As the T20 Cricket World Cup looms large on the horizon, following hot on the heels on the Indian Premier League in the UAE, and talk turns to the international scene, naturally the majority of the chat focuses on heavyweights such as India, Pakistan, Australia, England and holders West Indies.
However, as we have famously seen in sporting history, sometimes a small plucky underdog pops up to rock the status quo and give the big boys something to think about.
That brings us to the unlikely cricket hotspot of Scotland, where the infamously rainy weather makes a sport such as cricket somewhat more tricky than the traditional challenge.
Scotland coach Shane Burger entered this uncharted territory in 2019 and has overseen a rise in fortunes as the nation’s XI prepare to get their World Cup quest under way in Oman against Bangladesh on Sunday, October 17.
“Scotland has a thriving cricket fanbase and with the team on the rise, we are aiming to grow the next generation of fans and players,” Burger told Gulf News in an exclusive chat this week. “We have dozens of clubs to rival the County set-up in England, the potential is massive.”
There plenty of Scottish people needing to be converted to this traditionally ‘English’ game north of the border, as Burger explains.
“When I arrived in Scotland in 2019, my cab driver from the airport did a double-take when I told him why I was in the country,” he said. “The notorious weather is always an issue in a nation where football is the No. 1 sport but when you look at the number of clubs despite this, it illustrates the resilience of the Scottish people and their determination to play cricket. I see this as an advantage for our team as we have overcome more adversities than most.”
While Scotland begin their campaign in Oman in the qualifiers, Burger is delighted to have the opportunity to compete in the UAE, should his men make it to the Super 12 group stage. Like the IPL, the competition was relocated to the UAE from India due to the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year.
“I was thrilled about playing in India as it is such a famous cricketing nation, it is a religion over there,” Burger said. “I was excited to experience a World Cup environment from an Indian point of view. All my players were the same.
“When it shifted to the UAE, we had a different sense of excitement as this is a place we are very familiar with. Not only through the 2019 qualifiers but also training on academy grounds in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. So with it heading to this part of the world, we knew we could adapt really quickly.
“It would have been great to have it in India, but, with these conditions in the UAE and Oman, we are ready to go. It may not guarantee anything, but this part of the world benefits Scotland.”
Scotland have brought in England star Jonathan Trott as batting consultant and we also took time out to speak to Gulf News.
“It is brilliant to come in and work with the Scottish side is a new and brilliant experience,” the South African-born batsman who played 52 Tests and 68 ODIs for England said. “They are a vary proud and patriotic nation and, as Shane said there, is no lack of passion for the game. It is there in abundance and I am here to help get them ready for the challenges ahead, not just for this competition but for the future and where Shane and the team want to take Scottish cricket.
“The focus with this talented bunch is certainly the World Cup but there is a bigger picture we are building towards. We not only want to do well but we want to inspire the next generation of players coming through.”
Over the past decade, Scotland have become something of a force to be reckoned with in the shorter formats of the game and are on the brink of full Test status as the game continues to expand its global reach.
“We have a nucleus of vastly experienced players in Richie Berrington, Kyle Coetzer, Calum McLeod,” Trott said. “Having now spent a bit of time with the lads, there may be a bit of a gap in terms of playing more cricket for Scotland, but the potential is there to go on to even greater things. If I was a County boss down in England I would certainly be looking to get these guys in.”
Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea are up first for Scotland, and while they may be regarded as underdogs, Trott is confident they can cause an upset or two in the short-format game.
“We can certainly cause them some concerns. Bangladesh will be desperate to qualify but we will give our all to make sure we are there also,” Trott concluded.