Since their last appearance at a major ICC event, the World T20 in 2016, Scotland have built a new reputation as being one of the strongest associate sides, with consistent strong performances against full member teams, characterized by aggressive batting and tight, defensive bowling. But despite most of their success being with traits associated with a strong T20 side, their T20I performances have not to this date matched their potential.
Much of that development came under New Zealander Grant Bradburn, and his successor Shane Burger now faces his first major tournament after a mixed start in charge. Home internationals against Sri Lanka and Afghanistan were heavily rain-affected and their only strong shot at a positive result was also hit by rain as Afghanistan took a win by DLS.
The first round of the new ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 in Aberdeen started poorly as the hosts were upset by Oman, but they quickly regrouped to win all three remaining games, relying heavily on their spinners in an uncharacteristically dry northern pitch. But they can take positives out of how well the group reacted to early defeat, particularly the leadership shown by their finger spin quartet of Mark Watt, Tom Sole, Hamza Tahir and all-rounder Michael Leask as they took the initiative and showed how to bowl tight on a spin-conducive surface, something they are likely to encounter in Dubai.
Tahir, cousin of former stalwart Majid Haq, made his ODI debut in that series and has claimed 17 international wickets at 12.11, more than twice the haul of any other Scottish bowler. The absence of a wrist spin option in a format and country conducive to the form may be a missing piece, although Mark Watt is known to throw in some left arm wrist spinners into his usual diet of orthodox.
The most major new addition to the squad is the return of their leading wicket taker at the 2015 World Cup, Josh Davey, after over two years away from the national team. The Aberdeen-born bowler has been a fringe player for Somerset in all forms during his absence, and his return to internationals comes after some breakthrough performances for Somerset’s first team, including a game-defining maiden first class five wicket haul in their penultimate championship game, as they pushed towards an unlikely first title.
However, he did not feature at all during Somerset’s up-down Vitality Blast campaign, with his only 20 over appearances of the summer coming for the 2nd XI, with a respectable 13 wickets in 9 games at 19.53. But despite lack of high-level T20 recently, Davey’s experience in both county and internationals will be a welcome addition to an increasingly versatile Scottish bowling attack.
The team’s major T20 preparation for the qualifier, minus Davey, came in the form of a hastily arranged tri-series with Ireland and the Netherlands at Malahide, with Scotland showing promising if mixed performances throughout, before losing to Ireland by the slimmest of margins in a winner-takes-all final contest. Rotating the team throughout in an attempt to find the correct team balance, they were left more or less where they started due to mixed performances from most involved.
Scotland’s top order batting, the highlight of their famous win over England, is becoming one of the most intimidating in associate cricket, and the use of big hitting George Munsey as an opener alongside captain Kyle Coetzer in recent games shows that they intend to dominate the power play as early as possible. The pair put on a record 200 opening stand against the Netherlands in the tri-series, with Munsey finishing unbeaten on 127 from 56 balls. Many of the Scotland squad featured in this summer’s Global T20 Canada, with Munsey standing out in particular, hitting 174 runs at a strike rate of 165 while opening for the Brampton Wolves.
Munsey’s opening slot does put Matthew Cross’ position under question as the team have been reluctant to bat him down the order in T20s due to his lower strike rate. Both Cross and Craig Wallace, a more natural lower order batsman, have been used as the gloveman in recent games in a range of positions, and it could be that both feature with and without the gloves in the tournament.
The recall of Oli Hairs after almost a decade out of the international game is one that seems to be to bolster their aggressive batting even more. The left hander’s inclusion comes after a bumper year in Scotland’s domestic circuit, hitting 458 runs at 65.43 for Eastern Knights in limited overs games, as well as 555 runs at 61.67 for club side Grange, being comfortably the highest run scorer across all domestic competitions in the summer. A hyper-aggressive batsman, it’s likely that he will be used as a luxury lower middle order player in the closing overs of an innings.
Although the Scottish team is far from settled in terms of an obvious first choice XI, they have enough talent in all areas to win matches comfortably, if the correct team balance can be found. They should be comfortably able to find enough performances to qualify through to the competition proper, but if they can settle on the right combination, an outright tournament win is not beyond them.