The running joke among cricketers in the past one year or so was that they spent more time in the Gulag than on the field. Hours spent playing Call of Duty was the closest they could get to competitive action with their team mates – albeit virtually. Scotland’s cricketers, including Mark Watt, who last played a game of cricket in December 2019, were no different.
In the context of Associate cricket, teams have often had to wait a significant period between two consecutive series but none as excruciatingly long as 522 days. Logistical challenges during the COVID-enforced lockdown prolonged the period of stasis ensuring even domestic cricket couldn’t be played in Scotland.
The men’s side, having qualified for the T20 World Cup this year, return to action against the Netherlands to play two ODIs in Rotterdam on 19th and 21st May.
As the COVID-19 restrictions relaxed in the UK, the squad returned from furlough and trained for the first time together in April.
‘I think everyone was buzzing to be back and to spend time together as a squad,’ Mark Watt told Emerging Cricket as rain put paid to their training plans on Wednesday. ‘It was good to spend a lot of time with family and go on lots of long walks but I couldn’t wait to get back to cricket.’
‘I made sure that I kept bowling as much as I could when it was allowed. I don’t think there are many adjustments (to be made). It’s just (about) getting more practice in and trying to make training as game-like as possible so you can put yourself under pressure and try to simulate the match scenario as much as possible.’
2019 was a year that brought riches for Watt in national colours. Since his T20I debut in 2015, he has been the leading wicket taker for Scotland and joint-second (35) in ODIs alongside Alasdair Evans and behind only Safyaan Sharif (49)*. 23 of his 45 T20I wickets came in 2019.
The left-arm spinner’s success helped Scotland clinch a berth at the now-rescheduled T20 World Cup during the 2019 Qualifiers in Dubai. His returns of 12 wickets at a frugal economy of 5.85 orchestrated key wins over hosts UAE, Bermuda and Papua New Guinea. In no uncertain terms, he will be a crucial cog in their T20 World Cup campaign this year – Watt’s second.
‘2019 feels like a lifetime ago,’ he says. ‘But I’m still confident with my skills and I think I’ve progressed them even more through the lockdown. I’ve been able to work on different variations and I’m looking forward to putting those into practice in these games (against the Netherlands) and showing them off in the T20 World Cup.’
Having shown their mettle against England at The Grange in 2018, last summer was to provide a rare opportunity to further those credentials by hosting high-profile games against Australia and New Zealand before the pandemic forced the fixtures to be canned.
However, Watt is determined to make up for lost time.
‘The next six months are going to be exciting but also potentially frustrating with COVID-19 still causing issues around travel, so it’s about staying positive and focussed on what we’re trying to achieve,” he said. “Hopefully I can help Scotland achieve a few upsets at the T20 World Cup and see us get as far as possible.’
*ODI stats since Watt’s debut in 2016.
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