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Scotland's wasted chance

Gavin Hamilton celebrates his fifty against Pakistan Getty Images

On February 1 2014, Scotland ended years of cricketing underachievement. They had qualified for the 2015 World Cup, and defeated UAE in the final of the World Cup Qualifiers to complete a magnificent seven consecutive victories.

That is seven more wins than Scotland have ever managed in the World Cup. In 1999, when they made their World Cup debut, no one would have envisaged such a long wait.

The 1999 tournament promised much for Scottish cricket. For most of the 20th century, Scotland had been considered a glorified English minor county. While they played occasional matches against English tourists, these were not even counted as official games. It was only in 1994 that Scotland gained Associate membership of the ICC - and with it the chance to qualify for the World Cup.

In Kuala Lumpur in 1997, Scotland managed to do so for the first time, defeating Ireland in a playoff to secure their place in the 1999 World Cup. They were also awarded two matches of the World Cup to host. The combination elevated cricket in the Scottish consciousness.

The impetus was overdue. Growing up in Scotland during the 1980s (though he went to school in England), Gavin Hamilton remembers that "Scottish cricket was so low on the radar at that time - it was ridiculous". Suddenly it was much harder to ignore. "The game changed during the 1999 World Cup," he reflects. "People started seeing what Scotland were doing - and more importantly Scotland could see what Scottish cricketers were doing."

Newspapers that ordinarily devoted a few hundred words of coverage to Scotland's county matches were now giving cricket many times that. When Scotland began their World Cup campaign against Australia in Worcester, it was their first ever official match broadcast live on terrestrial TV. Scotland were defeated but far from embarrassed: Bruce Patterson, a 34-year-old estate agent from Ayr, lashed the country's first ever ball in an ODI through the covers for four. Australia took 44.5 overs to overhaul Scotland's 181 for 7.

"The game changed during the 1999 World Cup. People started seeing what Scotland were doing - and more importantly Scotland could see what Scottish cricketers were doing" Gavin Hamilton

Another defeat promptly followed, against Pakistan, but that did nothing to dim Scotland's anticipation for May 24 1999, the day Scotland hosted its first match in the World Cup. It was played at the Grange in Edinburgh, home of the Grange Cricket Club, formed in 1832 by members of the Edinburgh Speculative Society. This picturesque private members' club, flanked by trees and the club's tennis courts, was now transformed into a World Cup venue.

It promised to be the scene of a Scottish victory too. Bangladesh, their opponents, were not well-suited to playing in Scotland in May. They had been defeated 0-2 in a one-day series the previous summer. "We were expecting to win," remembers Hamilton. "It was certainly the best bowling attack I played in for Scotland by an absolute country mile." John Blain and Asim Butt formed a formidable opening attack in home conditions.

The day - dubbed their World Cup final by Scotland's director of cricket Jim Love - began perfectly. Put in to bat, Bangladesh set about proving Hamilton's observation right by subsiding to 26 for 5 in overcast conditions. It should soon have been 45 for 6 soon but an edge from Minhajul Abedin was shelled at slip. Abedin's unbeaten 68 held Bangladesh together, and Scotland were set 186 to win.

It was still far from a daunting target, but, scenting their maiden World Cup win, an amateur side - with the exception of Hamilton and Blain - set about batting in the worst traditions of that word. Scotland collapsed to 8 for 3 and then 49 for 5.

Enter Hamilton, who would manage to make more runs than any England player in the tournament. "Every shot I played and every situation I got involved in it came off," he reflects. "I was quite proud of the way I played some of the world's best bowlers. I had it in my mind that I'd rather go down taking them on and just seeing how good I was."

After the might of Australia and Pakistan, Bangladesh's attack was comparatively lightweight. So Hamilton made it seem: he cruised to 63 at nearly a run a ball. He had added 55 for the seventh wicket with wicketkeeper Alec Davies and, at 138 for 6, Scotland were nearing a landmark victory.

That was reckoning without Manjurul Islam's fingertips. He steered a straight drive from Davies back onto the stumps. Hamilton was run out and, as he trudged off the field, what happened next was predictable. Scotland promptly subsided, losing by 22 runs. Over 15 years later it remains the closest they have come to a World Cup win.

Hamilton had proved his worth at the World Cup, but he looked like he had outgrown his side, which even admitted as much. "I hope that we lose him to England," Love said immediately after Scotland's tournament ended with further defeats to West Indies and New Zealand.

"Playing for England was the be-all and end-all in those days," says Hamilton. "It was an obvious decision for me." But he did not have the England career that many envisaged. He was selected for the Wanderers Test in South Africa in 1999, where he made a pair, falling twice to Allan Donald, and his 15 overs went for 63 runs. It was one of the most ignominious debuts in cricket history, and Hamilton never played for England again.

Meanwhile, for his Scotland team-mates, a chance to properly exploit the boon of hosting the World Cup was missed. "The administration of cricket didn't really seize on the marketing opportunities as well as they could have done," believes Andy Tennant, a former Scotland cricketer and the current head of performance. "There was no reason to expect them to - it was amateur committee men giving up their time." Scotland lacked the cricketing structure to use hosting World Cup matches as a springboard to making cricket the country's leading summer sport.

It all meant that the national side swiftly descended into irrelevance once more. Until 2005, Kenya were the only Associate nation with ODI status. Any matches Scotland played against Test sides touring England remained unofficial, and so harder to market or attract the media's attention. There were not even regular fixtures against leading Associates of the sort that the World Cricket League later provided.

"The problem with the World Cup is, there wasn't really anything to sustain us after that," reflects Craig Wright, who captained Scotland in 107 matches and is now the side's assistant coach. "It gave us a bit of visibility but if you look at the cricket we played in 2000, 2001 and 2002, there wasn't a lot backing it up." By 2001, Scotland, with both Hamilton and Dougie Brown ineligible because of brief England careers, failed to qualify for the expanded World Cup in 2003 (they qualified in 2007 but lost all three games).

An opportunity to push Scottish cricket forward had been squandered. That defeat to Bangladesh - and Hamilton's supremely unlucky run-out - remain a source of regret. "It was one of the most disappointing days in Scottish cricket history," he says. Victory would not have created a completely different future for Scotland, but it would have boosted cricket's profile, making Scotland look like a side that won matches in the World Cup rather than merely took part, and making it easier to attract sponsorship. It might also have made it harder for Bangladesh to gain Test status the following year.

While qualification for the 2015 World Cup has reinvigorated Scottish cricket, the next World Cup (in 2019) is being reduced to ten teams, and the ECB, which allowed Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands to host matches in 1999, may not do so again in the 2019 World Cup. In the age of the Big Three, the promise that tantalised supporters at the Grange in May 1999 - seeing Scotland win a cricket World Cup match at home - might never present itself again.