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January 23, 2006
Scotland have never made it past the group stages of the World Cup, but they believe that this year - their fourth attempt - will be their year. They couldn't have picked a trickier group, though: they face the hosts Sri Lanka first up, followed by the favourites India, with Namibia making up the numbers. So what makes them so confident?
Well, for a start, they are well bonded. The spine of the team was formed seven years ago, at Under-13 level, and has played junior international cricket under the leadership of Kasiam Farid ever since. Most of the current XI played in the last World Cup two years ago; all valuable experience this time around.
"I'm happy with the team," announced Farid as the squad prepared to fly out to Sri Lanka. "Training has been excellent. Everyone has been working really hard. And my game is all ready to go." Their coach Peter Drinnen thinks the team is peaking just at the right time, too. "We are one of the strongest Under-19 sides," he says. "One of our strengths is the bowling, we have a very, very good bowling attack. But we're also a very good fielding side, while our batting is solid."
Their stars are Sean Weeraratna and Gordon Goudie, both of whom have played for the full Scotland side. "Gordon is a very good player," says Farid. "A talented young boy. He adds to the team with his batting, bowling and fielding. He's very good allround. He helps everyone out and is a great team player. Sean is just the same. He helps everyone out. He's a very good allrounder. He adds depth to the bowling."
To help prepare the side, no stone was left unturned; they even had tapes of Sri Lanka playing against England. "Sri Lanka didn't look anything special," says Farid, boldly, "although we just saw highlights so you never know. We will probably give them a run."
They will find out soon enough: the two sides meet in the tournament's opening game against Sri Lanka at Colombo. "I'm expecting maybe 30,000 spectators to turn up, maybe more," says Farid. "It's a very good experience to play in front of so many. Usually there's just an old couple and a dog."
Is he worried at all? "Yes and no. A lot of the players are used to it. But it's such a big stage. I'll be nervous, obviously, but I will try to take it all in my stride." Most of the team have played in front of crowds of 25,000 on previous tours of India and Bangladesh. But the sheer number could be daunting for the new faces. What advice will Farid give his new charges? "Just take it all in. It's not every day you get that chance."
Speaking of chances, Farid is realistic about their prospects against India. "They're a very good side," he says. "But our team is stronger than when we last played them, so we should give them a better game."
Two wins from the three matches would take them into the Super League, and they expect to beat Namibia. But the opening game will be crucial, as Drinnen knows all too well. "If we put up a good game first against Sri Lanka we could get our noses in front."
Yet perhaps a more realistic ambition - especially as they still have to acclimatise - will be to perform well in the Plate competition; a tournament not without its importance as the matches will determine Scotland's international ranking. They are currently 12th.
"We're coming from a mid-winter situation into a very important tournament," says a cautious Drinnen, who will take his team to Sri Lanka for three matches before the warm-ups themselves begin. "This will be a crucial nine days. It's a difficult balance to achieve - we want to get stuck in but we don't want to wear the guys out."
Four players have the advantage of having attended an ICC training camp in South Africa, with another, Calum MacLeod, touring with Warwickshire Under-19s just before Christmas. Then there were nets back in Scotland. "The preparations have gone well. We have the support of the fitness trainer, there's a bunch of coaches."
So they're ready. Now they just need to prove it. As Farid says: "We should be competitive and if we can pinch a few wins, then who knows?"
Scotland squad Kasim Farid (capt), Andrew Hislop (both Clydesdale); Richard Berrington (Greenock); David Bill (Uddingston); Tyler Buchan (Aberdeenshire); Robert Cannon, Umair Mohammed (Forfarshire); Gordon Goudie (Stoneywood-Dyce/Middlesex); Moneeb Iqbal (West of Scotland/Durham); Scott MacLennan (Grange); Calum MacLeod (Drumpellier/Warwickshire); Rajeev Routray (Ferguslie); Amir Shahzad (Stenhousemuir); Sean Weeraratna (Heriots).