Calum MacLeod: Scotland’s metronome key to more World Cup victories

Calum MacLeod has seen so much cricket, on and off the field, but there are still moments which make him pinch himself and revel in delight. 

Among those was the opportunity to play at Lord’s in the T20 Blast in July and the return of international cricket at The Grange last month. 

The amazement of walking out on the hallowed Lord’s turf on a Friday evening was explained partly by how sudden the prospect to do so had come about. The magnitude of the occasion was compounded further by doing so alongside Safyaan Sharif and George Munsey with the goal of ensuring a home quarter-final for Kent.

The Scottish trio was signed up by the county as last-minute replacements after several members of their first-choice squad were forced to self-isolate having been identified as close contacts of an unnamed team-mate who had tested positive for Covid-19.

‘Playing for Kent, it’s where I live and where my son was born, it’s close to being my home county and it was certainly a special moment,’ MacLeod told Emerging Cricket.

‘Any opportunity to play at Lord’s is a fabulous opportunity. It’s something that I’ll cherish. To go there with the Kent squad, George and Saffy and win at Lord’s on a Friday night in front of a packed crowd, it was definitely a night I’m not going to forget.’

The 77-run win ensured top spot in the South Group and a home quarter-final for the eventual champions. Across two games, Sharif sent down overs at a miserly economy of just over five while MacLeod was the highest scorer in a four-wicket loss to Sussex at Canterbury. 

The stint, albeit a short one, was not only a reward for consistency on the international stage but also an opportunity to regain the lost rhythm and momentum due to the pandemic. The T20Is against Zimbabwe last week were the first Scotland played since the T20 World Cup Qualifiers in the UAE in 2019.

‘In the last two years, we haven’t played a lot of cricket so getting these opportunities to go and play a high standard of cricket it keeps you ticking over,’ said MacLeod.

‘It also allows you to see how other teams, countries and players are approaching T20. At Sussex, there were quite a few players who had been to franchise tournaments so I was able to hear the way they went about their cricket and take some of the ideas to what we are doing with Scotland.’

‘The way Saffy bowled was outstanding and obviously George kicked on in his role in the one-day cup averaging 60. It just shows the opportunities are there if guys can go and take them.’

MacLeod knows whence he speaks of having set multiple precedences in that regard. On the back of a historic, match-winning 140* against England in Edinburgh, he was signed up by Derbyshire for the T20 Blast in 2019. Opening the batting, he featured in all their group games and went on to score a 61-ball 104 against Northamptonshire.

Scotland's Calum MacLeod (ICC)
Macleod bats against Bermuda at the ICC T20 World Cup Qualifier (Photo: ICC)

He has batted in the lower middle order for Kent and Sussex after top order roles for Derbyshire and Durham. Kent was MacLeod’s fifth county and with every team having their own combinations, he has had to adapt to different batting positions and roles as a result.

‘Yeah, it’s a bit different but even then it’s a learning,’ he said. ‘We speak a lot about having a flexible batting order with Scotland and having different options.’ 

‘It’s not something I have done a huge amount so to go into those high-pressure games and bat in those positions, it was certainly something I went away and learnt about myself and about the game. I came back and i’m working hard with Shane (Burger) on some different ideas for potentially doing that role for Scotland.’

He batted particularly well against Sussex leg-spinners Will Beer and Rashid Khan and while it proved to be immaterial in the context of the result, the game time against spin was invaluable keeping in mind the challenges Oman and the UAE can serve over the course of next month. 

‘Anytime you play one of the best bowlers in the world and if you’ve got memories of playing them well, I think you have to lean on them. I know he (Khan) remembered it because he mentioned it and that felt like I was able to put some pressure back on him. Obviously he bowled really well and got Sussex into a position where they won the game against us so it wasn’t as good as that game in Bulawayo but certainly nice to come up against him.’

MacLeod’s role as a T20 anchor in the Scottish side is not quite an enamoured prospect usually but one that could prove to be of great importance on weary pitches that could aid turn. A simulation of conditions expected in the UAE and Oman was apparent in their preparation in the past couple of months.

One of the more pleasing aspects of training with an enlarged 40-member squad at Goldenacre either side of the Kent stint was the opportunity to interact with younger players coming through the ranks, a marker of unprecedented depth in Scottish cricket.

‘Yeah it’s brilliant to see,’ he agreed. ‘It’s something we have been crying out for ages. I think that’s a testament to the Regional Pro series and the amount of time, energy and effort that’s being put into it. There’s still a long way to make it an even better competition but it shows the depth that we have and the opportunity for guys to go in and perform.’ 

‘It’s an excellent opportunity for them to get into the 40-man squad and once you’re there, it’s about trying to do it again and making the squad in the future.’

The T20 World Cup next month will be MacLeod’s third in a career that began in 2008. To recall his first World Cup appearance in 2009, one must trawl back over a decade ago in a different trouser leg of time when he used to open the bowling, trying to land it on a sixpence and bat at No. 11. The six-year gap between then and the 50-over edition in 2015 saw MacLeod build his batting technique from basics and emerge as their second highest run-scorer in ODIs and third in T20 Internationals. 

MacLeod’s has been a long-winding journey and one suspects the World Cup next month is an important pitstop along the way.

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