Scotland’s arrival in Oman for the Quadrangular T20I Series later this month will mark the beginning of both a new year and a new chapter in the story of the national men’s team. The tournament represents the first competitive outing for the side since the departure of former Head Coach Grant Bradburn in the autumn, and with his successor Shane Burger preparing to take the reins next month the Scots will be keen to maintain the momentum of the past two seasons.
Interim Head Coach Toby Bailey takes charge for the T20I competition and One-Day Series which follows, and with qualification for the final stages of next year’s ICC T20 World Cup on the horizon the former Northants wicket-keeper is looking forward to seeing the impact of the hard work the team has put in so far.
“When Grant left in September we all sat down as a group of support staff and senior players to talk about which areas we felt we needed to develop,” he began. “We decided that we needed to focus on our power-hitting, variations, playing against spin – which continuously needs to be improved – and leadership. That’s what became to focus of [November’s coaching camp in] La Manga.
“We took the chance to bring in a lot of specialist coaches with a lot of different ideas but we are also looking to use the knowledge that we already have within the team a bit more. It isn’t a young team, it’s an experienced side and their opinions have to be listened to. So we want to carry on using that knowledge while also bringing in some new information from other areas as well.
“We brought in a baseball hitting coach to give us different ways of thinking about power-hitting, for example,” continued Toby. “It’s not just about brute strength, there’s a way to do it, and for people to be able to understand the technique and how it can be done in different ways is really important.
“The difference was evident [in our two T20I matches last year] against Pakistan. They played a game within a game. They timed their innings very well and we saw balls sailing out the ground from deliveries that we perhaps didn’t expect to be treated that way. And then their variations at the end were a step above us. The four things we identified are the difference between where we are and where we need to be, and that’s what we’ve been working on.”
Although some of the selection decisions for Oman were enforced, Scotland’s fourteen-man squad nevertheless contains some notable omissions.
“Stuart Whittingham and Chris Sole have been a bit unlucky,” said Toby. “Soley was injured for a long time and although he’s bowling now in Australia we don’t know exactly how that’s going. It would be different if he was in a high-performance environment and we can see what we’ve got, but it would be just a little bit risky to go with him without seeing properly where he is. He is very much in our plans, though – Chris Sole bowling at 85-90 mph is getting into the Scotland team every day of the week, it’s just a question of us giving him some overs to give him some time to get back in.
“Stuart Whittingham was also injured. He has been working really hard at Gloucestershire after a bit of a transition period from Sussex. With Stu we’ve always felt that he needed some game time to hit a tournament and that was the reason we haven’t brought him in for this trip. It’s unfortunate for him, but again he is a massive part of our future because when he has that rhythm and comes into a tournament then he’s definitely going to be in the reckoning.
“In addition, Brad Wheal wasn’t available as Hampshire didn’t want him to go away, and with Josh Davey not being available between March and October we didn’t feel that it would be right for us to take him.”
The quartet’s absence has handed opportunities to pacer Adrian Neill and leg-spinning all-rounder Chris Greaves, however, who have earned their first full international call-ups after impressing for Scotland ‘A’.
“We wanted points of difference,” said Toby. “Usually that would be a Sole or a Whittingham but in Adrian we have somebody who’s bowling at six foot eight and has made real improvements – he’s not just the guy who is six-eight now, he’s the guy who can come in and do a job with pace and create that bounce. He’s a real handful.
“Adrian is a different bowler from when he went to Gloucestershire and I thank Owen Dawkins, who’s in Oman with us, for putting the hard work in there. He really impressed in La Manga and it’ll be great to see how he does in Oman.
“Chris Greaves brings a skill-set which we need to develop. He hasn’t had that many games within his club system but impressed with Scotland ‘A’ at the end of last season and in some Tilney games.
“He’s developed his bowling no end. Chris is a hit-the-wicket type of bowler who always keeps the stumps in play, and as we know leg-spin is so hard to hit in T20. It’s not a conservative pick by any means but we feel we have to be bold and brave with our selections to help us with those skill-sets which are needed at T20.
“The conditions we’ll be facing are going to be pretty similar to Dubai,” he went on. “We’ve spoken to Lancashire who went out there last year and have told us the conditions to expect. Our guys are conditioned well, they’re used to playing in that type of heat, and although there are a couple of guys who aren’t used to being in our environment it will be good for them to learn and get into it.
“In international cricket you have to jump and get into a tournament, especially in Associate cricket. You’ve got four days to get ready and then you’re into it.”
After beginning at the Al Amarat Cricket Stadium against the Netherlands, Scotland play Ireland before ending the five-day tournament with a match against the hosts on February 17th.
“Every time we play against Ireland it’s a battle royal,” smiled Toby. “But we’re in it to win every game.
“We’ve got some really exciting, dynamic players and I’m sure everyone will be following what happens. We’re certainly looking forward to it.”
Oman Quadrangular T20I Series:
February 13th Netherlands v Scotland
February 15th Ireland v Scotland
February 17th Oman v Scotland
One-Day Series: Oman v Scotland
February 19th, 20th, 22nd
You can follow the matches via our Twitter.