Scotland’s disappointing silence

Kyle Coetzer sat in silence. They all did. No one wanted to talk. There were no coach speeches. People kept out of each other’s way. It was solemn. It was quiet. It was disappointing. It was Scotland losing another World Cup match. It was Scotland losing a World Cup match they should have never lost. It was the silence of a team who have not won a World Cup match, and may never do.

The silence of losing what they most wanted by a wicket.

“We had tasted the victory,” was how Preston Mommsen put it. The aftertaste of the loss might never go away. This silence might be the closest they get.

Not much was expected of Scotland coming into this tournament. Ireland and Afghanistan were well known; UAE and Scotland were the other guys. Scottish cricket has never truly been anything to write home about. They spent years as just a minor county in English cricket. A feeder club. Until 1992 they were run by the TCCB, forerunner to the ECB. Until 1994 they were not an ICC member.

When kids grow up in Scotland, if they know of cricket at all, they want to play for England. According to the book Second XI there are 60,000 players in Scotland. The list of players who have worn the Scotland shirt include Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Malcolm Marshall and Rahul Dravid. Even George Bailey and Ed Cowan have played for them. But in internationals, their biggest names are Dougie Brown and Gavin Hamilton.

Scottish cricket has often had no identity, no drive and little progressive administration. Their current team and officials look over at the brilliant job Cricket Ireland has done with envy and admiration. There are few conversations with them where they don’t bring up Ireland.

Scotland’s cricket is still run in an archaic way, like much of cricket, which benefits the voting clubs but not the game itself. They were very late to embrace professionalism and, even now they have done, their players make less than most county contracts. Keith Oliver is their chairman and, in the absence of a CEO, acting CEO as well.

It was Oliver who supported the big three’s takeover at the ICC. Despite the fact it was clearly not in the best interests of cricket and, more importantly, Associate cricket, the big three could say they had the support of at least one Associate.

For his trouble Oliver lost his position as an Associate Member representative on the ICC’s executive board. Now it seems that he will lose his chairmanship of Scottish cricket as well. But not before receiving an OBE for his services to Scottish cricket. Giles Clarke, who as ECB chairman was one of the brains behind the big three takeover, was on the nomination committee.

Some in Scottish cricket hope that Oliver takes that honour and moves aside, allowing for more dynamic and business-savvy people to come in and finally move the game ahead.

At one of many formal engagements for the Scottish team on this tour, Oliver wore tartan trousers, swore casually with the players, and generally acted less like a chairman of a World Cup nation and more like a happy old man at a wedding.

The Scottish team has had many formal functions. This one was to celebrate the link between Scottish and Tasmanian cultures. It had a bagpiper, who was born in the Netherlands, a joke about haggis, a joke about minnows, the Premier of Tasmania, a few British consulate types and whisky. The free bar was taken over by the players, who drank, poured and educated on the Scottish – oddly not Tasmanian – whisky. For some of these players, this tour is an opportunity they will never get again.

Mommsen spoke at this event. Mommsen has spoken at a lot of events. Perhaps the best was at Dunedin, when he referred to Dunedin’s Octagon as “the Hexagon”.

Mommsen has also managed to stuff up not one but two handshakes with opposition captains at this World Cup. His double-take with Eoin Morgan, where he went to shake Morgan’s hand and then seemed to turn his back in disgust just at the time Morgan finally saw him and tried to shake his hand, went viral.

Mommsen’s tournament started much the same way. He was out the first ball he faced. “I kind of went to the crease with the view of trying to steady the ship. That idea quickly got shot down.” New Zealand had Scotland 12 for 4 before Matt Machan and Richie Berrington made runs.

Berrington has the name and appearance of a character in Happy Days; Machan is an emotional young player from Sussex. “County cricket is more of a stepping stone to international cricket, so I have that advantage over some of the other guys,” he said. “You do face quality bowlers there, although not as many. But this is different. It’s on TV, cameras, the whole audience.”

They took Scotland to 109 for 4. They both made fifties. The rest of their team added less than 50 combined.

Rob Taylor opened the bowling for Scotland. He is a Leicestershire player. But this was Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor. In his second over in World Cup cricket, he had McCullum dropped.

“I only got to bowl the one spell up top. I had McCullum dropped. If that goes to hand then I might have had a different day, and be playing more games.” Instead, Scotland dropped Taylor and he was only brought back for the Sri Lanka game.

