Scotland benefit from confident Poonia
Scotland's leading batsmen haven't exactly covered themselves in glory this season, but at least Navdeep Poonia - who lines up against Yorkshire at Edinburgh on Sunday - can consider himself in prime nick. Poonia is blessed with a serene temperament, a rich array of attacking strokes and a potent combination of patience and pugnacity - and has already enjoyed himself on Warwickshire's behalf this week, hitting 111 and 50 (retired) against Cambridge UCCE. He is now optimistic he can continue that sequence in the Friends Provident Trophy.
Indeed, Poonia is one of life's confident personalities. He relishes the county scene, where youngsters are constantly sparring for places and people in his mould are striving to forge past the old guard and establish a new order. He may have been born in Govan in Glasgow in 1986, but befitting somebody who turned out for England at Under-13, Under-14 and Under-15 level, his accent is never likely to be confused with that of Sean Connery. Yet, even if a long residence in Birmingham has ironed out the rough edges, Poonia is proud of his roots and seems genuinely delighted to be involved with Scotland, not least because he feels the team are overdue a major all-round performance.
"One of the problems so far has been that a few of the guys have been getting to 15 and 20, but haven't gone on to convert these starts into the 70s and 80s which can make a real difference in limited-overs matches. So it is up to the lot of us to accept greater responsibility, because I haven't any doubt that we are due some big scores," said Poonia, whose 75 against Derbyshire a fortnight ago constitutes the high-water mark for Scotland in their present campaign. "Beating Lancashire was no more than we deserved, and the bowlers put in a fantastic effort to reduce them to 40-odd for 7 at Old Trafford, which showed us that if you can put the county lads under pressure, they are as likely to crack as anybody else. Basically, they were only chasing 156 in 50 overs, but they bottled it, once the wickets began tumbling and we did this against guys of the calibre of [Mal] Loye, [Stuart] Law and [Andrew] Flintoff, so it was a big morale-booster.
As somebody who joined Warwickshire at 13, Poonia has benefited from the knowledge of a string of esteemed coaches, including Mark Greatbatch, Keith Piper and Steve Perryman, and the majority of observers share the view that, in full flight, he is a joy to behold. However, in his 17 appearances for Scotland, he has already accumulated half-a-dozen ducks. Incidentally, Colin Smith, the wicketkeeper, only requires one more nought to equal Paul Hoffmann's unwanted record of 18 ducks and there is understandable concern that his determination to be flamboyant occasionally leaves him exposed.
But nonetheless, Poonia maintains that he will not fundamentally alter his style. "You have to trust your instincts and I was brought up to play my shots and I don't plan to curb that, because I believe I am in really good nick at the moment," he said yesterday. "Looking ahead to Yorkshire, they don't appear to have as good a bowling line-up as Lancashire did, and while you obviously can't ignore individuals such as Darren Gough, Matthew Hoggard and Tim Bresnan, who have picked up stacks of wickets in every form of cricket, they are not as strong as they have been at some other stages - they have no Michael Vaughan, for example. So I reckon that this is the ideal opportunity for us to cause an upset and, to be honest, it wouldn't be that much of an upset any more. The Scots have built up a good reputation amongst the English counties during the last five years and nobody takes them lightly any more. The next stage is to make home advantage count at the Grange and I am looking forward to Sunday."
Poonia wasn't the only Scot to be involved in the Cambridge success. Calum MacLeod, the 19-year-old fast bowler, was also in action at Fenners and claimed 3 for 36 in the second innings to bolster his claims to a first XI place. "Calum did very well. He has learned a lot recently and he has put on an extra yard of pace," Poonia said. "They rate him highly down here at Edgbaston. He is aggressive, he is hard-working and he also has the potential to develop into a useful No 8 batsman. With guys like him around, there is no reason not to be cheerful about the future of Scottish cricket. But now the onus is on those of us at the top of the order to come to the party with some serious runs."
Maybe it's the improved weather. Perhaps it is the suspicion that Ed Cowan, Ryan Watson and Poonia might be ready to feast on Yorkshire's underwhelming line-up. But Sunday could prove an auspicious encounter for the hosts.