Hamilton saves Scotland's ODI status
Scotland 299 for 7 (Hamilton 127, McCallam 54) beat UAE 177 (Gopal 50, Wright 4-41) by 122 runs
When it mattered, Scotland finally produced a performance meriting their pre-tournament status as one of the two favourites, thumping UAE by 122 runs and, with it, retaining their status as an international country by the thinnest of margins.
To produce it at this last-gasp stage of proceedings, however, will not lessen the disappointment of the loyal supporters - a few of whom were scattered around Benoni today - nor, more prosaically, Scotland Cricket or the ICC, both of whom have invested four years of money and time into a team who have played well beneath themselves. A Scottish stalwart, Gavin Hamilton, came to their rescue yet again with 127 from just 124 balls, but questions remain about Scotland's poor performances.
UAE either fire explosively or implode rather limply. Today they chose the latter, though were undone by a fine display of seam-and-swing from Scotland's ever-green allrounder Craig Wright. The former captain, now 34 and who many expect to stand down at the end of this tournament, produced tidy figures of 4 for 41 from 10 nagging overs as UAE chased an unlikely, but gettable, 300 on a very flat surface.
John Blain removed Amjad Javed, who has sunk rapidly since his breathtaking 164 earlier in the tournament and, in the 10th over, Wright picked up his first wicket when Arshad Ali was neatly held by Gavin Hamilton. Saqib Ali was also safely held by Calum Macleod at mid-off, but Nithin Gopal stood in Scotland's way with a carefully crafted 50 from 72 balls. Two of his three fours were streaky, but he provided UAE with a vital anchor upon which to base their chase. On 50, however, he dropped one out to Neil McCallum at point whose throw to the non-striker's end was fast, flat and left Gopal comfortably short. At 125 for 5, in the 27th over, UAE's chase was all but finished and, as evidence of Scotland's growing confidence, Kyle Coetzer held a fine chance on the deep extra cover boundary.
Fayyaz Ahmed hit three of the crispest boundaries in the innings, including a skilful square-drive through the hands of point, but a calamitous mix-up ended his frolics on 19 when Dewald Nel - below his best with the ball - left him short of his ground. The rest of the tail folded without so much as a whimper, losing with more than 10 overs to spare.
Excellent in the field, it was Scotland's batting - such a disappointment in the last three weeks - which finally fired to put them in the box seat. It was a conundrum, though, combining both thoughtlessness and aggression in a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance split almost evenly by 25 overs. On a flat pitch offering only a hint of swing with the new ball, their openers, Hamilton and Navdeep Poonia, crawled and nudged nervously, too aware of the pressure on their shoulders. UAE's opening bowlers were reasonably accurate to begin with but nevertheless offered several gifts, none of which were taken advantage of. With Poonia retiring hurt after top-edging into his forehead - a nasty blow that required stitches - Scotland took 13 overs to reach their fifty. Their hundred came up in the 25th and, with twenty overs remaining, had reached an unconvincing 128. UAE's spinners were controlled and bowled an excellent length, but where was Scotland's inventiveness?
Well, it took a while to arrive, but eventually Hamilton opened his shoulders to loft Amjad over midwicket before uppercutting him beautifully over the slips. With McCullum for company, the pair put on 121 off 123 as Hamilton's hundred - celebrated with a subdued raise of the bat and nothing more - came up from 110 balls. UAE's brittle confidence snapped in two; the blistering last 20 overs yielded 171 runs, the sort of match-defining partnership which Scotland have failed to produce in this tournament.
As a nervous changing room waited for news of the other matches, news finally came through that Scotland had snuck into fifth place and, crucially, retained their ODI status by the skin of their teeth. "We obviously had our eyes set on a high-placed finish, and obviously things didn't go to plan at various times and we just lacked consistency really," their coach, Pete Steindl, told Cricinfo. "All in all, today, the way we played, I'm much happier and it was a good performance and it's nice to get in there in the top 6."
The man most under pressure is the captain, Ryan Watson, who again failed with the bat today, with a former player, Paul Hoffmann, calling for his resignation. Steindl, however, was right behind his skipper and rejected calls for widespread changes to the squad. "You've got to take stock, reflect on what happened any time you get into a situation, and there's a momentary loss of form," he said. "Ryan in particular has worked hard but had a poor tournament, but he's still contributed as a batsman and bowler. It's the way it is. He has my support. It's not helpful when former players add in little comments, if indeed that was what was said."
Will Luke is assistant editor of Cricinfo