Australia v Scotland, Group A, Basseterre March 13, 2007

Scotland dare to dream



Gavin Hamilton has fond memories of World Cup action © AFP
Eight long years ago, the scene was remarkably similar. Australia had just completed a hit-and-miss one-day series (against West Indies), and entered the 1999 World Cup in a (relative) measure of disarray. Awaiting them on a slow track at Worcestershire were the ODI debutants, Scotland, who - for three-quarters of a keenly fought game - did just enough to ruffle a few Antipodean feathers.

Then, of course, Steve Waugh weighed in with an unbeaten 49 and the rest was history, but on the eve of a rematch he can never have envisaged in a month of Hogmanays, Gavin Hamilton, Scotland's Man of the Tournament back in 1999, was daring to dream anew. "There's always that nagging thought at the back of your mind," he said at Basseterre, "it only takes two or three good performances and a bad day from Australia. It's a nice thought to hold onto."

"Gav is in a great frame of mind at the moment," said Peter Drinnen, Scotland's Australian coach. "He's really committed and he's trained really hard over the last six to eight months. He sets the examples and it's no coincidence that he's performed well over the last five-six weeks. He's been solid throughout and threatens with the big one. He's certainly got the skills and capabilities."

Hamilton has, however, got a few scars as well. Since that last encounter with Australia, his career has been to hell and back. His achievement in becoming the most prolific English-qualified run-scorer in the tournament (217 in five innings) earned him an England Test debut at Johannesburg the following winter, but it was a harsh baptism. After scores of 0 and 0, and no wickets to boot, his game went into freefall - a bout of the yips destroyed his bowling and in 2003, he was acrimoniously released by Yorkshire.

"To get another crack of the whip is something special," Hamilton said. "I was probably at the peak of my game with my batting and bowling in 1999, and I think we caught them [Australia] at a pretty bad time back then as well. They were playing some pretty ordinary cricket and didn't know what their best XI was. They were chopping and changing their bowlers, and we played some quite nice stuff. Hopefully we'll catch them at not quite their best again."

It's a pretty hopeful hope, for Scotland are remaining utterly realistic about their prospects in Wednesday's contest. "It's an incredible challenge," Drinnen said. "We're not going to stand here and say that we can blow Australia out of the water - what we're concerned about is maintaining our standards, and even raising our bar a little more.

"The big thing with Scotland over the years has been our batting," Drinnen said. "We just haven't been able to be consistent, and that's because we just don't get together that much." But five weeks in Kenya for the recent World Cricket League, where Scotland reached the final only to be defeated by the hosts, might have helped to change that a touch.

"What we encountered in Kenya was a consistency in cricket," Drinnen said. "We had 17 days of cricket, and put together four or five really good totals. That was a big step forward for us. But we don't encounter [Australian] level of attacks day-in, day-out, so that's the real challenge. The bad balls don't present themselves very often, so it's what we do with the good balls that matter. We have to try to discover runs."

Drinnen said the line-up of his side was yet to be finalised, and they would only decide on four seamers or an extra spinner after the early-morning moisture had been assessed on Wednesday. But the players weren't about to be blinded by tactics ahead of their big showdown. "We're not going to analyse each and every player," Hamilton said. "Our aim is to play good basic cricket, because that's what's made us successful against the associates and the county sides."

"We're playing in a World Cup in the Caribbean," added Drinnen, voicing the unspoken incredulity of his whole squad. "It's an incredible privilege to be here. We're really looking forward to the challenge, and we hope to put in some solid performances to show these guys we're really good cricketers."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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