“You can’t be scared of pushing the boat out. You can’t be scared of putting yourself out there. You might hang yourself out to dry on a couple of occasions but there will also be the occasions where your skills will come out and you’ll show what you are capable of.”
The World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe has presented Scotland with what is undoubtedly the greatest challenge ever faced by the national side. With ten teams, including four Full Members, competing for only two places in the final stages of the ICC’s controversially remodelled showpiece, renewing their ODI status by reaching the Super Six stage of the Qualifier could easily have been the limit of Scotland’s ambition as they took to the field in Bulawayo.
That qualification was duly secured was one thing. The manner in which it has been achieved, however, speaks of the quiet confidence which has surrounded those at the top of Scottish cricket for some time now. As Kyle Coetzer’s words imply, this is a team of very serious ambition determined to play without fear; a team which has, as a result, given itself a real chance of achieving something quite extraordinary.
The victory over Afghanistan set a tone which Scotland maintained throughout the group stages. Having dismissed their much-fancied opponents for 255, a total that could have been very different were it not for the fire-fighting skills of Mohammad Nabi and Najibullah Zadran, Scotland set about the chase with relish. Despite the loss of two early wickets Calum MacLeod’s unbeaten 157, supported by Richie Berrington’s 67, propelled the Scots past the target with more than two overs to spare.
It was a memorable performance in many ways – controlled, professional, but perhaps most significantly, resilient. At 21-2, with sixteen-year-old wunderkind Mujeeb ur Rahman looking to weave a spell and Rashid Khan waiting in the wings, pressure could easily, and quickly, have told. MacLeod and Berrington, however, had none of it. Rashid went for ten an over twice as MacLeod swept the ICC’s number one-ranked bowler off his rhythm, and although Berrington was to fall before the end it was not before the result had been put beyond doubt.
Against Hong Kong and then Nepal it was the captain’s turn to step up as he anchored two potentially tricky run-chases with two brilliant innings. Kyle Coetzer’s 88* on a turning track against Nepal both confirmed Scotland’s place in the Super Six and saw him become the first Scot to pass the landmark of 5000 international runs. With 170 runs at 85 Coetzer sits at the top of Scotland’s batting averages here, too, and with crucial contributions coming from throughout the order, exemplified by Michael Leask’s run-a-ball 28* in the breathless tie with Zimbabwe, Scotland have always been able to find that extra ingredient to get themselves over the line.
The foundations of their victories have been laid in the field, however, and by maintaining the pressure built by a strong start in each of their matches Scotland have kept their opponents comfortably within reach. Safyaan Sharif, with 10 wickets at 12.2, and Brad Wheal, with 4 at 17.5, have been a highly effective opening partnership, while Tom Sole’s Man-of-the-Match-winning 4 for 15 against Hong Kong crowned what has been an excellent start in national colours by the Northants off-spinner.
With Richie Berrington, Ali Evans, Stuart Whittingham, Mark Watt and Michael Leask stepping up, too, Scotland’s success in the field has been very much a joint effort, and with Hampshire’s Chris Sole also coming back into contention after injury the resources at Kyle Coetzer’s disposal are considerable.
Scotland carry three points into the Super Six, second only to West Indies as the business end of the tournament gets underway. But however this final act is to play out Grant Bradburn’s side has put down their clearest marker yet as to where they are and where they plan to be. Led by coach and captain, words are being backed by actions. When it comes to achieving Full Member status Scotland are demonstrating themselves in the strongest possible way to be, as Cricket Scotland CEO Malcolm Cannon has put it, the next cab off the rank.
Speaking the night before the squad left for Africa, Kyle Coetzer elaborated further.
“We’re not happy with getting by, doing okay, winning a few games, maybe beating a Full Member now and then,” he said. “We’ve got to believe that we can go that one step further and become a Full Member [like we know] we are capable of.
“In the world of Associate cricket people underestimate what we can do, underestimate what we can achieve, underestimate the skills of the players that we have, not only in our squad but throughout the rest of the Associate nations.
“My message is clear. Don’t be shy, don’t be afraid to fail. What have you got to lose?”
The answer is clear. As is the fact that there is everything to gain.