There was a time, even with Scotland’s pathetic total, that New Zealand would have felt slightly nervous. New Zealand pushed hard for a great net run rate; too hard. Scotland kept finding wickets. With 26 to get and five wickets down, Corey Anderson hit the ball straight to fine leg. Iain Wardlaw dropped it.

“At the time, when you get them six or seven down, a couple of good balls or thin edges and all of a sudden they are nine down,” Coetzer said at the time. “The margins of the game are so small sometimes.” It was Scotland’s first sliding door of the tournament.

England were beaten by New Zealand even more convincingly. They looked broken and battered. Scotland had high hopes of a shock. Moeen Ali was almost caught. Ian Bell was almost out lbw. A fielder was almost on the rope for a catch. Scotland were almost in the game.

England’s frigid nature meant that a total of 350, or even 400, became just 303. Scotland had never scored over 200 in a World Cup match, but this felt different, this felt possible. The team that many of the players had grown up wanting to play for had given them something they could chase.

Scotland lost three wickets in their first 54 runs. But then Coetzer was joined by Mommsen. “We were getting ourselves in a good position, Preston had been through a tough time in the middle, and was just getting through the other side of it,” Coetzer said.

“I top-edged a sweep off Joe Root,” Mommsen said, “which sort of opened the door.” What if he and Coetzer had continued? “At that stage the run rate was just picking up at seven and a half. You look back at occasions in the tournament.”

The second sliding door was gone.

“If we had won the toss we would have bowled,” said the captain. But Scotland were sent in on a fresh wicket against Afghanistan. At 40 for 3, Machan joined Mommsen. Machan is pure bouncing energy at the crease. He looks like the sort of batsman who could handle bowling at any level but often finds himself out between 30 and 60.

While his team-mates were struggling against the Afghanistan pacers and the moving ball, Machan had raced to 31. “I was just in a sort of frame of mind where I wanted to push the scoring and I thought, on that day, Mohammad Nabi was the weakest bowler in their attack.”

Machan’s backing-away attempt at an aerial cover drive brought down his off stump. “Hindsight is a brilliant thing as a batter. Looking back, it wasn’t the right option at the right time.”

Thanks to a ninth-wicket partnership of 62 between Ali Evans and Majid Haq, Scotland had 210. It wasn’t a big score, but against Afghanistan on this kind of pitch, they thought it was enough. Afghanistan was a team Scotland knew, not hoped, they could beat. No matter what total they made, they believed that on a wicket where the ball was moving they could beat them.

Barely a month earlier in Abu Dhabi, Scotland had struggled to 213 against Afghanistan on a wicket with seam movement. Afghanistan were 38 for 0 in the chase and all out for 63. The only man after the openers to make double figures was a guy called Samiullah Shenwari. Wardlaw took four wickets. Josh Davey took six.

In Dunedin, Afghanistan started well again, then they lost five for 12. The score was 97 for 7. The game was over. “I thought, I genuinely thought, we were gonna win from there,” a still disbelieving Coetzer said. Machan added: “I thought we had it in the bag.”

“He nicked one to slip and it didn’t go to hand,” is how Mommsen puts the Shenwari chance. It didn’t go to hand because Haq didn’t put his hand on a very catchable chance. This was just at the start of the collapse. It meant very little right then. An hour later, as Shenwari farmed the strike, saw off Berrington, and put on a partnership with Dawlat Zadran, it meant everything.

Eventually Dawlat was dismissed. But Shenwari continued. With the end in sight, Shenwari made his move in an over bowled by the man who had missed him: Haq. If any Scottish player had approached cult status at this point in the tournament, it was Haq. He is the most capped Scottish player. And his offspin is something you can discuss amply in the time between it leaving his hand and reaching the batsman. Haq almost seems to stop time as he bowls the ball. It is not a call on his quality, and he probably bowls no slower than spinners throughout the years. But in modern cricket, Haq is slow. Very slow.

Haq inspired the hashtag #things2dobetweenmajidreleasingballanditreachingbatsman on Twitter. Despite his pace, or even because of it, he was very hard to get away throughout the tournament.

Shenwari’s innings had also been fairly slow until then. He had allowed the run rate to get past him. Haq coming back on was bound to change his mindset.

“I was sat in the dugout with the other lads,” Taylor said. “Majid came on to bowl the over to Shenwari, I turned around to Michael Leask and said the game was being won or lost in this over. Shenwari took three sixes, and I thought that was it. Then he got out and they needed 19 and suddenly it was all in the balance a little bit.”

Leask couldn’t handle the tension. “We won it and lost it six or seven times in that day. I’m one of those guys who gets very nervous and have to pick up things. I played with a rugby ball, I just couldn’t leave it alone.”

