothing new. For every Associate nation every match has context, often brutally so, and for Scotland the opportunity for tournament play gives a real chance to put that experience into practice.
Last summer’s victories over Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe provided a clear demonstration of the ability and resilience contained within the squad, and as they prepare for their African assignment the opportunity to do so again is one all are determined to grasp.
“We’re looking forward to stepping up onto the world stage again,” said George.
“We’ve got a great group of guys to go out there and show everybody what we’re about. It’s very exciting.”