Scotland have never won a World Cup cricket match in eight attempts. That is not the surprising thing. The surprising thing is that they have played in two previous tournaments and are now at a third.
There is a widespread sense of optimism that this time they can go home, if not with the trophy itself, then with a victory or two from their pool matches. It may be too much to expect that one of these will come from the opening of their campaign, against New Zealand tomorrow.
The strengths and talents of the sides suggest Scotland’s chances are similar to those of the country’s rugby team beating the All Blacks, which has never happened. But they pushed a so-called New Zealand XI close last autumn on a World Cup preparatory trip, losing by one run.
It may have done them more harm than good. As the New Zealand all-rounder Corey Anderson insisted yesterday, that match – in which he played – will ensure that focus is maintained throughout. “I think we probably got put in our place a little bit in Lincoln when they did give us a run,” Anderson said. “It showed us they do have players who can play and bowlers who can bowl. We’re not taking them lightly. We’ll have to be pretty switched on.”
Cricket in Scotland has never and will never grip the entire nation. But it has fertile pockets of interest bordering on devotion, especially around Aberdeen. Those directing the team have made the most of these in assembling a side which possesses many of the modern tricks.
They have powerful hitters – witness Matt Machan’s whirlwind hundred in a warm-up match last week against Ireland – and a top-notch fielding unit, in which all players know where they should be, what they should do and how to do it. Only their bowling may lack penetration in depth. They are not alone.
Their determination to acquit themselves well in this competition has been scrupulous. The Scots’ head coach, New Zealander Grant Bradburn, re-enlisted the services of Paul Collingwood, the Durham captain and former England luminary, who is spending his close seasons in a variety of coaching roles.
As the powerful middle-order batsman Richie Berrington observed, their ambitions extend beyond a mere maiden World Cup victory. Scotland seek a major victim. “Our first goal is to try to turn over one of the full member teams,” Berrington said. “We’ve got five opportunities to do that.”
Collingwood was with the team when they secured their third World Cup qualification with three consecutive wins in the qualifying tournament in New Zealand a year ago, against Canada, Kenya and, in the final, UAE. He was surprised at what he saw at that time.
“When I got involved the skill level really shocked me,” Collingwood said. “Throughout the side it was exceptionally high. I would say I can help them more on the mental side, when you have played the game the way I did. I wasn’t really a technical player, it was more the mental side, the confidence of going into games understanding your own game.
“I always ask, what would I have felt in that situation as a player? You’re really putting yourself in the player’s shoes all the time, so I wonder how I’m going to try and get the best out of him mentally more than anything else.”
New Zealand, whose opening win against Sri Lanka suggests they have peaked to perfection, may have too much firepower for Scotland’s bowlers. But Scotland too have been using their time wisely and well.
They have had two recent overwhelming victories against fellow associate nations. In a triangular series in Dubai last month, organised as World Cup preparation, they lost to both Ireland and Afghanistan but responded with a heavy defeat of the latter, bowling them out for 63.
In a warm-up match last week against their old rivals Ireland, their most frequent opponents, Scotland won by 179 runs. They then fell only three runs short of overhauling West Indies’ total of 313 for 8.
They intend to attack and have more players capable of doing so this time. In 1999, in the World Cup in England, too many of their players froze in the moment; in the West Indies eight years later they barely had time to step out into the sunshine before they were on their way home.
Tomorrow’s is the first of six group matches, but perhaps not one they have targeted. Scotland see Afghanistan and Bangladesh as eminently beatable but their second match, against England next Monday, will concentrate minds as never before.
Collingwood said before arriving here: “I want England to do well in the tournament, of course, but I am desperate to get one over them on 23 February. I know that it’s not nice playing against associate sides. If Scotland can have a good start against them they can be put under pressure.”
New Zealand v Scotland
10pm GMT
Pool A, Dunedin
Sky Sports 2
Warm and sunny for most of the day.
Maximum temperature: 20C
Probable teams:
New Zealand
BB McCullum (capt), MJ Guptill, KS Williamson, LRPL Taylor, GD Elliott, CJ Anderson, L Ronchi (wk), DL Vettori, AF Milne, TG Southee, TA Boult.
KJ Coetzer, CS MacLeod, PL Mommsen (capt), MW Machan, FRJ Coleman, RD Berrington, MH Cross (wk), JH Davey, RML Taylor, RM Haq, AC Evans.
S Fry (Aus) & N Llong (Eng)
New Zealand have won both previous ODI meetings with Scotland, including a six-wicket victory in Edinburgh at the 1999 World Cup