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Match Analysis

Scotland's early exit encapsulates raw emotion of sport for Associate teams

Of 16 teams at the World Cup, Scotland had played the least number of T20Is, only two, since the last edition of the tournament

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
If the cruelty of the first round of the T20 World Cup could be encapsulated in one team, it would be Scotland.
They've played more games in this tournament than they did in the year between the 2021 edition and this one. So is it really that surprising that they were unable to replicate their results of the last year and progress to the Super 12s?
Of the 16 teams at this competition, Scotland played the least number of T20Is, only two, in the last one year. The next fewest were Netherlands's seven, while India, the busiest team, played 35.
"Who knows what we would be capable of if we played more?" left-arm spinner Mark Watt tweeted after the defeat.
No one will have the answer to that, of course, but there's every reason to believe more game-time would have helped. "You're certainly not going to go wrong by playing more cricket," their captain Richie Berrington said. "As a team, the more experience and exposure we get, we are only going to get better."
But he was not going to use it as an excuse.
"We came into this tournament prepared and ready for what was ahead of us and I think we've shown that with some of the performances we have put in."
He is not wrong. No one would have called Scotland out of touch in their opening match where they set themselves up well with the bat and then surgically dissected the West Indies line-up to register a comfortable win.
From there, the Super 12s seemed to be beckoning but Scotland were unable to defend totals against Ireland, with Curtis Campher playing a blinder, and Zimbabwe, against whom they simply did not score enough runs.
Berrington assessed their total of 132 as "25 or 30 runs short". Zimbabwe's nervy chase suggested he was about right, and much of Scotland's post-mortem may involve dissecting why they weren't able to get those runs.
There might be some analysis of why they couldn't find even a single boundary between the eighth and 16th over and how their batters can be more proactive against spin. Or they may ponder over their decision to bat first on a pitch that, as Berrington said, proved "stickier than we thought".
None of that, though, will confront the biggest issue about the first round in a T20 World Cup and the consequences it throws up for Associate nations through limited opportunity.
Since a "first round" was introduced in the T20 World Cup in 2014, no Associate team has advanced from it in successive tournaments. Bangladesh, in 2014 and 2016, and Sri Lanka, in 2021 and 2022, are the only teams to have progressed through the opening round in consecutive editions. Netherlands have gone through twice eight years apart in 2014 and 2022, and missed out in 2016 and 2021.
The two teams who made it through last year - Scotland and Namibia - have both exited early this time. This tells us that the level of competitiveness among the lower-ranked Full Members and the Associates competing at this level is incredibly high and the ICC has made the correct decision by increasing the number of teams from 2024 onwards. At the least, it provides some recognition for the work and the dedication the Associate teams put in.
Despite their lack of international game time, Scotland have some resources because many of their players are active in England, and they have a rich tradition of playing the game themselves. Their former first-class wicketkeeper Alexander Steele, who was born in what is today Zimbabwe and requires a regular external supply of oxygen, still plays for his local club at the age of 81, with an oxygen tank strapped to his back.
And that's really what this first round has shown us: the raw emotions of knockout sport. Just 24 hours before Berrington had to face the media, Namibia's David Wiese and Gerhard Erasmus had sat stony-faced and answered questions about where it went wrong and where they saw the game going in their country from here.
When Berrington was asked the same, he let out an audible sigh, as though he couldn't bear to think that far, and explained that like Namibia, Scotland would turn their focus to ODI cricket. They also play in the World Cup League 2 and have an eye on the 2023 50-over World Cup. They are in a better position than Namibia and lie second on the points table. The top three teams will advance to the World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe.
"We need to move on from here," Berrington said. But that's more difficult than it sounds.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent