Scotland Review 2007, Part 1
On the eve of Cricket Scotland's annual awards dinner, CricketEurope undertakes a warts-and-all review of the busiest and most momentous year in the history of the Caledonian national team.
It has been a compelling and illuminating 12 months, groundbreaking and frustrating in equal measure. The 2006 tour of Bangladesh is included here for continuity, so the period under scrutiny encompasses a total of 19 one-day internationals. Before flying to Dhaka last December, Scotland had only played eight.
Outwith the ODIs, another 27 days of high-level cricket are covered here. It would have been 31 but for the wretched weather at the end of June.
Many of the players have found it tough, of course, to step up to this environment in the absence - with notable expections - of professional experience. A couple have taken to it like ducks to water. Most have offered beguiling, but all too brief glimpses of their potential.
I would propose Majid Haq as all-rounder of the year. It would be no great injustice were he to receive all three awards, but something about it wouldn't feel right. The 24-year-old knows he can do and could have done better, so we shouldn't shower him with too much premature recognition.
Haq's rivals for the all-rounder and bowler gongs will be John Blain and Craig Wright. Both enjoyed periods of consistent excellence with the ball garnished by unexpected lower-order batting feats. Wright book-ended a topsy-turvy year with headline performances in Kenya and South Africa, whereas Blain enjoyed a long and profitable summer after appearing less effective in warmer climes. There would have been an almighty hole to fill if he had continued his professional career in England, and Paul Hoffmann certainly wouldn't have been allowed to retire.
As for the batting, the identity of Scotland's premier player is not in doubt, but this award is for the individual who fulfilled his potential on the most occasions in the year 2007. Step forward the ever-ready Neil McCallum, whose final stats for the year matched those of the more naturally gifted Ryan Watson.
Part 1: December to March
A cherished tour to get the ball rolling – and a brutal eye-opener. In Watson's case, it was more of an eye-closer. Having faced just six balls in the first ODI in Chittagong, Scotland's No 3 top-edged a bouncer from Mashrafe Mortaza between the visor and grille of his helmet and into his eye socket. He was rushed to hospital and returned later looking, in the words of Craig Wright, "like the Elephant Man".
Having already lost Navdeep Poonia, Fraser Watts and Gavin Hamilton put on 45 for the third wicket, the latter hitting five fours in a run-a-ball 29, but soon it was 58-5 and 74-7. Colin Smith (30) refused to budge and, with precious support from Glenn Rogers (20) and Ross Lyons (28), hauled the Scots to 153, but they were all out with five overs to spare.
Dougie Brown was thrown the new ball after Blain's omission, and took an early wicket. But No 3 Aftab Ahmed battered 66 off 50 balls, laying first into Wright and then Lyons. To his credit, the young spinner claimed two consolation wickets and fellow lefty Rogers took 1-28 off seven overs in an enterprising debut. But Bangladesh sailed to a six-wicket victory in the 30th over.
Match two was similarly uncompetitive, the Tigers making most of home advantage at Mirpur to compile 278-6 after being put in by Wright. The Scots' four rotating seamers fared reasonably well up front and Wright had both openers caught in the outfield, but Aftab (52 off 46) was in scintillating form again. Haq, after 18 months in exile, combined with Colin Smith for the big wicket and that of Saqibul Hasan, but Bangladesh had a platform. Rogers impressed again but Haq and the returning seamers were targeted by the long-hitting Mortaza, who bludgeoned five sixes in a 27-ball 51.
Chasing 279, the Scots' eyes were about to be opened wider still. Poonia fell second ball for another duck. Brown, deputising at three, completed an unwanted Warwickshire double in the same Mortaza over. Watts made 29 and McCallum a painstaking 23, but left-arm spinner Abdur Razzak ran riot and it would have been a double-figure total if not for Rogers (20no) and Blain (22). Final margin: 146 runs. Final conclusion: Bangladesh have come a long way and are none too shabby at home.
