The ride hasn't been easy, but it's time now for Scotland's greatest moment under the sun

Having waited so long for that first World Cup win, Scotland have now strung together four in a row. They believe this is just the beginning...

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
Scotland won all three first-round games to top their group and qualify into the Super 12s  •  Francois Nel/ICC/Getty Images

Scotland won all three first-round games to top their group and qualify into the Super 12s  •  Francois Nel/ICC/Getty Images

Scotland and World Cups has not exactly been a recipe for success over the years. It took them 21 attempts between 1999 and 2016, across six different tournaments in the 50-over and T20 formats, to win a game at limited-overs cricket's highest level - and that a first-round match against Hong Kong with qualification already beyond both sides.
Such heartache was very much in keeping with the national character. Scotland's football team has a longer, slightly more respectable history at World Cups, but nevertheless last qualified for one in 1998, when the anthem that accompanied them to France was Del Amitri's "Don't Come Home Too Soon" (a plea that sadly went unheeded).
In Oman over the last week, however, the cricketers refused to contemplate going home early. In the process they have written a fresh page in Scotland's sporting history. Their three wins in Group B included knocking over a Full Member in Bangladesh - gaining some measure of revenge for a narrow defeat at Edinburgh's Grange ground in the 1999 World Cup - and saw Scotland emphatically through to the Super 12s.
Before the start of the second stage, England captain Eoin Morgan called them "the team of the tournament so far". Having waited so long for that first World Cup win, they have now strung together four in a row.
Reaching the second round of a global ICC tournament for the first time must rank as Scotland's greatest achievement since being granted Associate membership in 1994. For Preston Mommsen, who captained Scotland at the 2015 World Cup and the World T20 a year later, "this is the proudest moment" in cricket.
"For me it's comfortably now the pinnacle of Scottish cricket in terms of what we've achieved in the past," he told ESPNcricinfo from the UAE, where he is commentating at the T20 World Cup. "The highest [point] we've reached, to make it through to a second round of a World Cup event in these sort of foreign conditions is testament to how far Scotland has come as a cricketing nation."
Scotland made a noise by beating Bangladesh in their first match - quite literally, as a full-throated team rendition of "Flower of Scotland" interrupted the official post-match press conference and left Mahmudullah purse-lipped, looking like he'd just been offered a plate of haggis. Victory over Oman sealed Scotland's progression as group winners and left Kyle Coetzer, Scotland's current captain and playing in his fourth ICC tournament, seeming somewhat overwhelmed.
"For Cricket Scotland and back home it's huge," Coetzer said, "the opportunity to play on the biggest stage, the opportunity to test ourselves against the best, and grow the game back home. People are watching, the following has been immense."
Cricket Scotland's chief executive, Gus Mackay, was one of those watching on expectantly from the UK - having spent the day in meetings in London, he caught the final moments in a pub on Chancery Lane. Given how tight the margins are in Associate cricket, Mackay said he has had "everything crossed" for success in Oman and the UAE.
Progression to the second round of a World Cup brings with it numerous benefits, from raising public awareness of the sport in Scotland to the more tangible prize of a guaranteed spot at the 2022 tournament in Australia - giving the board some certainty and meaning Scotland can start to plan ahead, as well as try to tap new revenue streams. As Mackay puts it: "My job now is to capitalise on this moment, and work on our enhanced reputation and the commercial opportunities that lie ahead."
Rewind 12 months and the picture was significantly bleaker. The Covid-19 pandemic hit Scotland harder than most cricket nations, with their programme of international fixtures completely torn up: between December 2019 and May 2021, the men's team did not play a single senior game. Planned fixtures against New Zealand, Australia and Sri Lanka, as well as two rounds of the World Cup League 2, were mothballed.
Cricket Scotland has an annual turnover is around £2.3m - a fraction of a Full Member board such as the ECB - and receives most of its funding through the ICC, as well as some support from Sport Scotland. Covid cost them around £500,000 in lost revenue in 2020, as well as forcing several players on to alternative - and thankfully temporary - career paths. But it also sharpened Scotland's focus on the importance of the rescheduled 2021 T20 World Cup.
"These things don't happen overnight," Mackay said. "This is 18 months of planning, putting structures in place - and, to be honest, Covid's probably forced us into some of that. And I think there was also this real champing at the bit by the players who hadn't played international cricket to just get going again. So in a strange way, Covid's probably helped."
In September, Scotland played their first home fixtures in more than two years, beaten 2-1 in a T20I series with Zimbabwe. But by then, the blueprint for the T20 World Cup was already in place. Success in the first round was based on rigorous physical preparation and familiarity with the conditions, having arrived in Muscat several weeks beforehand for World Cup League 2 fixtures against Oman and Papua New Guinea.