Shenwari’s wicket left 19 runs to get and one wicket in hand. Scotland still should have won. Shapoor Zadran looked a candidate for an lbw any ball. The runs needed were greater than the balls left. It would only take one ball.

In October, on their pre-World Cup tour, Scotland had experienced something like this. “We had a similar sort of situation against a New Zealand XI,” Taylor recalled. “They had a pretty much full-strength New Zealand side out, minus a couple of bowlers, but we were very much in the hunt in that game. We needed four in the last over and didn’t manage to get over the line.” Scotland lost by a run.

With five balls left, Afghanistan needed four runs. Wardlaw’s delivery crashed into Shapoor’s pad, then bounced out on the leg side. Shapoor took off. Machan sprinted in and had a full look at the stumps from little more than two metres away. “The game is ours if we hit,” Mommsen said.

Machan misses another sliding door.

Next ball, Shapoor shuffles across and hits a boundary. Afghanistan, not Scotland, win their first game in a World Cup.

Mommsen said: “It was a very quiet place.” Coetzer: “I just sat down in silence, thinking ‘What happened?'” Leask: “I tried to leave them to their own space.” Taylor: “We didn’t talk a whole lot in that time.”

“It took me probably a good four to five days to get over it,” Machan said. “We put so much effort and so much emphasis on that game. We knew that the first two games would be tough. We thought that, if we win this, we go to the Bangladesh game, and then you never know what happens in the last two. And then to get that close, and to have it taken away from you…”

Scotland had lost a game before that they should have won. In their first World Cup, back in 1999.

Bangladesh were not yet a Test nation and at Grange CC in Edinburgh, they were 26 for 5. Nineteen runs later, Minhajul Abedin edged to slip and was dropped. Scotland never took his wicket. Bangladesh limped to 185.

At 83 for 6, Scotland looked done. But Gavin Hamilton was in the middle of a fine World Cup and he got 63 as Scotland made it to 138 without further mishaps. He played so well that tournament, scoring more than any English batsman, that he would be picked for England straight afterwards, before the yips ended his career prematurely.

At the other end was Scotland’s keeper Alec Davies. Davies received a length ball that he tried to bludgeon down the ground. He got a bit of it, and then so did the bowler, Manjural Islam. And then so did the stumps. When the replays were looked at, Hamilton was out.

Bangladesh beat Pakistan as well in that tournament. The following year they were given Test status. Scotland would miss the next World Cup. They had just found their first sliding door.

Scottish cricket is finally professional. But it is not professional in the way that England, or even Sri Lanka, are professional. Even with some centralised contracts, unless you are playing county cricket you aren’t playing first-class cricket, you’re playing in the North Sea Pro series, a four-team competition that includes the Dutch.

The entire Scottish squad is so small that when Berrington ripped the sole off the bottom of his shoe – and nearly his entire foot from his leg – against Sri Lanka, Scotland only had one person come out to see to him. Had that happened to Trent Boult, New Zealand would have sent an army of medics.

At training Scotland have done some horrible slip practice, but often it’s their analyst giving the catches, when he can lay bat on ball. The media manager was part of a visualisation exercise before Leask’s first game. And he was facing up left-handed, despite the fact he is right-handed.

Later Paul Collingwood, one of the Scotland assistant coaches, was taking some balls from another spinner out on the pitch. He missed one and had to chase it. There was only one ball. At times it feels like there is only ever one ball.

When Mommsen was asked, “How are you preparing for Lasith Malinga?” his initial answer was, “We have Paul Collingwood.” It sounded funny, but the sight of Collingwood at the top of his run doing the Malinga pre-ball ritual then jogging in before slinging the ball with bowling slingshot to replicate the delivery was actually quite sad.

Everything always seemed to be stacked against them. But it was clear they were the best Scotland team that had ever played in a World Cup. Seventy-six from Hamilton was the highest score from a Scotsman in a World Cup before this tournament. Coetzer doubled it.

His 156 against Bangladesh is something that in years to come young Scottish players will talk about as their inspiration. “One of our boys goes out there and scores 150 against a Full Member nation,” Mommsen said. “That was a huge moment for Scottish cricket.” Scotland made 318. This could finally be their time.

“Kyle with his 150,” Taylor said, “means we can compete at this level. We are good enough. We’re proving that we are good enough. We are not here to make up the numbers, which a lot of people may have thought at the start of the tournament.”

