When Scotland got off the bus on Tuesday afternoon, 40-degree Celsius flashed on the giant LED screen at the entrance to the Oman Cricket Academy ground in Al Amerat. For someone coming from a country where anything above 30 degrees is seriously hot, it was a "culture shock", as Scotland captain Kyle Coetzer
put it. But having spent close to seven weeks in the region prior to the T20 World Cup, Scotland gave themselves the best possible chance to acclimatise, and it's working.
Even before they got to Oman, the side simulated hot-weather conditions at home. They trained under greenhouse tents equipped with heaters to try and get it as hot as possible, they pedalled on bikes for 30-40 minutes at a stretch, their physical conditioning programmes were tailored to endure long periods in the heat. All of it done in the hope that the players wouldn't let the heat affect their style of play, after getting an opportunity to play in a World Cup after five years.
The hurt of missing the 2019 World Cup hasn't fully gone away, as Coetzer mentioned when asked if qualification to the Super 12s was nearly done. Two years ago, in the 50-over World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe, Scotland were at the receiving end of an erroneous umpiring call off Richie Berrington
that cost them the match. Had he been given not out, Scotland would have stayed ahead of the DLS par score in a rain-truncated match
. They would have not just booked a 50-over World Cup berth but also ended up knocking out West Indies.
More than 20 months on, Berrington was once again at the front and centre of Scotland's recovery against Papua New Guinea
, giving them the wings to dream of a berth in the Super 12s. All that training to prepare for the heat and humidity paid off as he ran hard between the wickets during his stand of 92 with Matt Cross, which helped Scotland post a competitive 165, one that proved 17 too many for PNG.
Scotland are comfortably placed but are aware that a bad day against hosts Oman on Thursday could wreck a dream they have nurtured carefully. "I'm not sure anything guarantees qualification yet, there's still plenty on the line," Coetzer said after the win over PNG. "We'll be watching this [Oman vs Bangladesh] game with a lot of interest. The way these qualifying tournaments are, what happened with us in Zimbabwe a couple of years ago, we know it if does come down to the last game - it always does - very rarely it's a straightforward scenario. By no means have we qualified yet."
Five years ago in India, at the 2016 T20 World Cup, Scotland failed to qualify for the second round after they lost to Afghanistan
despite being ahead in the game at one stage. This time, they are focused on enjoying every win as it comes, playing without the pressure of expectations, or fear of failure. Soon after the PNG win, the entire group got together to belt out their team song, exchanged high-fives, and thanked their fans back home before Coetzer stepped into the press conference hall.
"Every victory is important," he said. "There are no easy games, a win against PNG is as valuable as any other win. We know we have to play well to win every single game. The exposure it brings back home, the following we've had since the Bangladesh win has been incredible. A huge amount of thanks to everyone who has sent messages, I know Chris Greaves had over 160 messages on his phone the other day, it's really nice to see that. It's great to see everyone get behind us. All victories are important, it will be nice to get one more."
Even in victory, Coetzer acknowledged PNG's fighting spirit that gave Scotland a bit of a scare towards the end, especially with the big-hitting Norman Vanua going after the seamers to attempt the improbable.
"I thought at half-time we were happy with 165, we felt that was enough to give us space to restrict PNG, but you can see the dangers they have in their team," Coetzer said. "Norman Vanua came out and played extremely well. Assad Vala, their captain, has been in good form following the first game of the competition. We know the dangers they pose. Credit to them, they pushed us all the way there. They gave us a few nervous moments, but our bowlers, Josh Davey especially at the end, were fantastic. Mark Watt as well, as usual does the job, goes under the radar a little bit, but bowled some excellent overs.
"The plan is always to take early wickets, the best way to stem the run flow is pick up wickets. It is nice it went our way today. We didn't quite nail everything we wanted to nail today, they pushed us hard. Their speed between the wickets, the way they ran put us under pressure today. There were a few fumbles, catching wasn't 100% today, it never always goes the way you want it to. No one means to drop a catch, but we need to keep eye on a few things, make sure we're ready. Maybe there were a few nerves in the end, the way Norman was swinging the bat, anyone can get scared. But happy at the end of the day. Like I said, a few things to keep eye on but nothing that is worrying. We've got full confidence in our players under pressure, we'll deliver when we need to."