Scotland news May 2, 2014

England braced for Scottish backlash

Jon Coates
England have never lost to Scotland but Peter Moores could think of more straightforward first assignments as he prepares to head north with the independence argument in full swing

England's misadventure against the Netherlands is still fresh in the memory, but they have never lost a match to Scotland. There again, they have only deigned to play Scotland three times, and only once has there been a result.

Scotland have been active as a cricket team for 149 years, but only as a recognised international team since 2006. When you consider that the Union came into being nearly 400 years ago, it is farcical that the two neighbours took so long to get together on a cricket field. But here we are, bound for Aberdeen.

It was one of international cricket's support acts, the Netherlands, whose victory in Chittagong finally banished Ashley Giles' hopes of getting the England coach's job. Now the Scots are a potential pitfall for the man preferred to Giles, Peter Moores, as he embarks upon his second term in charge.

There is certainly enough anti-English sentiment around at the moment to spice up the contest. As the Scots squabble over whether or not to end a political pact that was signed in 1707 and declare independence, there is for the first time an expectation across the border that their team might just have enough ammunition to outgun the Sassenach forces.

Such an upset would be cheered especially loudly by the champions of Scottish independence, so it is the last thing they will want to hear about in Westminster. From small shifts in self-belief, mood swings can take place. Why, to stretch the point, Moores might just have the future of the Union in his hands.

According to the polls, the Yes vote is currently creeping on the No vote, which was previously thought to be protected by impenetrable walls. England look as vulnerable as they have for a long time, while Scotland have the new-found confidence of World Cup qualifiers.

This is their first game since the ICC World Cup qualifying tournament in New Zealand, where they lost only one game and pulled off many victories with an unfamiliar swagger. Suddenly they are no longer dreaming of the win that would make them national heroes but purposefully plotting it.

From an England perspective, at least the Mannofield ground does not carry bad memories. It has only been an ODI venue since 2008 and Scotland have yet to make it a fortress. Unless the scalp of England is taken it will remain most famous for being the last place Bradman batted on British soil - he made a century there in September 1948 at the end of the "Invincibles" tour.

Aberdeen is not a nationalist heartland, either. North Sea oil has made the city and surrounding county a cosmopolitan and increasingly wealthy part of Scotland, all of which has helped cricket to flourish. Scotland's current shirt sponsor is the Parkmead Group, an oil and gas exploratory firm run by Tom Cross, father of Scotland's hard-hitting wicket-keeper batsman Matthew.

Both teams have new coaches, albeit one, in Moores, who has been in this position before. "You don't take games like this lightly because if you do, you get stung," Moores said on the eve of the first Scotland-England ODI in 2008, when he was England's coach and Kevin Pietersen the captain. That was one Union which failed to stand the test of time.

Moores could probably think of better ways to begin his second coming than the danger of a defeat in Aberdeen of all places. As for Craig Wright, his Scotland adversary, he could not imagine a better statement ahead of next year's World Cup than Scotland's first ODI win over a full ICC member other than Bangladesh.

Wright, a former captain and seam bowler, is only in caretaker charge until Grant Bradburn, currently coach of New Zealand A, takes over in early July, with Wright as his assistant. But he has never failed to impress cricket people in the shires and his career prospects would be buttressed by a famous win at Mannofield.

But what is all this loose talk of a revival for Scottish cricket? Haven't they been banished from the county one-day circuit after becoming so weak they no longer even enjoyed the occasional win? Didn't they fail to reach the 16-team World Twenty20 finals, unlike Nepal, the UAE and Hong Kong? Haven't they been left lagging behind by the Irish?

Weren't they mocked on the Emerald Isle for writing to every county professional, including William Porterfield and Paul Stirling, to ask if they could trace any Scottish blood in their ancestry and did they fancy a crack at playing at the next World Cup?

All of those things are true, but Scotland turned a corner at the qualifiers in New Zealand, they now have a six-match World Cup campaign to work towards and there is much about the team to like, and to respect.

Because they are young and largely homegrown, fans no longer have to sheepishly acknowledge that their only decent players are Dougie Brown, Gavin Hamilton and southern-hemisphere sorts who found a girl in Arbroath or Motherwell and settled down.

They are energetic and ambitious, fortified by three or four of the players who answered Cricket Scotland's infamous correspondence, and they have uncovered individuals like Calum MacLeod and Preston Mommsen who not only know how to play but also how to win.

Ireland would probably never have beaten England had some of their players not accelerated their development within the English system, and the Dutch have benefited from county links of their own.

Scotland have given seven or eight domestic players enough money to dedicate themselves to full-time training in Edinburgh, but players such as Yorkshire left-armer Iain Wardlaw, Sussex batsman Matt Machan and Rob Taylor of Northants have also made key contributions.

Four months ago, though, before the renaissance, they returned from the World Twenty20 Qualifier having lost four of their games and finished seventh. Despite the introduction of Wright and Paul Collingwood to the coaching ticket, they had been so mentally weak that Collingwood admitted when he looked back over the winter: "There were moments when, I'll be honest, I thought 'these guys can't take the heat'."

He challenged the players to prove him wrong, and within weeks of that Scotland interview he was coaching England in his guise as a temporary fielding coach and coming to terms with the reality that their players could not cope with pressure terribly well either.

England have not struggled to stifle the Scots in their previous meetings, but it feels like there is far more riding on the result this time, and the hosts are in rude health. MacLeod, who reinvented himself as a free-flowing opener after his action was judged illegal at Warwickshire, is on a short-term trial at Durham. Machan is rated highly by Sussex and the Scotland captain, Kyle Coetzer of Northants, was born and bred in Aberdeen and averages 82 in ODIs on his home ground.

One thing that probably won't give the Scots an advantage is the Mannofield wicket. In ten ODIs on the ground the average run rate is 4.73 and there have been seven centuries, two of them by New Zealanders who christened the track in style with 402 for 2 against Ireland in 2008.

Most Scottish cricketers have benefited at some point from an association with England. Few, if any, will be supporting the Yes vote when they enter the polling booths in September. But they will realise they have a chance to make cricket history next week, leaving the more significant political battle to others.