Scotland’s lasting silence

Second ball George Munsey tried to reverse sweep. Third ball as well. The fourth ball he smashed a reverse sweep. The fifth ball as well. Scotland were chasing 147. Scotland were trying to make some noise.

The last ball of the first over Munsey came down the wicket. He looked lost the minute he left his crease. Whatever shot he had in his mind, whatever fantasy of destruction was playing, out on the field there was a confused batsman, way out of his crease, trying to invent a shot that would save him. It didn’t.

For Scotland, nothing ever saves them.

Twenty games. That is how many times Scotland have lined up in a major ICC tournament. One has been washed out. 19 have been lost. Twenty matches in 17 years, scattered around when they somehow qualify by overcoming years of amateur, shambolic administration, or when the ICC allow enough spots for them to claw their themselves into.

Eleven of those were colossal smashings. Bowled out for 68 against the West Indies in the 99 World Cup. Making 136 against Netherlands, and having it chased in 23.5 overs in the 2007 World Cup. And losing a T20 game by 130 runs to South Africa.

They have also gone close. In the ’99 World Cup they were chasing a low Bangladesh total confidently before they collapsed horrendously. They had Pakistan 116 for 6 in their first game of the ’07 WT20 before Pakistan regrouped. New Zealand only beat them by three wickets in the 2015 World Cup, and they made Bangladesh chase over 300 to beat them. And then there was Afghanistan in the same tournament.

Their 210 total seemed safe when Afghanistan fell to 132 for 8. It felt safe again, after a small scare, when it was 192 for 9. It wasn’t. Afghanistan won their first ever match in a World Cup, and the Scottish changeroom went into the eerie silence they know too well.

Their fans live with this, many of them travelling to these games. They are passionate, loud, and used to disappointment. Their off field organisation has improved so much in the last year that it’s like this is a different set up. They have never been closer to professional.

And this may be the best group Scotland has ever produced. A group that since the last World Cup has played in one ODI. This is a proper cricket country, with a long history, hungry to improve and embarrassed to be the world record holders for the most losses without a win in a major ICC tournament.

Kenya, Canada, Netherlands, UAE, Hong Kong and now even Oman have won matches. But Scotland just don’t win.

In the first game of this tournament they were smashing Afghanistan around everywhere. Eighty-four runs without loss from 8.4 overs, chasing 160. Captain Preston Mommsen called it a “world class partnership”. The next ball they lost a wicket. It took them nine overs to hit a boundary after that; they ended up 14 runs short of a total they had almost broken the back of.

Today Zimbabwe made it to 147. Scotland weren’t perfect in the field, they dropped Sean Williams which cost them. Matthew Cross, their gun keeper, let a ball go straight through his legs and fumbled another. Even their one great highlight, the catch of Michael Leask, came about because he dropped a simple chance.

When batting, after Munsey’s wicket, Scotland kept attacking. Michael Leask, who’d been sent up the order to make some noise, moved down the wicket confidently, swung his bat beautifully, and stared straight down the ground hopefully, where he was aiming. Behind him the bails were taken off. It was almost as if he was staring at some alternate reality where things went Scotland’s way.

Scotland lost four wickets by the 19th ball. The press scorer had no time to announce them one by one, and instead grouped all four of them together.

But Scotland didn’t roll over. They kept fighting, and with Mommsen and Richie Berrington at the crease they got back in charge, and got themselves in a position to win. Even after Mommsen was out, even after Scotland had lost, Mommsen was still fighting. He laughed off thoughts that this was anything but a qualifying event. And then spoke about life as an Associate.

“I don’t think people understand the pressure that comes from being an Associate team. Every time you take the field, no matter what kind of cricket, T20, ODI or four-day cricket, you are playing for something. You’re playing for money, you’re playing for funding, you’re playing for opportunity. Associate cricket is about winning at all costs, and that is the nature of the beast, and it is a beast.” He was right, but his comments won’t make much of a noise in this tournament.

When he found cover, his team needed 55 off 35 balls with five wickets in hand. There was still some fight left and with Josh Davey hitting big, Scotland then needed 24 from 13 when Donald Tiripano bowled a slow half-tracker to Richie Berrington.

A limp ball, a limp shot, and ultimately a limp finish.

After the last wicket, when Ali Evans stumps were in random areas behind him, he just stayed on his knee. Staring. Not moving. Even when Mark Watt walked over to him he didn’t talk. They just shared the silence. Scotland’s silence.

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