Coming into their third match in the inaugural Cricket World Cup League Two, Scotland were already finding the pressure of their bookies’ favourites tag. In February, Scotland played a 3-match series against Oman in which they famously routed the hosts for 24, but perhaps an even bigger shock came when Oman seemed completely unfazed by that total to comfortable win the second match. Those two List A matches were played on consecutive days, with the explicit purpose of preparing for this series – Oman were an opponent Scotland had hardly encountered and wanted experience against. Little did they know that they would have to be calling on their experience on turning pitches at the most northerly ODI ground in the world.
Coming a day after a gritty chase of 205 against Papua New Guinea, Scotland would have been hoping for another chance to pace themselves, but Oman made the very simple decision to send them in on an overcast and very windy morning in Aberdeen. And when Bilal Khan removed Scotland’s two most reliable batsmen in his opening spell, setting a strong total seemed an uphill task.
But not only are Coetzer (0) and MacLeod (8) Scotland’s most accomplished pair, they were also the ones who anchored Saturday’s successful chase against PNG. There will be some positives taken from the fact that the rebuild from 38/3 was built by two different members of the squad from the previous day in Matthew Cross (59) and Richie Berrington (68). After George Munsey, fresh from his success as opener of the Brampton Wolves in the Canada Global T20, slashed a wild slog to first slip for 13, Berrington and Cross put on 89 for the fourth wicket, blunting Oman’s spin attack who had plenty of extra bounce and variation on the increasingly dusty pitch. The final push for acceleration was led by a brilliantly placed 53* from Craig Wallace. Batting lower than usual at #7, he struck two huge sixes and provided a late flourish to push Scotland to 223/7, alongside 15* (13) from Safyaan Sharif.
Grange CC’s Portgower Place, Scotland’s usual home for international cricket, may be an incredibly plush batting-friendly surface, but the vast majority of the domestic grounds in the circuit are tough pitches with large boundaries and slow outfields in which 220 is a solid, defendable score, and Aberdeenshire’s Mannofield is no exception. To add to this, Scotland had been ambushed by spin in the first match and then had turned their own spin pair of Hamza Tahir and Michael Leask to pin down Papua New Guinea in the previous match.
Playing a similarly spin-heavy lineup that toppled PNG with the addition of off-spinner Tom Sole, Scotland opened their defence with Mark Watt’s left arm orthodox, who immediately gained some extra bounce from the deck and some respect from the Omani openers, only conceding 5 runs in his opening spell of four overs. When sole seam bowler Safyaan Sharif had Khawar Ali lbw for 5, it looked like the perfect start, but Aqib Ilyas joined Jatinder Singh to put on a quick paced 50 partnership. At 65/1, some nerves were sweeping through the crowd in fear of a repeat of the first encounter, but Calum MacLeod took a very sharp catch at slip to dismiss Singh for 23 off Hamza Tahir, and Oman never recovered.
Sensing the game in the balance, Coetzer brought back the miserly Watt, who struck immediately, MacLeod at slip taking another catch to dismiss the Omani skipper Zeeshan Maqsood for an 8-ball duck. From there, Scotland’s spin quartet turned the screws, with Tom Sole taking a leading edge return catch from Lalcheta (6) and the very next ball Ilyas (45) attempted to clear the infield only to be caught at mid-on, giving Tahir his second wicket. Two further wickets for Tahir came, including Calum MacLeod’s third slip catch, before Safyaan Sharif returned to the attack to have Nawaz (9) caught off another leading edge and Butt (0) bowled in successive deliveries.
With just one partner left, Sandeep Goud (32) threw caution to the very strong westerly and launched a reasonably meaningless assault, hitting three huge sixes in various areas between cow corner and long on. He was caught well in the deep by Tom Sole attempting a fourth six to give Hamza Tahir a 5-for in just his second ODI and finish the game as an 85-run win.
The sight of an enormous plume of dust billowing from the square as the groundsman cleared the wicket during the innings break was as much of a sign as the 8 overs of seam from Scotland that the pitch at Mannofield is far from a Scottish standard. With the team balance corrected from the seam-heavy lineup of the first match, Scotland look able to retain their title of favourites by the end of the series.