“You want to beat them. Show them that you are no lesser brother. We don’t want to be that younger sibling living in the shadows.”
The innate passion and pride to be a Scotland cricketer comes through vividly in Calum MacLeod’s voice even as the network makes his voice tremble right through the phone conversation.
June 10 was a special day in Scotland cricket. Nearly three months prior to the date, they were in tears in Harare. The forces – rain and DRS, or the absence of it, had played its part in ending their World Cup dream. So when a one-off ODI was scheduled against England at Edinburgh, Scotland knew this was possibly their last game against a major international side for a while.
Unlike on March 21, when they succumbed to fate rather than the West Indies in the qualifiers, Scotland were under pressure to win. Associate teams mostly are. Not because they don’t trust their cricketing skills, but as there’s always a larger picture to almost all of their games; rather, they are all rungs to an endless ladder with shrouded possibilities.
“Because of the way Associate cricket is, a lot of our games are qualification games. So this was a game where there’s no real pressure. Quite good for your mindset because you are more free in your head. There’s no dire consequences really,” MacLeod explains about the mindset of the team ahead of the big ODI.
Fearlessness was a feature of Scotland’s outrageous innings, perhaps the most memorable yet by an Associate nation against a major Test side. The openers put up a century stand in less than 13 overs and by the time MacLeod was walking out to bat, the narrative was pretty clear – flat pitch, flat bowling, short boundaries. The instruction was to “just keep going” as England had a terrifying batting line-up.
Mindset is a huge factor in such games. Turning up with a cocky attitude could backfire, but you don’t want to squander that once-in-two-years opportunity by playing safe. That, however, does not translate to taking undue risk and MacLeod knew exactly how he wanted to build this innings.
Having lost Matthew Cross before he had ticked past zero, MacLeod was patient as he moved into the 20s at run-a-ball. Pushing the bigger team meant making the start count and the carefree attitude post that did help MacLeod eventually.
“I look at that in a funny way. I don’t always score runs. I think I have tons of ducks. When I get to 20-30, I get into a mindset where I have a start – which is not often – and that I need to make it count. I don’t remember being out there worrying about if I would be dismissed,” MacLeod says.
His half-century came up off 36 balls and his century in 70 balls. The work was still half-done, and the middle-order batsman ensured he was out there to push the 300-odd runs in 43 overs to a 370+ total. At the end of the carnage, MacLeod had not only managed 140 off 94 balls on board, but also driven home the point that his team were not going to be bullied.
There still was the knowledge that England could blow them away with the bat on such a wicket and Jonny Bairstow’s whirlwind ton sunk the hopes in the camp to an extent.
“When Bairstow got a 50-ball 100 I thought they were winning in the 30th over (laughs). It was always going to get close. They started really well, we fought back. Before Ali got out, I thought him and Plunkett were taking them home. But Safyaan Sharif bowled the perfect inswinging yorker,” MacLeod recalls.
With just 11 runs needed in the last two overs, Scotland’s win was spurred by a magical over from Safyaan Sharif. Does the fact that they only won by a whisker despite making 371 take the sheen off their performance?
“See, that’s the thing. We knew they had a pretty good batting line-up and that we needed a big score. They expectedly got close. That was the best thing. If they had turned up and not played well, that would have been quite a story too. But, they played well. They made 360-odd in reply. But we had done better. That’s what we want. We want teams to come and play their best cricket so we could try and play better than them. Instead of hoping for them to play badly, we wanted to focus on us playing well.”
MacLeod’s clear thinking and vision for his team speaks volumes about the mindset of an Associate cricketer and team as such. The thirst for getting more games is incredibly high. To put things into perspective, England, their opposition on that day, were scheduled to play 24 ODIs since then to the World Cup in 2019. Scotland had played just one ODI more than that since the 2015 World Cup, only one of them coming against a major Test side.
Since that game against England, Scotland have played just two games – one of them washed out – against a full member side (Sri Lanka against whom they came reasonably close, losing by 35 runs eventually) other than Afghanistan. Talk about dearth of opportunities!
“The more games we get, the more we get to improve. Maybe 10-15 years ago if an Associate team beat a full member, it would have been a surprise. It’s becoming less of a surprise now. The ICC have funded a lot of Associate games. It is frustrating that all these teams have improved but their chances at big tournaments or playing major teams is minimal,” MacLeod says, evidently frustrated by the lack of chances.
Each match is an opportunity for these players to spread more love for the game through their country.
“For Scotland, any time we beat England in a sport, it is big news. I’d say it [the game] raised the profile of cricket in Scotland to an extent. People were talking about it. Obviously, we need to keep beating teams [for sustained interest from home crowd]. We probably should have beat Afghanistan last year. We came close against Sri Lanka too. We just need more cricket. Now, that’s obviously not possible. Nobody is playing cricket. Once we are back after the pandemic, hopefully the WC goes ahead,” MacLeod states, clearly worried that the sweeping pandemic could wash over their once-in-a-bluemoon opportunity.
The glaring shortage of competitive games is compounded by the fact that full member sides do not really want to play the Associate teams, a trend that is likely to spike by leaps and bounds in the period post COVID-19 considering the logistics, quarantine needs and costs that will be needed to stage bilateral games.
England were set to play them every two years which turned into once every four years as they alternated between Ireland and Scotland. Now, that’s unlikely to happen at all.
“A team like New Zealand, Sri Lanka, even Bangladesh were all small teams once. New Zealand took ages to win their first Test match. They now reached two World Cup finals back to back. Sri Lanka won the World Cup. You hope that full members recognise that the more games Associates play, the better the game itself can get, in terms of competition. I think full members have a duty to help Associates grow just like Scotland has a responsibility to give a helping hand to teams lower than us. We all play the same game we love. We should all be looking to try and help each other to help grow the game and bring more people to the sport,” MacLeod says, hopeful of a better world, an ideal one if you may, where nations promote and help in the growth of each other.
For now, that remains a distant dream. There’s no place for them in any major international cricket in the next eight year cycle from 2023-2031 aside from T20 World Cups, which they will have to qualify for again. Australia and New Zealand were scheduled to visit this year but those matches aren’t going ahead with the pandemic in full swing.
One relief from the huge gap between International games is franchise cricket.
“I think franchise cricket is brilliant. Quite a lot of our players have played in the T20 Blast. Some played in the Global T20 Canada last year. I went to the Afghanistan Premier League. It is good for some Associate players to go out there and show the quality we have,” MacLeod says.
He is quick to mention names that have shone in this regard, a sign that he sees the bigger franchise leagues more as an opportunity for Associate cricket to mark their presence rather than just the evident financial benefits that comes with it.
“Ryan ten Doeschate started it. He went to the IPL and learnt so much. He is somebody I look up to. He can surely go and fit into the best leagues in the world. Look at Sandeep Lamichhane now. He did well in the IPL and BBL. The more such players play abroad, the better chances of standard of Associate cricket improving. That in turn paves way for cricket becoming a more global sport, not just among the top 12 teams.”
With their future perennially clouded in doubt, these franchise leagues essentially put food on their plate. As their skipper, Kyle Coetzer, revealed in an earlier conversation with the author, a career with Associate teams isn’t always rewarding, but is fulfilling when you consider how the players are contributing to the development of the sport in not just their own country, but other smaller nations too.
However, at the end of the day, this is a profession for these players and with COVID-19 further denting their chances against major international teams, an influx of smaller franchise leagues and more and more players involving in the same cannot be ruled out. All this means that the landmark game in 2018 could possibly be Scotland’s greatest achievement on the international stage for the next decade at least. They did make it memorable enough to be recounted a million times over.
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