Michael Leask: Resilience is something 'every individual in Scotland cricket has'
The Scotland allrounder on winning his 100th cap, and working for a building supplies company during lockdown
When the Covid-19 pandemic brought cricket to a worldwide halt, players from Associate nations, who were already faced with a shrinking calendar, were affected more gravely than most. With Scotland not playing a game between December 2019 and May 2021, the allrounder Michael Leask had to find a way to sustain himself - not just financially, but also mentally and emotionally.
Where Chris Greaves, Scotland's match-winner in their T20 World Cup opener against Bangladesh, worked as a delivery executive for Amazon, Leask found work at a building supplies company.
"It's something [resilience] that every individual in Scotland cricket has," Leask said at a press conference on Monday. "Like how Chris has done delivery driving, I also worked, quite a few other guys do part-time work outside of cricket. It takes your mind away from cricket.
"At times during lockdown it wasn't easy for anyone, and Chris had to find another job to help him at the time. He's now reaping the rewards from that, I think that time actually helped him take his mind away from cricket at the time. Now he has full focus on his cricket and he's delivering for Scotland which is absolutely amazing to see.
"I worked at a building supplies company, I also did some delivery driving at the time, to be able to do a little bit extra, not just sit at home and let time pass away. I always had something going on during the time, it was good taking your mind away from cricket during the tough time."
Leask is not new to bouncing back from adversity. In 2017, he had seriously stepping away from the game after Somerset ended his county contract. A chat with Scotland's then coach Grant Bradburn changed his mind, and his career began to flourish.
He played a key role in Scotland beating a Full Member team, contributing an unbeaten 38-ball 59 to set up victory over Zimbabwe in an ODI in Edinburgh in June 2017. The following year, Leask was part of the history-making Scotland team that defeated England for the first time in an ODI.
On Sunday, Leask won his 100th cap for Scotland (this includes matches outside official ODIs and T20Is), a landmark that showed just how far he had come since grabbing the cricket world's attention with a 16-ball 42 against England in his third ODI, back in May 2014. Sunday's game was also the 200th in Scotland colours for their captain Kyle Coetzer, with whom Leask has had a long association.
"I'm absolutely honoured to have represented Scotland for 100 caps, always been a dream getting the first cap, I never thought this day would even come," he said. "To make it alongside Kyle making his 200th [is amazing]. I played alongside the guy since I was 4-5, we played for the same club. I idolise the guy, he's an incredible guy who epitomises what it means to be Scottish. If you watched him on the park he plays with pride and passion, it just flows through the team. It's amazing to see what he has done for Scottish sport."
Sunday's win over Bangladesh was sweet in many ways for Scotland. First, they were up against a side that had recently beaten Australia and New Zealand at home. Then, having been put in, they were tottering at 53 for 6. To emerge from that to not just post a competitive total but also tie down an accomplished batting line-up spoke volumes about the preparation Scotland put in before the tournament.
Unusually, Scotland also got through a packed fixture schedule before the tournament began. Shortly after a home T20I series against Zimbabwe, Scotland arrived in Oman late last month for a series of WCL League 2 fixtures as well as T20Is against Papua New Guinea and Namibia, and the warm-up games for the T20 World Cup.
"We were here three weeks ago playing back-to-back 50-over games, so that has stood us in really good stead to be fitter, stronger and ready for this T20 World Cup, even though it's a lot faster and more energetic," Leask said, when asked about adapting to the heat of Oman. "We've had two 50-over games on the bounce which are very energy-sapping, so we're actually ready to go. The boys are fit and ready to go."
For the moment, Scotland's mantra is to take this T20 World Cup a game at a time, even if the tantalising prospect of the Super 12s is within their sights. Leask and his team-mates are fully aware that Papua New Guinea, their opponents on Tuesday, could do to them what they did to Bangladesh.
"We're trying to keep our feet on the ground and not look too far ahead," he said. "If it [qualifying for the Super 12s] does happen, we believe it will, great. No team can be underestimated in T20 cricket, the beauty is, on any day someone can get big runs, take five wickets, do anything. Every member of this squad believes they can do it, that's what stands us in good stead now.
"They pose challenges very different to Bangladesh, but I think now we're looking to take it game by game, day by day, stay in the moment, and try and get into the nuts and bolts of what we want to go in the next game before taking on Oman."
In a hectic tournament where teams can potentially be shown the exit door within 48 hours of taking the field for the first time, Scotland have tried to keep themselves away from external pressures. Spending time together has been the motto of their time in Oman so far, bubble or no bubble. Leask, for one, is missing being home watching his daughter take her first steps, but he's happy to be where he is, on the world stage.
"We obviously want to spend as much time together as a group. We know bubbles can be difficult, and we're trying to get away from using that word and be good around the way we handle ourselves as a group," he says. The morale is absolutely amazing, the way people are handling themselves, constructing themselves at training has been second to none."
"You can almost take it for granted at times but having international cricket again has been great. We got a taste of cricket once again after a long break when we took on Holland [in May]. The squad found it exciting, it gave us a new lease of life. It almost makes you appreciate how lucky you are to one in the position you're in. We're on a roll, so we're taking it day by day. We are really grateful to be in the position we're in at the moment."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo