A More-than-useful Outfit

30th July 2022

New Zealand were too streetwise and professional and, quite clearly, more skilful. Scotland batted first and made a modest total and New Zealand easily reached the target by mid-afternoon. It was a pleasant half day in the sunshine in the company of a couple of friends from Milngavie, but the result was never in doubt and, by tea time, we were in one of the pubs near Haymarket station watching the soccer play-off match from Wembley between Watford and Bolton Wanderers, from which the former emerged to take that season’s final promotion place into the Premiership”.

[An Ordinary Spectator, page 272].

These are difficult times for Cricket Scotland, the sport’s governing body north of the border. Last Sunday, its Board resigned en masse in advance of the publication the following day of an independent report, commissioned by Sports Scotland, which concluded that the body was “institutionally racist”. This was an unfortunate prelude to my long-anticipated visit – with friends – to the attractive Grange cricket ground in Edinburgh yesterday for the second of two T20 games between Scotland and New Zealand. However, this is likely to be my only attendance at a cricket match this year and so I shall concentrate on the action on the field.

The two encounters are of some significance for both sides, given their participation in the T20 World Cup in Australia in October/November. New Zealand’s preparation for the tournament has already included the three matches played in Ireland last week (along with three 50-over One Day Internationals) with more to come in the Netherlands and the West Indies next month before they host a T20 Tri-Series involving Pakistan and Bangladesh.

For Scotland, the build-up to the World Cup has been somewhat different. The matches against New Zealand constitute this year’s only games in this format prior to meeting the West Indies in their opening Group B fixture of the tournament in Hobart. Instead, their efforts have been focused on the 7-team ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 – a long drawn-out competition played over 3½ years – from which the top three sides will go through to the (50 over) 2023 World Cup Qualifier tournament in Zimbabwe next summer. (Scotland are currently well-placed at second in the table behind Oman with a large number of games in hand).

I had seen Scotland play New Zealand at the Grange before. The extract from An Ordinary Spectator – given above – reported on the Group fixture in the 1999 World Cup. Given the sides’ current rankings in T20 cricket – New Zealand 5th, Scotland 16th – there was obviously some risk of a similar mismatch. (New Zealand had won the first fixture on Wednesday by 68 runs).

And, indeed, this is what transpired. New Zealand registered 103 in their first 10 overs and 151 in their second to post a total of 254 for 5, their record score in a T20 fixture. The core of the innings was an impressive 83 by Mark Chapman, which was supplemented by a series of belligerent innings from the middle-order, notably Michael Bracewell, whose 61 from 25 deliveries came after he had been dropped – a straightforward chance – before he had opened his account.

The Scotland captain, Richie Berrington, marshalled his troops with some imagination, changing the bowling after virtually every over, and Mark Watt took three fine catches in the outfield. However, the dominant features of the New Zealand innings were the cleanliness of the batsmen’s striking – there were a total of 18 sixes in the innings, most of which cleared the boundaries by some margin – allied to the skilful placement of the strokes along the ground.

Incidentally, the T20 format of the game does seem to have dispensed with the traditional concept of a batsman “playing himself in”. Finn Allen, the New Zealand opener who had scored a century in the previous fixture, deposited his first ball into the trees behind us at long-on (though he was dismissed four deliveries later).

The Scotland supporters’ spirits were raised when George Munsey struck three fine off-side boundaries in the first over of the reply. However, he was out shortly afterwards, one of two wickets in the over bowled by Jimmy Neesham, whom I had seen playing in my last cricket-spectating encounter – for the Welsh Fire in “The Hundred” at Headingley last summer (“Cricket-Watching Resumed: Part 2”, 28th July 2021). When a run out then reduced Scotland to 37 for 4 in the fifth over, the game was effectively done and dusted. There was some resistance from Chris Greaves, who made 37, but the Scotland innings drifted to its conclusion at 152 for 9. A win for New Zealand by 102 runs.

I trust that Cricket Scotland will have judged that the occasion had been a success. An entertaining match had been watched by a capacity crowd – a diverse capacity crowd, note – that had fully respected the efforts of both sides. I sensed that, whilst most might have been disappointed at the margin of Scotland’s defeat, they would also have recognised that their opponents were a more-than-useful outfit (which will be strengthened even further for the World Cup by the likes of Kane Williamson, Martin Guptill and Trent Boult).

Afterwards, we walked along the path next to the Water of Leith and then up into the city centre. Our conversation drifted – the attractiveness of the housing in this formerly industrial part of town, the health of another of our friends, the short-listed candidates for the Conservative Party leadership… Normal life, really – in which an afternoon in the warm sunshine watching the cricket had been a very pleasant part.

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