England avoid Scottish slip-up
England 167 for 6 (Bell 50, Cook 44, Davey 3-28) beat Scotland 133 for 9 (Leask 42, Tredwell 4-41) by 39 runs (D/L method)
Just for a moment it appeared there might be sunshine on Leask. Just for a moment it appeared England could be upset by a 23-year-old who has just given up his job in a bank to take his chance with a summer contract with Cricket Scotland. Just for a moment, as Michael Leask thrashed five sixes in an innings of 42 from 16 balls, it seemed the nightmare of defeat against Holland could be revisited in Aberdeen.
But in the end the romance of an underdog victory was outshone by the professionalism of an England unit who had a bit more nous, a bit more quality and a bit more experience. Leask had to be content with a man of the match award and the people of Aberdeen had to be content with the fact that they had somehow, against all the odds, pulled off an enjoyable fixture in which their team had given a more than decent account of themselves.
So England's new era began with a workmanlike victory over Scotland. It was not, perhaps, the dominant performance that some might have liked but, in wretched conditions that England captain, Alastair Cook described as "the wettest I've ever played in" a disciplined, professional England held off a rapidly-improving Associate side who they next meet in the World Cup in Christchurch in nine-months time.
Perhaps Alex Salmond knew what to expect. The leader of the Scottish independence movement was invited to the match but stayed away, quite possibly having taken one look at the weather forecast. Aberdeen has many charms, but watching cricket in bitterly cold, wet conditions is not one of them. Staging such a match at such a venue at this time of year was an accident waiting to happen. And sure enough, one of the groundstaff, Ken McCudie, sustained a dislocated elbow when slipping on the outfield in a mopping-up process that went well beyond the call of duty.
Certainly conditions could hardly have been more difficult to those anticipated in the World Cup. Rain delayed the start until 4pm, reducing the match to a 23-over encounter. It then intervened again during the Scotland innings to see the contest reduced to 20-overs a side with drizzle continuing for much of the game.
So it was never likely that England, without white ball cricket so far this season and put in on a pitch that had been under cover for a couple of days, would produce the aggressive top-order batting that their critics say will be required if they are to prosper in global events.
Instead they produced a measured, mature performance. The sort of performance that has served them pretty well in England over recent years. The sort of performance that may infuriate those who want them to bat with more urgency but that was a sensible tactic in conditions that Cook rated as "one of the worst I've ever played in."
They adapted and, through Ian Bell and Cook, posted an opening stand of 83 in 11.3 overs that laid the platform for a decent total in these circumstances.
Bell was the dominant partner. While Cook thrashed around without ever finding his timing - it sometimes looked as if he were using a broken bat - Bell sped to a 33-ball half-century and in the process overtook Alec Stewart to become the second highest run-scorer in ODI cricket for England. Twice he drove straight sixes - once skipping down the pitch to loft the offspin of Majid Haq back over his head and once punching Rob Taylor over long-off - and also reverse-swept, drove and pulled other boundaries.
"On a wicket where no-one else could time it, it just flowed for 'Belly,'" Cook said afterwards. "It was just class."
But the late acceleration never quite came. When Bell was dismissed, bowled round his legs attempting to flick over the legside, Cook became bogged down and finally departed to a fine, running catch on the long-off boundary and Jos Buttler was brilliantly caught by Taylor, jumping high on the midwicket boundary.
"Scotland's fielding was exceptional," Cook said. "We were struggling to stand on our feet. There was standing water at mid-off and I was struggling to grip my bat, so for them to take running catches was exceptional."
Eoin Morgan, who thrashed two full tosses to the boundary and one more over it, and Joe Root, improvising cleverly, pushed the score forward with bright contributions. But when Morgan edged a wide one and Root and Ravi Bopara fell to successive deliveries, Cook admitted England "weren't sure if that was a good score."
Scotland never threatened to overhaul the target. James Anderson was too quick for both opening batsmen and both Harry Gurney, who made a quietly impressive debut as a death bowler, and Chris Jordan, maintained their lengths well enough on to prevent Scotland ever getting on top of the rate.
Only when Leask, a 23-year-old from Aberdeen playing just his third ODI, was at the crease did a Scotland victory appear possible. Leask thrashed five sixes and two fours in a breezy innings of 42 from just 16 deliveries.
Just for a few minutes, with England's bowlers struggling to grip the slippery ball, it seemed the former banker might pull-off a memorable heist. But when James Tredwell, the unfortunate victim of most of the six hitting, held one back and caused Leask to drag the ball to wide mid-on, Scotland's challenge was over. Of the rest of the batsmen in the top eight only Matt Machan, who scored 33 at almost a run-a-ball, made double-figures.
There were a couple of areas of concern for England: Buttler missed a fairly straightforward chance when Kyle Coetzer had 1 and they will know that these conditions bear almost no comparisons to those expected in Australia. But in circumstances where some England sides might have gone missing, they did enough to avoid any potential embarrassment and ensured the new Peter Moores era started smoothly.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo