Scotland sizzle, Windies whimper at the T20 World Cup

HOBART, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 17: Mark Watt of Scotland celebrates with teammates after running out Akeal Hosein of the West Indies during the ICC Men's T20 World Cup match between West Indies and Scotland at Bellerive Oval on October 17, 2022 in Hobart, Australia. (Photo by Steve Bell - ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

Tasmania is not the same sort of island as those that make up the nations of the West Indies. It’s huge, green, cold, sparsely populated and often ignored, even by its own country. The more you describe it, the more it begins to sound like Scotland. And on a cold Monday night, through intermittent rain, frigid temperatures and sparse support, the Scotland men’s cricket team, made this distant land one they will never forget.

At first, the boundaries came in groups. First from Mike Jones, coming into the side on the back of his first genuinely strong first-class season with Durham, with two consecutive soft pushes to the cover fence. Then from George Munsey, flicked to the leg side fence only yards short of two more. Then it was Munsey again, three of them this time, and the clutch of Scottish supporters in the Bellerive Oval members zone began to murmur in confidence.

But then the rains came, as they had threatened to do all morning. Less rain so much as moderate ambient drizzle, the kind the Scottish players will no doubt be familiar with. With one corner of the sky permanently painted blue, a restart was not in any doubt, but the conversation in the lounge slowly turned towards just how they would restart. The scoreboard stood fixed on 52/0, but with boom-or-bust player like Munsey carrying it, there was no way of knowing how the resumption would fare.

When it came, it was slow. And not just the scoring – a review that West Indies immediately realised was futile led to a farcical two minutes of Jason Holder at the top of his mark – having into place before the completion of the review, but waiting for the TV ads to play out before starting. Jones went two balls later, trying to work a ball legside and being fooled by Holder’s consistent seam movement. It was the first sign of Bellerive’s famed seam assistance, perhaps livened up by the fresh moisture.

The slow surface then accounted for Matthew Cross, who toe-ended multiple short balls as they held in the pitch, eventually sending one to Shamarh Brooks at mid-on. By this point, it was 11/2 from 17 balls. Scotland’s new captain Berrington nearly suffered the same fate twice off Odeon Smith, as pull shots became harder to land, leading to floating midwicket opportunities. One of which, three overs later against Alzarri Joseph, found the catcher with ease. West Indies had found their tactic, and Scotland hadn’t got far enough ahead before they began to succumb to it.

The scoreboard speedo reads 144 as Alzarri Joseph thunders in, but that only tells half the story. The ball is gripping and sticking and using the pace of the ball is not an option. By the time the lights at the oval twinkle on and George Munsey hobbles uncharacteristically past fifty, only one six has been hit – off a spinner and onto the roof. But even a damped, sticky 144kph can rush a player who is not used to it, and Scotland have precious little experience against such bowlers.

There was to be no aggressive flurry towards the end, as it seemed no one quite knew how to do it. Calum MacLeod tried to flirt with reverse sweeping before he departed and Chris Greaves went with aimless swinging for the ropes before the bowlers worked out how to get them past the flashing blade. In the final over, Munsey finally hit his seventh boundary, the first since the sixth-over rain break, finishing with a shockingly un-Munsean 66 from 53, and that bolstered by some poor bowling in the final over.

It was tough going. But at least Scotland had been out there for 5.2 overs before the rains came.

Although the beginnings to Richie Berrington’s captaincy tenure have been mixed, there’s no denying he embodies the mantle when in the field. Throwing himself at the ball and making mutliple run-saving stops, he led a notably superior fielding presence in the opening third that led to an unbelievable over the shoulder catch from George Munsey to remove a hotting up Kyle Mayers.

But the high octane fielding from Berrington was deflated by some low octane tactics. While the West Indian bowlers found success by digging in and using the mixed pace of the pitch, Josh Davey and Safyaan Sharif opened with a pitch-it-up tactic that saw them flogged for plenty off not many. Mark Watt, having delivered another one of his miserly opening overs, could only watch.

And after 5.2 overs, whence the rain had fell in the first innings, West Indies had matched Scotland’s 53.

Neither Mark Watt nor Michael Leask really spin the ball, but that’s not really the point of them. It’s about subtle, last split second variation. It’s about putting just enough spin to stick in the surface and cause checked swings. It’s about bowling from 24 yards, for a laugh. They’re frustrating and aren’t anywhere near as hittable as you’d initially think, because of just how quick they are.

The fast spin/slow seam lid came on, and tight. The urge to cut low, skiddy, 105kph darts accounted for Brandon King and then Nicholas Pooran, with only binary balls between them. And even as pace was reintroduced, with a slightly more refined approach, the lid stayed on. Leask got his second the first ball after the break, an attempted release shot from Rovman Powell caught on the rope. The boundaries wouldn’t come, and the West Indians resorted to angled taps down to third man.

And then the killing blow came. Shamarh Brooks flicked one into the legside off Brad Wheal. It was an innocuous shot, the kind of strike rotating tap that him and Jason Holder had been running for a couple of overs. No one in the crowd thought much of it, until they saw who was charging in from the boundary. At full pelt, the most animated man in Tasmania flew in and smothered the ball inches from the ground. It wasn’t the biggest wicket, nor the one that ultimately sealed the game, but it was a statement. Catches win matches, as they say in Australia, and Scotland had put in a near perfect fielding performance to knock over a team that allowed runs from overthrows multiple times.

Scotland had never played West Indies in a T20. In ODIs only thrice, all losses. This was a win that didn’t feel like a surprise or a momentous occasion, both due to Scotland’s steady rise as well as West Indies’ steady decline. But in the history of the sport this remains a significant one. One of the former greats, a team etched into the folklore of the sport, being beaten by a long-neglected old guard, at the first time of asking.

After Namibia beat Sri Lanka in the opening fixture, the conversation from those who know both teams was similar – we know they can do it, it’s just whether they’ll do it first time up, on the big stage. For associate teams, often your first shot is your only shot, and Scotland knew that this opening match could well decide when they go home. But all that pressure, preparation and planning paid off as they rode the low points in a game they could well have lost to a deceivingly comfortable scoreline of 42 runs.

It ended with another catch. Perfect in the field. Michael Leask even failed to screw up a run out, believing he had missed until proven otherwise. And Scotland, who went without a win in global events until 2016, beat the team that won the first two. At the first time of asking.

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