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Mark Watt reveals his secret weapon - a 'cheat sheet' of batters' weaknesses

Scotland's left-arm spinner says he is provided footage that helps him understand the "strengths and weaknesses" of each batter

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Mark Watt, by his own admission, is "not a massive turner of the ball". But Scotland's left-arm spinner is an earlier contender to become the 2022 T20 World Cup's cult hero, thanks in part to the crumpled sheet of A5 notepaper that he pulled out of his pocket during his spell of 3 for 12 against West Indies.
Before each game, Watt sits down to go through the footage and information he is sent by his team's analyst in detail, preparing a "cheat sheet" with a few key nuggets to remember about each batter. Ahead of the World Cup, he has been working with Scotland's analyst George McNiel, who spent the 2022 season with Warwickshire.
"He'll provide all the footage, the strengths and weaknesses of each batter," Watt explained. "And I'll take it upon myself to look at all the videos and try to think about where I want to bowl, what plans I want to go with, [and] what fields I want to set. It's quite a tedious process, but it's something that I feel like I have to do so I know what each batter does."
On Monday night in Hobart, Watt studied his notes at the top of his mark before bowling his trademark "24-yarder" to Brandon King, a ball which he delivers from behind the bowling crease to disrupt batters' rhythm. The ball skidded into the top of King's off stump, giving Watt the first of his three wickets in a miserly four-over spell as Scotland turned the screw.
"It makes it all worth it," Watt said of King's dismissal. "At the time, it can be quite boring - and it's quite tough looking at players hitting sixes out of the ground against left-arm spin. But it's something that I have to do, and something that I'll keep on doing."
Watt's regular glances at his notes may also help him glean a psychological advantage. In the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Germany's goalkeeper Jens Lehmann pulled a similar crib sheet out of his sock which featured notes on Argentina's likely penalty-takers during a shoot-out, which he studied closely when midfielder Esteban Cambiasso walked up to take his kick.
"Lehmann could find no indication on his note of how Cambiasso would shoot," Sönke Wortmann, a director who was making a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the German team, recalled in the book Why England Lose. "And yet the piece of paper did its job because Lehmann stood looking at it for a long time." Lehmann saved Cambiasso's penalty, and the crib sheet was later sold for €1 million.
Watt's cheat sheet is unlikely to fetch a similar sum, but he too is focused on outwitting opposition players. "I'll always try and keep the batter guessing as much as possible with all the variations that I use," he said. "Sometimes I don't even know what I'm going to bowl next ball; if I [myself] don't, the batters definitely won't know."
He has been working on an inswinger over the last year to give him another weapon when called upon in the powerplay, which he used to dismiss Moeen Ali first ball when playing for Derbyshire in the T20 Blast earlier this year. "The fact I have that in my armoury now makes me more at ease in the powerplay," Watt said.
Watt was Scotland's standout bowler at the T20 World Cup in 2021, where they progressed to the Super 12s thanks to victories against Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and Oman in Muscat. He has a fantastic record at the competition, with 14 wickets at 19.14 across three editions. For any bowler having bowled at least 40 overs, his economy rate of 5.82 is the third-best in men's T20 World Cup history - behind only Sunil Narine and Samuel Badree.
Watt said on Tuesday that he would spend the evening revising ahead of Scotland's game against Ireland on Wednesday night, where a win would help them put one foot into the Super 12 stage. "The cheat sheet will definitely be filled by the end of today," he said.
"My main priority at the moment is just getting through to that next round. I'd love to be able to replicate what we did last year and get through to the proper group stages. We've got unfinished business at this tournament. We know that last year we didn't play our best game at all. We've still not done that. Even though we've just beaten the West Indies, we've still not played our best cricket yet. We've got a point to prove."
Scotland played only two T20Is in the year between the two World Cups, the fewest of any nation involved in the ongoing tournament Australia.
"We're desperate to play more cricket throughout the year," Watt said. "Two T20s over a whole year is pretty hard to factor in when you're trying to prepare for a World Cup against the best teams in the world. "But it's something that Associates just have to get on with. We've got to save our special performances for occasions like this, and that's what we try and do."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98