Scotland, Canada go out for the count
It's all a numbers game, really. Following four years of preparation, it comes down to just 100 overs between two teams for one World Cup berth - the fourteenth, and last, on offer for entry into the 2003 version of the event in South Africa.
Scotland and Canada have each played in a World Cup before but barely will there have been more important matches of cricket in their respective histories than the one they will contest tomorrow at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club. So high are the stakes in the World Cup Qualifying Final of this 2001 ICC Trophy tournament that the difference between the impact of a win and a loss is almost beyond even so much as contemplation.
For the winner, it's not only that berth in world cricket's ultimate tournament that awaits but also the chance to harness all of the benefits that participation at the elite level delivers. For the loser, it's precisely the same opportunity gone begging; the chance to accelerate the sport's growth within its borders during the next two years and beyond seriously diminished.
All associated with Scottish cricket well know the rigours, the emotions and the pressures of this day. They were in the same position four years ago in Kuala Lumpur when they dodged teeming rain and stifling tension to prevail over near-neighbour Ireland by 51 runs in what still ranks as their country's greatest ever cricketing victory.
This time, they come to the TCSCC with the adornment of seven players with experience from the last World Cup and a record that includes just two losses in Toronto. They also bring to the match a reputation as a side that has learned much in the way of professionalism and preparation during the last four years. A reputation that they will hope will be worth its weight in gold out on the field now.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Colin Smith has clearly been one of the stars of the tournament; fast bowler James Brinkley and spinners Keith Sheridan and Gregor Maiden have led a consistent attack; and youngster Drew Parsons has given many indications that he is an exciting player on the rise. Where the side has not done so well is in providing batting support for Smith and in fully taking its opportunities in its biggest games.
In Canada, they will find a team that will quickly expose any such weaknesses. This is the first time in six attempts that they have reached the last four of an ICC Trophy competition but the Canadians have tangible crowd support; a well-balanced team, the batting of Joe Harris; and the spin bowling talents of John Davison and Barry Seebaran to bolster them on this occasion.
By necessity, the hosts' game plan will hinge around resisting the Scottish bowlers and crashing through their opponents' batting. Against arguably the most evenly balanced attack in the tournament, the Canadian batsmen might well face their sternest examination of the competition and any exercise in leaving the bulk of the scoring responsibilities to Harris, as has been done more than once already over the last three weeks, would be fraught with risk. The makeup of their upper order batting has undergone several changes of face already in this tournament; there is no better time than now to have it click.
How much of a factor the crowd will play in the match is anyone's guess. The game will be contested on a work day in Toronto but it's likely that more than just the odd alteration will be made to employment schedules around the city. Support for the Canadians has been strong throughout the event and the momentum created by the side's Super League successes has only added to the numbers of wellwishers uniting forces behind them.
Conversely, there will be no Tartan Army here to support the Scots; moreover, the players will be lucky if they see any Tartan soldier at all straying so far from home. Instead, it will need to be eleven men banding together to produce a collective, committed performance. Albeit that they are light on for numbers, they simply have to win this one.