ODI tally: P 2 L 2
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES January 4-14, 2007
An Intercontinental Cup match was the main purpose of the desert sojourn but there was also time for Watson to shake off any New Year/eye treatment after-effects with a century against a UAE development XI. There were runs for Wright and wickets for Rogers, Blain and Lyons as the Scots dominated a two-day draw.
The four-day match against the Emirates' senior side was a tale of unrewarded toil and spurned opportunity on a batsman's paradise. Scotland had to win to secure a place in the final and extinguish Ireland's hopes, but they left themselves a mountain to climb by dropping half-a-dozen catches on day one. "I don't think in my time with the team I've seen the bowlers bowl better than they did on a very flat wicket today," said coach Peter Drinnen. The UAE were sitting pretty at 271-3, with Saqib Ali unbeaten on 116.
Day two was a different story as the seamers reaped their reward. Blain led the way with 4-22 and deputy gloveman Dougie Lockhart entered the history books with a Scotland record of six catches in an innings. The UAE were all out for 348 and the visitors moved to 179-3 at stumps, Gavin Hamilton and Neil McCallum forging a promising stand. Hamilton was first out the next morning for 81, but McCallum made the first-innings bonus points safe with his first national ton, 109 including 12 fours and a six.
Scotland's 25-run advantage was quickly gnawed away. The Arabs batted methodically and, at 224-1, it was game over. Spin came to the fore, Rogers taking 4-72 and Lyons 2-79, but the hosts had no interest in winning the game and eventually declared on 356-8. Scotland's target was a notional 332 from 46 overs, and they almost lost the game by trying to chasing it. Pinch-hitter Paul Hoffmann walloped 48 from 32 balls to get the blood flowing but six wickets fell for 42 runs before Brown and Wright pulled the shutters down. Mission unaccomplished, and Ireland took full advantage.
Stand-out player: Neil McCallum
KENYA in MOMBASA
A triangular series against Kenya and Canada promised the chance to get one-day skills up to scratch ahead of the World Cricket League. Nobody could have predicted the drama that ensued both on and off the field.
On match-day one, Scotland must have felt they were back in Bangladesh after a fearful drubbing in their first ODI against Kenya, their primary target in the world rankings. It followed the same pattern as Mirpur: hosts bat first (this time by choice) on a highway baked by relentless sun, keep wickets in hand and go wild at the end of their innings, then put the kybosh on batsmen new to the hazy conditions. Only Hoffmann emerged unscathed with 2-45 from his 10 overs. When Wright had Steve Tikolo caught for 1, the Scots were right in the game but four Kenyans made run-a-ball fifties and Thomas Odoyo, embarking on a special year, blasted his team past 300 with four late sixes.
With 328-5 on the board, Odoyo gave nothing away while Peter Ongondo removed Poonia for 0 (again) and Watson for 4, and the cavalry never came. Watts, Brown and Blain were the only Scots to pass 20 in a wretched defeat by 190 runs. "In a few weeks, if we are still performing like this, you can yes, there is a big gap between us and Kenya and it's time to sack somebody," said Drinnen. The improvement he had forecast came quicker than he had expected.
Against Canada on January 18, the rumblings in various players' tummies were ominous, but a monolithic battle ensued. The North Americans batted first and tore into Brown and Blain, John Davison making 41 off 32 and Ashish Bagai 64 off 66. However, when the keeper retired through dehydration, Wright, ODI debutant Dewald Nel, Haq and Lyons turned the screw. Canada's 292-5 was probably no more than a par score in the conditions.
A 99-run partnership for the second wicket gave Scotland the impetus to get their year up and running at last. Twenty-year-old Poonia, averaging 0 after three ODIs, prospered after "dabbing down a long hop" for his first run and overcoming stomach cramps. One massive blow flicked the branches of a mango tree inside the boundary and was harshly signalled four, but with 67 from 66 balls, the Govan-born Brummie had finally justified his billing.
Thereafter it was the Watson show. Despite losing a partner every 30 or so runs, the captain-to-be paced himself like a past master. He, like Poonia, targeted Sunil Dhaniram's slow left-arm and kept Scotland in touch until 55 were needed from the last six overs. Wright rotated the strike as Watson reached his hundred in style, but it was Blain who tipped the balance with two boundaries when the target was 17 off 12 balls. There was a twist in the tale when Blain holed out, but Watson's drive off the penultimate ball was misfielded and the required second run was achieved. Watson had made Scotland's first ODI century, 123 off 116 balls, 293 stands today as Scotland's highest score in any one-day match, and under all the sweat there must have lurked oceans of relief.
Medical staff at the team hotel had a busy night. Half of Canada's squad ended up in hospital, along with two of their opponents. Three Scots had fallen sick after lunch, though fortunately two of them weren't playing, and in the end seven of the party were consigned to bed to recover from the bout of food poisoning that forced Canada to forfeit the following day's encounter with Kenya. Again caterers fell foul of the maxim that you can't go wrong with cucumber sandwiches.
Match three, after two days off: Scotland v Kenya again. A whole new ball game and, almost, one of the great triumphs over adversity.
Sickness was still rife. Only 10 Scots were fully fit so Poonia agreed to play, but had to leave the field every five overs and later, batting at six, was out second ball. Scotland's substitute fielder? The well-kent Harish Pindoria, of Kenya under-19s. You couldn’t make it up – especially the part where the teenager was asked to catch one of his national team idols when Kenya were batting. Poor Harish dropped the catch, but without him Scotland would have had to forfeit the match, so there was no ill will.
Kenya's innings (Wright had lost another toss) saw the rebirth of the gifted Ravi Shah. Brown returned to form with 3-37 off his 10 overs and Nel trapped Tikolo for a duck, but No 3 Shah held the favourites together with 113 from 120. With his five overs Lyons played a potentially match-winning hand by having Odoyo caught by Watts for 38 and Shah stumped, but Kenya's 259-9 proved just enough.
Looking around the dressing room to remind himself who was playing, Wright's eyes fell on Haq as he searched for an opening partner for Watts. Poonia's probable whereabouts don't need documenting on a family website. Wright told Drinnen he thought Haq could do a good job against the new ball, and a love affair was born. The pair put on 99 for the first wicket, giving Scotland's batting order the kind of top-heavy solidity not seen since the days of Patterson and Philip. Haq hit 10 fours before falling first for 59. Watts made one fewer and Watson a quickfire 31, before Hamilton and McCallum took the Scots within 50 runs of Valhalla.
The wily Tikolo atoned for his batting woes in style with 4-42, but Scotland tragically lost five wickets for nine runs, burdening Lyons with finishing duties. Hamilton was still there and finished with 47 from 37 balls as his partner fought to give him the strike, but they finished one blow short of a tie on 253-8. "The spirit of the players was incredible," said Drinnen.
There was finally some reward for the seam bowlers, lambs to the slaughter all week, in Scotland's final match. Blain, Hoffmann and Wright shared eight wickets in the dismissal of Canada for 208. Wright's 4-29 set a new ODI record in Scotland's 12th match, while Rogers continued to excel with 2-22 off 10. It would be the Queenslander's last act in Kenya, however. He developed typhoid, lost two stone and was sent home from the World Cricket League to recover, vowing never to go back to Kenya as long as he should live.
Dhaniram's 46 down the order almost rocked the boat, however. In reply, with Watts dropping down to four, Poonia soon perished and the Scots were indebted to Haq's 45 off 44 balls, including nine boundaries. Neither Watson (39) or Hamilton (44) could finish the job and it was left to Wright and Blain to apply the long handle, the latter doing so with élan as his 30 off 21 balls took Scotland to a victorious 209-8 with 2.4 overs to spare.
ODI tally: P 6 W 2 L 4
Part 2: World Cricket league to the World Cup will follow next week.
© Jonathan Coates, 2007