Ireland overcome Scotland in WT20 clash
Jon Coates (Sunday Times Scotland)
RYAN Watson's conviction that his Scotland team are suited to Twenty20 cricket was rigorously scrutinised at Stormont yesterday as Ireland struck first blood in Group A of the World Twenty20 Qualifier, scraping home with one ball and four wickets to spare. Scotland's submission of 117 off their 20 overs appeared some way short of sufficiency until some inspired bowling and fielding put the skids on the Irish chase.
In the final analysis, as so often, the batting was a sore point on Scots' minds, and more runs will probably be required this morning if they are to defeat an unpredictable and hard-hitting Bermuda side to stay in this enjoyable competition. Defeat is unthinkable, as Watson admitted – the islanders have not played any preparatory games and will not warm to a 9.30 start time on what promises to be a damp outfield.
Win and Scotland should be involved in D-day, tomorrow, when the critical semi-finals and third-placed play-off decide which three teams qualify for next summer's mouth-watering finals in London and Nottingham. Lose and they can forget about the £128,000 participation fee - £3,000 of which will go to each member of the squad – and book their holidays for a fortnight next June, because peering across Hadrian's Wall at all of that fanfare would be torture.
"It's a final for us tomorrow, that's the way we have to look at it," said the Scotland captain. "It wasn't an easy wicket to bat on today, and I thought 130 or 140 would have been a good score. But we missed a couple of run-out chances at the end and that proved costly. We bowled well enough to win that game of cricket."
If Watson sounded philosophical in defeat, many of his compatriots looked suicidal after suffering a second reverse to the Irish in three days. Most of the match had been pedestrian and awkward until the last five overs of pure drama. First Glenn Rogers, the left-arm spinner, broke Ireland's momentum and then did something more damaging to his right calf, and was soon hobbling into an ambulance.
Then Gregor Maiden, a once-star-bound off-spinner who has never fulfilled his potential, clean bowled the hosts' most reliable player, Andre Botha, for 38, and produced an extraordinary catch in the front of the sightscreens to get rid of Trent Johnston, Ireland's feted World Cup captain. To think Maiden was only hired on the back of his big hitting (he was out first ball).
Ireland were nearing a state of panic now, needing 15 off the last two overs, but just when Dewald Nel looked to have turned the screw, a full toss was met at belly height by Reinhardt Strydom, who had run out of his ground. The square-leg umpire signalled no-ball, which counts for two runs, and Nel and Watson protested bitterly.
Now the hosts needed nine from the last over. The experienced Andrew White paddled Gordon Drummond's first and fifth balls for four and celebrated aggressively as the Scots trooped off the field in misery, which was compounded when they were asked to pose for a team photo.
After winning the toss, Watson wisely chose to bat first but the captain (24 off 16 balls) and Neil McCallum (27 off 25) were the only players who looked capable of scoring at the rate that makes Twenty20 so commercially viable. Credit has to go to the Irish bowlers whose accuracy was metronomic: Peter Connell, seaming the ball from the start, took 1-12 off his four overs, Botha 3-18 and Alex Cusack 4-21 – all figures that would be outstanding in 50-over cricket.
Just as in Thursday's European Championships defeat to their arch-rivals, the Scots started with aplomb. Watson signalled his intentions with a sweet six off his legs off Kevin O'Brien, but he failed to clear mid-on with another lofted drive, and Scotland were 29-1 after four overs.
That would have been acceptable had Gavin Hamilton not fallen on his sword the very next ball, skewing an awkward shot skywards, and the wheels truly came off when Colin Smith was the first victim of Cusack's jagging, angular probing.
Kyle Coetzer, who flew home last night to play for Durham today against Bangladesh A, with the intention of reversing the journey tomorrow – was spared on six by a Kyle McCallan fumble but his first Scotland innings in two years didn't last much longer. McCallum and the great hope, Richie Berrington – still callow and rather limited - led the quest for respectabililty with a partnership of 40. But never again did the Scots assert themselves with the bat, which is what causes so many fans around the world to go wild for this format.