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Richie Berrington, and a Scotland World Cup dream realised after heartbreak

After the 2019 near-miss, they aren't going to settle for just participation in the Super 12s: they're seeking wins

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Richie Berrington has been a key figure in Scotland's success in this T20 World Cup  •  Francois Nel/ICC/Getty Images

Richie Berrington has been a key figure in Scotland's success in this T20 World Cup  •  Francois Nel/ICC/Getty Images

Scotland were one win away from qualifying for the 2019 World Cup against the odds. They had recovered from a poor start in pursuit of 199 against the West Indies in their winner-takes-all clash in Bulawayo and were rebuilding at 105 for 4 when Richie Berrington was struck on the pad by Ashley Nurse's offbreak.
The ball was clearly turning down the leg side, but he was given out; inexplicably, even with World Cup qualification on the line, DRS was not in use. Four overs later, rain intervened with Scotland five runs short of the DLS par - the same score would have taken them through if they had lost one fewer wicket. The injustice still rankles: "I don't think there's ever been a game I've thought about as much as that West Indies loss," Calum MacLeod said this week.
But three-and-a-half years on, Scotland and Berrington are belatedly realising their World Cup dream. Three wins from three saw them top their first-round group, and despite a bruising 130-run defeat to Afghanistan in their opening Super 12s fixture, they are hopeful that Wednesday's fixture against Namibia in Abu Dhabi gives them an immediate chance to bounce back in the T20 World Cup.
"Obviously, it was a real tough one to take, that loss against the West Indies," Berrington recalls. "From those experiences, you try and learn and take as much from it as you can - it gives you a lot of motivation to keep striving for that next goal. We've won some big games since then and this group has been working hard now for a long time to get to this point. It's important that we keep enjoying the journey."
Berrington himself has been a key figure in Scotland's success in this World Cup. He was Player-of-the-Match in their win against Papua New Guinea, making 70 off 49 balls, and saw them home in their final first-phase game against Oman with an unbeaten 31, swinging the winning six into the Muscat night sky.
"It's hard to describe what that feeling was like, really," he says. "Hard to put it into words. The Bangladesh game was right up there - the fight we showed was incredible and we took a lot of confidence from winning while not playing at our best - but [the six] was a special moment. We've been together for a while now as a group and this is something we've been working towards for a long time.
"It was pretty special. We spent some time in the dressing room after to sing our [team] song together as a group and then we came back to the hotel to enjoy the moment together. It was a very special couple of days. I feel like I've come here and managed to find some form since we arrived in Oman, so hopefully, I can continue that into the Super 12s.
"We have to keep playing our brand of cricket and keep enjoying it. Who knows what could happen? It's pretty big for Scottish cricket and hopefully, this can push us towards that full-member status - and we know that this could be huge for helping us grow the game back in Scotland."
"He's played for longer than a decade now and he's probably the ultimate role model from a Scottish cricket perspective."
Former Scotland captain Preston Mommsen on Berrington
Berrington's understated manner belies his status within Scottish cricket: he is their leading run-scorer in T20Is and their most-capped player across formats. Born in South Africa, where he "found my love" for cricket, his family moved to Greenock - his mother's hometown, not far from Glasgow - when he was 11 and he immediately joined the local club. He was in the Scotland system from the Under-13 level, and became their sixth centrally-contracted player in 2010.
"When I was breaking into the Scotland set-up in 2008 and I was still qualifying," Preston Mommsen, the former Scotland captain, recalls, "Richie was already very highly regarded in Scottish cricketing circles. People had always envisaged that he'd go on and be a leader or a main player in the Scotland line-up and that's certainly come true. Even at that stage, he wasn't someone that said a whole lot but he had an aura and a presence and had the respect of everyone.
"He is underspoken. He's only going to speak when he feels he can add value but he has a huge presence in Scottish cricket. He's played for longer than a decade now and he's probably the ultimate role model from a Scottish cricket perspective. He hardly ever misses a game and performance-wise has only ever improved. That's certainly been evident in the last calendar year from a T20 perspective: he's been in superb form, and that's a huge reason why Scotland are where they are right now."
Surprisingly, given his record, Berrington is among the few players in the side for this World Cup who has never played county cricket, barring a handful of second-team appearances as a young player and Scotland's involvement in England's domestic one-day competitions until 2013. "If there was an opportunity - something I could do alongside playing for Scotland in one of the competitions down there - that would be great," he says. Like many players in the squad, he supplements the income from his central contract - in his case, by working as Clydesdale CC's head coach.
Berrington batted as an opener early on in his T20I career but has been ensconced at No. 4 for nearly three years. His role is clear, rotating against spin during the middle overs before attacking against seam at the death, and the gradual uptick in his strike rate across the last four years owes much to an increased focus on six-hitting. "That's just where the game has got to," he explains. "With where it is now, you have to find ways to adapt and improve your game so that you're always able to put bowlers under pressure."
"He's a batter that gives himself a chance," Mommsen says. "If he's less than a run a ball after 10, he'll find a way to finish with a strike rate of 140-plus, which is what has made him so devastating in T20 cricket. He's very methodical and has worked extremely hard technically: I think it's clear that he's moulded his game on someone like AB de Villiers in terms of set-up, trigger movements and balance at the crease.
"The thing that makes him a threat is his ability to hit spin. More and more, you hear people talking about the phase between the seventh and 14th or 15th over, where spinners traditionally bowl most of the overs. Richie is someone who can still hit boundaries against the spin in that period, as well as being a good natural rotator."
He is yet to bowl in this tournament, but his skiddy medium-pacers have taken him to No. 3 in the ICC's T20I allrounder rankings.
Berrington's form in the World Cup has been all the more remarkable since Scotland's players were furloughed - effectively placed on leave with the government paying their wages - last year as their board looked to minimise costs during the pandemic. Their fixture list was decimated, and the national team went from December 2019 to May 2021 without playing a competitive match. "My partner and I had our first child, a little boy, during the lockdown, which was very special," he says. "It was great that I could spend that time with him and family - but from a cricket point of view, it clearly wasn't great."
There has been an added poignancy for Berrington, too. His team-mate, close friend and roommate Con de Lange passed away in 2019 following a brain tumour, and Berrington has described a feeling of him being "out there with me" on the pitch ever since. "They were very close," Mommsen says. "They had a very special bond: it's fitting that Richie is going through this period of form.
"Everyone has Con in their thoughts when they see a Scotland win. Con certainly wouldn't be settling for three wins from there: he'd be firing up the guys, wanting to go on and really compete in this next phase. I'm sure Richie will be passing on that message that they aren't done just yet."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98