When the first Test between the West Indies and England gets underway on January 23 at Bridgetown, England’s long-term opening bowlers Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad will be on a combined total of 998 Test wickets.
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After the brave World Cup qualifying campaign ended in the heartbreak of a Blocker Wilson howler, rain and Duckworth Lewis calculations, this was our World Cup Final.
With so few guaranteed fixtures on the horizon, the sole One Day International that England deign to give Scotland every four years formed not only the marquee fixture of the season but probably the entire ODI season.
Cricket has been played in Scotland for more than 225 years and has retains a strong community of die-hards if not necessarily a mainstream presence. Scotland even beat Australia in 1882 shortly before the creation of the Ashes, albeit the batting order of the Australians that day suggested it may not have been an entirely serious fixture.
Scotland has also provided fine Test cricketers such as like Gregor MacGregor, Ian Peebles and Mike Denness while the likes of Archie Jackson, Douglas Jardine and Tony Greig have strong Scottish links.
That Scotland’s current team has the capabilities to defeat more widely recognised outfits is not in doubt. From just a handful of matches in the last year alone we have beaten Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. But to actually defeat the number one ranked team in the world, not once during a laborious five or seven match bi-lateral series, but in a single one-off encounter, so many things have to go right – the Scottish weather being one of them.
Being of Scottish heritage, Scotland has been my designated team ever since I tuned into Australia’s opening game of the 1999 World Cup and somewhat bizarrely found the likes of Steve Waugh, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Ricky Ponting pitted against a team mostly comprised amateurs on ODI debut.
They were far from disgraced that day and in the years since the squad has become mostly professional, albeit still modestly paid.
Merely competing and saving face against the big teams is no longer the goal. Coach Grant Bradburn has been instrumental in giving players belief and the ability to take the game on.
Skipper Kyle Coetzer explained on Cricinfo “if we actually want to beat top teams and some of the best out there, what we have to do is not be scared to fail – not just keep playing a safe brand of cricket but play a brand of cricket that will give us a chance to win big games.”
With that, I sat nervously among the long-suffering fans at the Grange barely daring to believe that this could be the day. The game had been sold out well in advance. The temporary stands held close to 5000 fans and the sun was shining on a belter of a pitch.
Eoin Morgan won the toss and elected to give his bowlers the first use of any early assistance but Coetzer and his partner Matthew Cross met them with a stunning counter attack. Over 100 was added in quick time, Coetzer bringing up his own 50 with an enormous straight six. The delight of the locals and the genuine surprise of the visiting fans was evident.
Both openers fell in quick succession but Callum MacLeod, firstly consolidated then dominated in much the same way as he had demolished the highly rated Afghanistan attack during the World Cup qualifiers, his sweeping particularly prominent.
In successive partnerships with Richie Berrington, George Munsey and debutant Dylan Budge, records were shattered as MacLeod saluted his century from just 70 balls and the total swelled past 350. The big hitting Michael Leask didn’t even enter the fray until the final over but duly smashed the first ball he faced into the crowd at long-off. With 5/371 on the board, Scotland was in completely uncharted territory.
From England’s opening onslaught, it seemed even a target of 500 may not have been enough as Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy cruised untroubled at more than ten per over and Bairstow sprinted to an audacious ton from just 54 balls.
Bowlers from both teams had been helpless to stop the flow of boundaries on such a true pitch and the Scots could only ensure they capitalised on any small mistakes from the batsmen. England were still ahead of the required rate but gradually wickets started to fall.
When Ali Evans snared Willey caught behind England were suddenly 7 down with 95 still required.
However any hope Scottish fans may have held was slowly crushed as Moeen Ali and Liam Plunkett eased towards the target. The decisive moment seemed to be the 45th over from Berrington which was taken for 18 runs leaving just 26 required from the final five overs.
In a final twist left-arm spinner Mark Watt, the best bowler of the day from either side, showed his courage in tossing one up invitingly to Moeen who obliged by picking out Munsey at long on and give the home team a sniff. Tellingly it was Scotland who kept their heads in the frantic final overs.
All Associate and affiliate teams are aware that every match is critical with rankings, tournament qualifications, media exposure, funding and even jobs on the line. Who knows if these players will even have another chance to play against England again let alone beat them.
Adil Rashid took on Leask’s arm from the deep and lost. With no big screen anxious scans for the location of the third umpire turned to joy as the Scots in the middle started celebrating. 9 wickets down with just ten runs required.
Safyaan Sharif, hero of Scotland’s World Cup campaign summoned the best ball of the day, his reverse swinging yorker pinning Mark Wood in front of the stumps to spark pandemonium as players were mobbed by equally excited fans.
Nobody can say where Scottish cricket goes from here. Cricket Scotland does a good job with limited resources but it seems opportunities to participate in big tournaments on the global stage are actually decreasing.
Nevertheless, this glorious day in Edinburgh was surely the greatest moment in the long history of the game in Scotland. The England side ranked number one in the world beaten in a thriller in front of a full house. I’m just thankful I was there to see it.