There were plenty of excuses flying around in the aftermath of Scotland’s failure to qualify for the World T20 competition in Sri Lanka later this year.
Some observers complained about the lack of Dutchmen in the Netherlands line-up, whilst the team coaches made great stock of the injuries which were sustained by the likes of Gordon Goudie, Safyaan Sharif and Gordon Drummond in the midst of the arduous qualifying tournament.
Yet the bottom line is that the Scots will be absent from another major event, whereas the Irish, who also suffered the loss of key players during their campaign, peaked at exactly the right time to secure their passage with Afghanistan.
It wasn’t simply that Pete Steindl’s side could only finish fifth – and anybody who derives consolation from their last-ball victory over Canada is easily pleased – but they came perilously close to failing to reach even that modest result.
There was no disgrace in losing to the Namibians, who were scintillating in their early fixtures, but the fashion in which they faltered while chasing 160 against Ireland and the ensuing defeat against the under-achieving USA highlighted the deficiencies which blighted the Scottish effort.
Quite simply, there were too few consistently impressive performers in their line-up, both with bat and ball, allied to a surfeit of bits-and-pieces cricketers, whose meagre contributions were insufficient to justify their selection in the first place.
Frankly, the pluses are significantly outweighed by the minuses. Majid Haq was comfortably the best of the bowlers and the parsimonious, penetrating spinner is entitled to feel aggrieved that his excellent displays were undermined elsewhere. Calum MacLeod showed that he is improving all the time, and there were flashes of brilliance from the likes of Kyle Coetzer and Richie Berrington, with Ryan Flannigan demonstrating his sangfroid in steering his country to victory over Canada.
But, as for many of the others, one or two decent knocks or spells was never going to cut the mustard in a schedule where they knew they faced the prospect of seven matches in eight days.
Granted, Goudie’s loss was a blow, not just for his pace, but his emergence as a belligerent pinch-hitter, and yet it was baffling that the coaches elected to call up Simon Smith and Moneeb Iqbal when commonsense dictated that they recruit some firepower in the fast-bowling department.
They could have gone for Tyler Buchan, who has emerged as a potent force in recent months, or chosen one of the many experienced bowlers who squeeze the life out of batsmen on a regular basis at club level. Because, if this qualifying competition has proved anything, it is the fact that uncontrolled speed is no substitute for accurate variation of line and length.
The reality was that Scotland leaked far too many runs from the likes of Preston Mommsen and Jan Stander, with Iqbal, perhaps understandably, looking rusty after his surprising call-up. Their fielding wasn’t of the standard which can make the difference in these events. Even when seasoned campaigners such as Coetzer and Fraser Watts rallied their side against the Irish last weekend, they allowed the required run rate to slip ever upwards to over 10 and 11 an over, which meant they either had to finish the job, or were asking an awful lot of those coming in their wake.
The cumulative effect of these myriad problems was that the Scots, at no stage, managed to crank up the sort of momentum which was achieved by Afghanistan and Ireland, both of whom merit their place among the global elite.
One can anticipate plenty of soul-searching in the coming weeks, but I still believe the Scots possess the nucleus of a quality side, and especially if three or four of their talented Under-19s can rise to the challenge of advancing to the senior ranks in the future.
Men in the mould of Josh Davey, MacLeod, Mommsen, Sharif and Flannigan have still to reach 25, and will form the spine of the team for the foreseeable future. Haq badly needs support in the spin stakes, and one has to wonder how somebody with Ross Lyons’ potential has slipped out of the picture, because there were occasions in the last fortnight where Haq seemed to be carrying the attack on his own.
Yet the cupboard isn’t bare; what the selectors have to concentrate on is fast-tracking the next generation, because Scotland have to make it a priority to be involved at the 2015 World Cup. If they’re not, they will be in grave danger of heading down the football route of sitting out these grand occasions and the probability is that Afghanistan, Ireland and the likes of Uganda and Namibia will only get stronger in the next decade.
The risk for the Scots is that they end up following the path of the Kenyans, who were massively disappointing in Dubai.
That, however, is the worst-case scenario. One thing which shouldn’t happen in the coming months is for anybody to suggest that John Blain is recalled to the Scotland ranks, irrespective of injury concerns.
The man who walked out on his country on the eve of the last World T20 has returned to his roots and will turn out for West of Scotland this summer, after being released by Yorkshire. In his heyday, he was a quality performer and looked set for a halcyon career after starring at the 1999 World Cup. But Blain is now in his 30s, has been out of the picture for a lengthy period, and, considering how he exited the scene, following a row with Gavin Hamilton, should not be considered again.
Such matters will surely be debated once Steindl’s personnel have returned home. And there is no disguising the anti-climactic nature in which they crashed out of contention.
But this always threatened to be a thorny assignment, with qualification places at a premium.
The worst aspect is that the Scots were not even close to their objective.