Mommsen suggested that losing to Zimbabwe before departing from Edinburgh provided a timely "wake-up call" and said he had been impressed with Scotland's fitness and fielding during wins against Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and Oman.
"It's been hot here but they've coped very well with the tough conditions. I think the outfield fielding has been so far the best on display. Some of the catches they've taken, under lights in very difficult fielding conditions, comes from a good base of fitness, confidence in the body and being able to perform under pressure, and under fatigue. Credit to the backroom staff, the guys are in great shape and have handled that very well.
"It's just very pleasing to see the results now coming to fruition because that would have been 18-24 months of solid behind-the-scenes graft. People aren't seeing the work they do, day in and day out, training through the winter, in a cold Edinburgh."
Cricket Scotland had strengthened backroom support in advance by recruiting Jonathan Trott, the former England batter, as a consultant, as well as appointing a wellbeing manager. Louise Finlayson has worked with Scotland for several years, but was given a specific brief to help look after players in the "managed environments" brought on by Covid - which includes using an app to monitor their levels of happiness and stress.
Scotland also sent an expanded party out to Oman, allowing for added competition and cover in case of injuries - something the board was only able to afford to do because the eight members of the coaching and support staff agreed to fly economy class, with the players in business. "That shows how the management team put the team first and it brings a really cohesive unit together when you've got people making sacrifices," Mackay said.
While playing ODIs as a precursor to a T20 tournament might not sound ideal, the extended trip helped Scotland to get acclimatised and build a strong sense of purpose, with Coetzer putting their success down to "a real togetherness within our squad".
Past failures have played their part, too. The core of Scotland's side - players such as Coetzer, Calum MacLeod, Richie Berrington, Matt Cross, Michael Leask, Josh Davey and Safyaan Sharif - has been in place for some time, and can call on the memory of narrow defeats to Afghanistan and Zimbabwe in Nagpur at the 2016 World T20.
"That really hurt for a lot of us," Mommsen said. "Both of those games we played good cricket, had moments to seize control, but for one reason or another we weren't able to do that. It was quite clear that the experience wasn't quite there in terms of being under the pump on a world stage, when you're playing for a place in the next round. But the guys that were there in 2016, they've really stood up. They've made the most of those experiences and possibly the regrets of 2016."
"Probably a week ago there's a lot of people, particularly in Scotland, who didn't know Scotland were in a World Cup. They certainly do now, because of what we've achieved."
Cricket Scotland CEO Mackay
The star of the victory over Bangladesh, however, was a 31-year-old allrounder forged in the Scottish club scene and playing only his second T20I. Chris Greaves was born in South Africa but turned out for the likes of Glenrothes, Forfarshire and Caledonian Highlanders over the course of almost a decade in Scotland and spent the 2021 summer travelling down to Whitburn, near Sunderland, to play in the North East Premier League.
Greaves previously earned a living as a caddy at St Andrew's before turning to delivering parcels for Amazon during the pandemic but had been on the radar for some time, playing for Scotland A and working with Toby Bailey, the national performance coach, before making his full international debut earlier this month.
"I have a huge amount of admiration for him for hanging on for so long and working towards a goal that was clearly there for him from the beginning," said Mommsen, who made a similar journey from South Africa to Scotland as a young man. "He wanted to play international cricket, he wanted to represent Scotland at the highest stage and what a way he's done that. He's ploughed away in Scottish cricket leagues for a number of years now and he's finally reaping the rewards."
Scotland will be hoping for further rewards, too. Overcoming their World Cup hoodoo can only help strengthen aspirations towards Full Membership, something which Cricket Scotland would like to achieve "as soon as possible" but is likelier to fall within the next ICC rights cycle, from 2023-2030. A more competitive team should help secure fixtures, with Mackay hoping to agree visits by two of the four Test-playing nations - New Zealand, India, South Africa and Pakistan - due to tour the British Isles next year.
They also have five more opportunities to make an impression in the UAE, with spinner Mark Watt jokingly warning that Virat Kohli "should be worried" about the prospect of taking on Scotland. Before India, they face old foes Afghanistan and fellow Associates Namibia. "Who knows, if they can go two from two, with three incredibly difficult games to go after that. But you sneak another win and then a bit of net run rate and, who knows," Mommsen said. "So, yeah, the guys will be dreaming."
And while Covid regulations mean there is unlikely to be a Tartan Army descending on Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, signs of awakening interest are there - Gray-Nicolls, who manufacture Scotland's kit, tweeted on Friday that they had sold out of their first run of replica shirts.
"More importantly it's what this does for the game in Scotland," Mackay added. "Probably a week ago there's a lot of people, particularly in Scotland, who didn't know Scotland were in a World Cup. They certainly do now, because of what we've achieved."

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick