By Ronan Alexander
After having over a week to digest Scotland’s T20 World Cup exit, I thought I’d share my feelings on what the team can do to improve and go to the next level. In a tough group, Scotland gave a strong account of themselves with a memorable win over West Indies being the main highlight in what was pretty much a perfect display. Qualification was in touching distance with 75% of the Ireland game done, until a record-breaking partnership between Curtis Campher and George Dockrell guided the Irish to victory. If we replayed those last 10 overs again 10 times over, I believe Scotland would have probably bowled them out for 130-150 most times and secured a Super 12 place, but it wasn’t to be. Against Zimbabwe, an underwhelming batting display left the bowlers with too much to do as they fought hard in vain in a winner takes all match. Normally, this campaign would be a success. But, if we are to go to the next level, it’s important we are hard on ourselves, although it possibly shows how far we have come that this feels bitterly disappointing whereas in years gone by, we’d have likely been pretty satisfied with our showings.
I don’t want to look at things in hindsight, because that’s easy. So, I want to show what I think we can do moving forward and improve in T20 cricket. I found it quite easy to highlight problems, but much more challenging trying to solve them, but l gave it a go.
With the bat, our main issue is with the middle order. Our middle order is very similar in personnel and can often stagnate rather than ignite our innings. Having Matthew Cross and Calum Macleod in the top 5 puts a ceiling on what we can achieve as a batting unit. Those 160-175 scores are arguably the best we can achieve, and the 133 total against Zimbabwe is a more realistic expectation. Cross has played 51 T20 innings, with a strike rate of 115. Since 2019, this has declined to 103 which does not make for good reading. It makes recovering from a bad start difficult and accelerating from a good start unlikely. Using CricViz match impact model, which shows a players impact on the game based on their performance in the given situation, Cross was the lowest of the Scottish batters with -16.
The most successful T20 teams have a keeper who is a power hitter, probably other than Pakistan although Mohammad Rizwan is integral to the way the team plays. We have two teenagers playing county cricket in Charlie Tear at Sussex and Tom Mackintosh at Durham. Despite limited white ball experience, it could be time to show faith in them, especially after Tear having experience in the Pakistan Junior T20 League. Opportunities in the T20 Blast for their counties next summer could be crucial in their development and Scotland’s T20 selection thinking.
Calum Macleod is branded as an excellent player of spin. Mainly due to his heroic 157*(146) in an ODI against Afghanistan four years ago when he took Rashid Khan to the cleaners as the elite leg-spinner finished with figures of 9-0-68-1 as the Scots chased 256 in Bulawayo. However, when you crunch his numbers against spin in T20 cricket, they don’t show a middle order spin hitter. His strike rate v left arm spin is 103 and 109 v leg spin which are both positive match ups for the bowling team. However, he does strike at 137 against off spin whilst averaging 80.3. But this is a matchup teams can easily avoid with Scotland’s right hand heavy middle order which teams are clearly clued up to avoid as he only faced 10 balls of off-spin in the World Cup, scoring 10 runs without being dismissed. In his last 14 T20I knocks, Macleod has only achieved a strike rate over a run-a-ball three times. I’d like to see Scotland be brave and pick a high intent middle order player. The main one that sticks out is Oli Hairs, who also provides a left-hand option. Hairs only averages 12 in T20I’s, but his strike rate of 162 is what catches my eye. That ability to strike boundaries regularly is something the middle order lacks and is why we were stuck against Zimbabwe, going 10 overs without finding the fence. Yes, that average may show he isn’t reliable, but the up-side is huge and he has the ability to score a 60(30) and change a game, which others don’t (I genuinely wrote this before I listened to Halfway Up Middle). Check out their Scottish cricket podcast if you haven’t already.
Other batters that I feel could stake a claim for this spot include Brandon McMullen, Scott Steel and Jack Jarvis. Alternatively, moving Chris Greaves up the order who has scored 46(37) against left arm spin in his T20I career so far with no dismissals. He is poorer against leg spin and only strikes at 113 against off-spin, but it’s a small sample size and he isn’t scared to get creative by playing sweeps and scoops, so is definitely an option, with his leg-spin also being a valuable tool.
I think our openers compliment each other nicely, Munsey being strong against pace and spin, with Jones smashing seam looking to exploit the powerplay and get Scotland off to a quick start. Munsey on the reverse sweep is incredible. He averages 120 and strikes at 273 playing this shot. He never had the chance to play it though as opponents have worked this out and it can make him look quite one dimensional at times. I’d like to see him have a wider array of options, especially in the powerplay so he can take down spin and get the team off to a flyer. I think Michael Leask is an excellent death hitter and our cleanest ball striker, get his entry point correct and the team will continue to reap the rewards. I haven’t touched on Richie Berrington. His numbers against all bowling types are solid and he’s grown into the captaincy role.
With the ball, I think it’s integral we find a way to fit Mark Watt and Hamza Tahir into the team. For what it’s worth, I agreed with the bowling attack we used at the World Cup. The conditions meant we had to go with three seamers (I know I wouldn’t write in hindsight, but I thought Chris Sole could have played as a high pace option and experience is Australian conditions). That’s off my chest!
The boundary sizes, opposition batters and balance of the team made it difficult to fit two left arm spinners into the team. Hamza was extremely unlucky. With more games before hand with opportunities to try different combinations, this may not have been the case.
Going forward, Watt can operate in all three phases of the game and Tahir can bowl in the powerplay and middle overs, so with them, three seamers and a top six batter who can bowl (Leask, Greaves, Steel or McMullen as a seamer) means there’s no limitations for getting the 20 overs bowled with positive match ups and different options.
With the way the current World Cup is playing out, there is a strong possibility that Scotland will be competing against both Ireland and Netherlands (plus other good European sides) for two places at the next tournament in the European qualifiers, so we must nail our plans and not be complacent to ensure we can make the competition and show everyone what we are all about.
My possible future XI:
(Plus, others, too many to name). With strong domestic, regional and A team performances as well as the introduction of the South Asian Cricket Academy, I feel we’ll be blessed with talent to choose from and there will be further selection headaches for the coaching staff.