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Scotland's shining beacon


Calum_MacLeod_Scotland_CricketCalum MacLeod’s phenomenal knock of 157*, which set up Scotland’s clinical chase against Afghanistan in the opening round of the World Cup Qualifier, was only the sixth instance of a batsman from an Associate nation making a score of more than 150 in an ODI. Three of these six have come from the bat of MacLeod, putting him in a select band of twelve batsmen that includes names such as Sachin Tendulkar, Sanath Jayasuriya, Vivian Richards and Virat Kohli.

Afghanistan’s much-vaunted bowling attack was always going to pose a threat, more so after they reduced Scotland to 21/2 in their chase of 256. But MacLeod, who came in at 16/1, hardly flinched, merrily sweeping the spinners to great effect in the course of a record third-wicket partnership of 208 with Richie Berrington - Scotland’s highest stand in ODIs for any wicket. Prior to this win, Scotland had beaten Afghanistan only once in their last seven encounters.      

Scotland come into the Qualifier as defending champions, having won the previous edition held in New Zealand in 2014. MacLeod had played an instrumental role as an opener then, scoring 401 runs at 50.12 with two consecutive centuries, and at a strike rate of 117.94 to boot. His 62-ball 113 in a 28-over contest against the UAE in the group stage was pure carnage, while his sublime 175 against Canada four days later is the highest ODI score by a Scottish batsman.


What makes MacLeod’s achievements all the more remarkable is the fact that he was not even a designated specialist batsman during his initial years as an international cricketer. His transformation from an unsuccessful fast bowler – he batted at number nine on his ODI debut in 2008 – to one of Scotland’s leading lights with the bat underlines his resolve, which is abundantly reflected by his tendency to put a high price on his wicket once he gets in the groove.


Called for a suspect action during the 2009-10 Intercontinental Cup, MacLeod fought back, remoulding himself into a top-order batsman, and returned to the national side in 2011. Since then, he has gone on to form the bulwark of the Scottish batting line-up along with current captain Kyle Coetzer. MacLeod’s accumulation of six ODI hundreds from 52 matches is a Scottish record, while his run tally of 1,592 and average of 35.37 are second only to Coetzer.

The Glasgow-born MacLeod does have a penchant for noteworthy feats – he was only 18 when he debuted in the Intercontinental Cup in 2007, making him the youngest Scottish player at that level. In addition, not many know that he came on as a substitute for England during the 2009 Ashes, thus becoming the first Gaelic speaker to make an appearance in a Test. With his 154 against Papua New Guinea last October, he became the first Scot to reach five ODI centuries.

The manner in which MacLeod tamed leg-spinner Rashid Khan, the top-ranked ODI bowler, in Bulawayo exuded a self-assurance that augurs very well for Scotland’s immediate cricketing fortunes. Scotland are the only current Associate who have held ODI status since 2005, when the concept of awarding the same to six non-Test nations for four-year cycles was introduced by the International Cricket Council. However, they have often underachieved at the highest level.


Despite qualifying for three of the last five World Cups – in 1999, 2007 and 2015 – Scotland are yet to win a game after 14 attempts at the flagship tourney of the limited-overs game, although they came heartbreakingly close in 2015, going down by one wicket to Afghanistan. In the past year, Scotland proved that they are more than capable of toppling full members – they beat Sri Lanka with consummate ease in a practice match, and later trumped Zimbabwe in an ODI.


The last time the United Kingdom played host to the World Cup was in 1999, which marked Scotland’s debut at the tournament. They were allotted two home fixtures in Edinburgh, one of which was against then fellow Associates Bangladesh. Scotland had Bangladesh on the mat at 26/5, but the Tigers somehow got to 185 and ultimately squeezed home by 22 runs. Bangladesh soon became the next full member, while Scotland were left to rue a squandered opportunity.

MacLeod’s heroics against Afghanistan have given Scotland a realistic chance to qualify for another World Cup in the U.K. Wins from their first two matches at the Qualifier have almost taken Scotland to the Super Six round, and it will not be surprising in the least if they also beat Zimbabwe to top the group. Should this happen, it will serve as a massive boost: according to the format, teams will be carrying forward points won in the group stage to the Super Six round.

The ICC may be trying their best to scuttle the chances of Associates playing at the World Cup, but Scotland are already beginning to make the right noises on behalf of their fellow non-Test co-participants at the Qualifier. There is a message in MacLeod’s turnaround that made him into the cricketer he is today - a message conveying the never-say-die mentality that is of compelling need in the cut-throat world of Associate cricket, where uncertainty lurks around every corner.

If Scotland can collectively keep on generating the same kind of sheer commitment that MacLeod has displayed in reinventing himself to survive as a professional cricketer, they can breach the boundaries by not only qualifying for the World Cup, but also breaking their duck at the tournament proper. As long as the likes of Calum McLeod continue to inspire the ‘have-nots’ of the cricketing world, there is hope yet of a more egalitarian future for the game.  


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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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