Wardlaw bounced Tamim Iqbal. It was a good bouncer, high and outside off. “Tamim Iqbal hooking early on to fine leg,” Mommsen recalled, “and fine leg was about a metre in from the rope and it just dropped over the rope, again highlighting the fine margin. If our man was on the rope it was going down his throat and Tamim is gone for 15.”

That sliding door had Tamim scoring another 80 runs. When Tamim was finally gone, Bangladesh were beyond 200.

Scotland’s sliding doors were all gone. All that was left was Kumar Sangakkara and Mitchell Starc.

Davey would become the leading wicket-taker in the tournament during the game against Sri Lanka, but not before Dilshan had gone down on one knee to sweep him, then saw it was short and played a pull shot while kneeling – and still hit him for six.

Leask would bowl very few bad balls but one of his good balls would disappear against Sangakkara. “I’d done him twice the two balls before. And the next ball he ran down and hit me for six. I looked and went, phew. I thought I’d done him as well, as I’d bowled outside leg and he still hit me for six over extra cover. I couldn’t quite believe it. That’s the man, though, isn’t it?”

Taylor didn’t have much more luck against Sangakkara. “I remember the first ball at Kumar, and it just seemed he had forever. The ball just [slaps his hand]… right out of the middle of the bat. You can’t mistake it: the man is in the form of his life. I probably had one of the best seats in the house, getting to bowl the ball at him.”

Despite missing three straight games, it was Taylor, with a point to prove to the selectors, who showed his class. “When a side takes you for 360 and you only go for 48 of them you’ve got to be pretty happy with that.”

Matthew Cross was outstanding again. He seemed to be up at the stumps more than he was standing back. One lap-sweep almost landed in his hands as his anticipation and athleticism almost pulled off one of the great catches.

When Machan was given out lbw, and then his review was dismissed, he stormed from the field. Earlier that day he was kicking at the dirt in an over where Angelo Mathews was hitting him for six at will. When he eventually got Mathews, and the cameraman caught him for the inaugural wicket close-up, Machan ran past him. “I just wanted to get off the field rather than showing disgust in front of the TV.”

But the biggest disappointment wasn’t on the field, it was off it. Instead of helping young Leask in his first World Cup game, Haq was insinuating racism. His tweet about it led to him going home early. Haq had already been disciplined for previous tweets.

Head coach Grant Bradburn said Haq had “contravened the values of the side and contravened the values of Cricket Scotland”. So instead of watching his team play without him, he was on a plane back to Scotland.

In a press conference about the team, Mommsen referred to “the 15 of us”, before remembering and changing it to 14. When Mommsen talked to the BBC he used the word “disappointing”.

Coming into the tournament, the batsmen most people were keen to watch was Calum MacLeod. A man who remade his career as a batsman after his bowling action was found to be illegal. These days he is a top-order batsman for Durham. His recent batting performances for Scotland have been amazing, including a 175 against Canada, a hundred against Ireland, and a hundred in a warm-up match.

His first ball against Australia was his 45th of the tournament. After six balls against the Australians he had 12 runs. It was his top score in the tournament. It looked as if, finally, MacLeod would stand up the way the rest of Scotland’s top order had at various points.

Instead, MacLeod smashed a short ball straight at point. His World Cup was 48 runs off 63 balls at an average of 8.

Davey, a batsman who became a bowler, would end with 15 wickets in the tournament. His last three balls went six, four, beautiful yorker. Coetzer scored 253 runs in the tournament. He had the same total after four matches.

The penultimate ball of Scotland’s World Cup was a fast wide sent down by Leask. Cross’ footwork was beautiful, his hands even better, and he took the ball cleanly before looking for the stumping. This encapsulated Scotland. They showed glimpses of quality even in the worst moments.

Ultimately though, they were disappointing.

It was disappointing to drop Anderson. Disappointing that Mommsen was out to Root. Disappointing that they couldn’t get one more wicket against Afghanistan. Disappointing that they missed Tamim early on. Disappointing that Haq had to go home as his team played Sri Lanka. Disappointing that Australia were in such a hurry.

Preston Mommsen’s first line in his last press conference this World Cup started with: “It was very disappointing…”

There is an alternate universe where Scotland just lost to New Zealand by a wicket, almost chased down England’s total, beat Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and performed at their best against Sri Lanka and Australia.

That they didn’t was down to “fine margins”, “bad luck” and “how cricket goes”. They performed better than most people thought they could, but worse than they actually should have.

Due to reasons beyond their control, Scotland may never play in another World Cup. They’ll remember all the what-ifs in this one, and that one long disappointing silence that may never end.

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