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March 21, 2007
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The end of a one-sided fortnight is nigh. On March 22 in St Kitts, the first competitive fixture of a lop-sided Group A gets underway, when Holland and Scotland square up to each other in their minnow's Cup final. It's been a chastening week for the small fry, with thrashings galore and records tumbling left, right and centre - not least to Herschelle Gibbs, who slammed six sixes in one over off the Dutch legspinner, Daan van Bunge.
But in the opinion of Holland's captain, Luuk van Troost, Australia and South Africa are not merely the world's No. 1 and No. 2 teams, they are in an absolute league of their own. "These two sides are far better than the rest," he said. "There is a gap even between South Africa and Australia, and India, Pakistan, New Zealand and England. They are far stronger than those teams. We played India in the warm-ups and they didn't look nearly as good."
It's not been all fun in the sun on this particular Caribbean odyssey, and after their consecutive thumpings, van Troost admitted that his team's morale was not as high as it could be. "A few of our batsmen are in a bit of a negative mindset," he said. "That happens when you get a few bad scores. But we are not seeing ourselves as underdogs against Scotland. The last match we played against them [in Nairobi in February] we lost off the last ball, so that says enough."
Even so, in the opinion of South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, it is the Scots who are the better unit, especially now that they are welcoming back their captain, Craig Wright, who missed the last game to attend the funeral of his aunt. "The pressure of playing against our peers is probably greater than playing against South Africa or Australia," he said, "because the expectation levels are much higher.
"Where we are in terms of rankings, when we play Holland now we are expected to win, so there probably is more pressure on us tomorrow. But there has been [pressure] every time we've played Holland - and we've got a pretty good record against them. We hope we can show we're not ranked ahead of them for nothing."
Wright may have been absent for the defeat against South Africa, but he saw enough in his one match against the Aussies to know his team were on a hiding to nothing. "I don't think they're ranked one and two in the world for nothing," he said. "Having watched a few of the matches from the other groups, I think we could have drawn some easier opposition, but it's a magnificent learning experience for our guys to see the levels these opponents reach. It may not be a level Scotland can ever aspire to. But it certainly shows where they are, and we certainly want to close the gap over the years."
And so, for the first time tomorrow, the two whipping-boys get a chance to show their true colours, and van Troost for one was determined that his batsmen would plunder Warner Park's short boundaries with the same sort of alacrity that the big two had shown, in particular their pugnacious opening batsman, Darron Reekers, who made an 82-ball century when Holland beat the men of the moment, Ireland, in the recent World Cricket League in Nairobi.
"Holland have some dangerous players and they have caused us some problems in the past," said Wright, who felt that his own batsmen were showing semblances of good form without truly impressing. So far, only the wicketkeeper, Colin Smith, has made a half-century in this tournament. "It is slightly disappointing we've had guys who get in and don't go on to get big scores," he added. "Against the likes of South Africa and Australia, when guys do get to 20 or 30 we really need them to make 70, 80 or 100."
The form and past history favours Scotland, who have won all three of their most recent meetings. But Wright was under no illusions about the challenge that lies ahead. "They've all been pretty close victories and I don't see why it will be any different tomorrow. We'll have to play somewhere approaching the top of our game to get a win.
"I don't think we've necessarily shown all our skills and abilities in the two games," he added. "Against Holland tomorrow, we still need to play better than we have done in the two previous games."
Scotland (probable) 1 Fraser Watts, 2 Majid Haq, 3 Ryan Watson, 4 Neil McCallum, 5 Gavin Hamilton, 6 Dougie Brown, 7 Craig Wright, 8 Colin Smith (wk), 9 Glenn Rogers, 10 John Blain, 11 Paul Hoffmann.
Holland (probable) 1 Bas Zuiderent, 2 Darron Reekers, 3 Alexei Kervesee, 4 Ryan ten Doeschate, 5 Daan van Bunge, 6 Eric Szwarczynski, 7 Tim de Leede, 8 Peter Borren, 9 Luuk van Troost, 10 Billy Stelling, 11 Jeroem Smits (wk).
Stats highlights from the first day of the second Test between Australia and India in Brisbane