Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
Scotland are on the cusp of the Super 12s, but qualification is by no means guaranteed despite two wins in as many matches. A final game, that could potentially be a knockout, could make a few sides nervous, but Scotland are quietly confident of progressing. A win over hosts Oman on Thursday will take them there.
"The magnitude of the game is massive in terms of bigger picture, not just of Scottish cricket but Associate cricket," Scotland coach Shane Burger said. "There have been many Associates that have shown in this World Cup that they're closing the gap. The brand of cricket they've played is an exciting one for the world to see. In terms of us, we know what's on the line, all players know what's on the line. We've prepared for it, spoken about it.
"If there's any team that understands this is a must win game, it's probably Scotland, who often go into competitions knowing every game is must-win game. We spoke of topping the group, that was a certainly a goal, something we wanted to achieve before we arrived here. We spoke about it, planned for it, it won't surprise me if we do that.
"The mindset and the belief is there among the group. So it's huge for Scottish cricket. Also, it has the ability to inspire the nation and to be the first Scottish team to create history, and do something we've never done before. It's on the back of every player and the support staff's mind. So to leave the legacy of being the first Scottish team to do that is certainly a motivation of ours, and to inspire all those young cricketers, not only in Scotland but around the world, to take up the game and play a brand of cricket that Scotland plays is ultimate the goal we want to be achieving."
The pandemic break affected preparations, like it did for most teams and players around the world. But Scotland, Burger said, have been conscious of not allowing that to be used as an excuse for not turning up. Instead, they've tried to make the best use of every available opportunity to train and play, like arriving in Oman in the first week of September to acclimatise themselves before the WCL games and friendlies, in the build-up to this tournament. All this has contributed to the belief in the camp that they can beat any team on their day.
"There was a belief that we could beat Full Members nations," he said. "It's happened previously; the team has beaten the likes of England, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. You obviously need opportunities to do that, platform to deliver those performances which we have on this stage. In terms of preparation, it wasn't just the last six months but probably the last 18-24 months that we've been speaking about and planning.
"What the pandemic gave us as a unit was the opportunity to go away and work on various skills, tactics that we knew was required in this World Cup. Previously it was in India, so you start thinking about what the conditions might be in India, and then when it shifts over to the UAE, you have an opportunity to be confident because these are conditions we've faced in recent times and been very successful, so that did add to the motivation and thinking.
"In terms of preparation, the lads have worked non-stop, whether it's sitting at home and waiting for the pandemic to go pass or focusing on things they can control, working on the mentality of getting into big tournaments and having to win every single game - we've had great preparation. Probably there was frustration that there was no cricket for a long period of time, so when cricket does come, you must respect it, appreciate it, and go out and once again send a message to the rest of the world that we've got some really good players within this group, a unit that can do special things. It's something we truly believe we can achieve in this tournament."
Burger hopes one of the things they can achieve as a group at the World Cup apart from winning is develop a stronger culture of cricket in the country, especially at the grassroots, so that it has a ripple effect on the domestic structure, opening up pathways for players, like a few have experienced currently. Brad Wheal, for example, has a county contract with Hampshire. Josh Davey has a contact at Somerset.
"We have a few players that play in the county set up," he said. "We have a few of our younger players who are also involved. We value the time the players get to spend with their counties, and it does mean they get to play a lot of cricket which is important. One of the things we are striving for in Scotland is to be able to give players more quality cricket, keep building our domestic structures and youth pathways, and make sure that they are as competitive and challenging as they can be so that the next crop of Scottish cricketers can not only compete on the world stage but also perform at their best. That's the ultimate plan. Would we like more? Absolutely. Would we like to develop our own domestic structure so that we don't have to rely on the counties? Absolutely. But I think there's a fine balance when it comes to that."
Along with winning, Scotland are also championing the cause of fellow Associate teams, who Burger believes put in as much effort and time to get better and are equally passionate about growing the game in their countries. The underlying message from his side is: if we can achieve this goal, it could inspire all the other Associates to do so.
"I get quite a few messages from coaches from Associate nations, and we're a very tight knit unit, the Associates," he said. "It doesn't mean it's us versus them, it's very much a network of teams that are looking to progress the game within their own countries. We're very supportive of all those teams. But when we come up against one another, they're huge battles and often, they go down to the last over, last ball, that's just the nature of the battle and the competitiveness.
"Is it a level-playing field? It certainly isn't. You have to work on shoe-string budgets, resources are limited, facilities are challenging at times, but my job as coach is to make sure we go over and beyond, reach targets we may have never been able to reach previously, targets players thought they wouldn't reach. We're fortunate to be in a position to be in a competition like this, experience the pressure and the rugged nature of competition sport."
The biggest surprise for Burger and the rest of the Scotland team has been the kind of support they've received from back home. And this, he hopes, will inspire the team to go out win on Thursday. He also insists they'd rather be in this position than not looking forward to being in a high-pressure environment in competition sport.
"We'd rather be where we are now than in any other place," he said. "If we're not looking forward to competition sport as we are right now, sitting in the position we're in, I think we're in the wrong position or wrong game. There is high pressure, expectation, there's a nation's hopes resting on the game, and we know what that all represents. We've already created history in this tournament by winning two games, that's one more than any Scottish team has done previously, but we want to go one step further.
"All the goals that we've set have been over and beyond this group stage. Spoken a lot about getting into round two, and what we want to achieve within round two, but we know we've to take it one step at a time. Proud of the calm the unit has shown, ability to win big moments has been key. Actually, we've done that not really getting out of third gear yet. The players are aware, there's real confidence that has brewed over the last month, been here for long, the sunshine is bringing confidence, looking forward to what tomorrow represents."