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Scotland earn the right to control their destiny



A lot of things can get sorted over a drink. A business deal, a second date – even an end to dating altogether. Over a couple of chugs of water and isotonic formula, Brandon McMullen and Matthew Cross decided to sort something among themselves. Why not blow this Group B wide open?

It was during the drinks break after 10 overs of the chase, with Scotland just 41 away from overhauling Oman’s par score of 150 for 7, that the license for the kill officially came through from captain Richie Berrington. Granted, 60 runs had come from the four overs that followed the powerplay. But for the first time in the innings, the conversation out in the middle turned to the prospect of pumping up that net run rate.

“The priority was to win and get the points, but at drinks we said, ‘we should get this done’,” revealed McMullen later. And how.

Just 3.1 overs were needed to dust off what remained: 34 of them in boundaries, three of them sixes. McMullen finished on 61 not out, Cross unbeaten on 15. The wicketkeeper-batter even went as far as chastising himself for missing out on a cut shot off Ayaan Khan at the end of a 13th over that had already gone for 20 because it could have finished the job a ball earlier. Scotland even overshot their target by two, finishing on 153 for 3.

That’s how serious they were about notching a statement win that now forms the backdrop of the next seven days. The column showing Scotland’s five points to put them top of Group B is now rivalled for relevance by the adjacent one reading “2.164”. Scotland’s NRR is currently 3.964 better than England’s – their likeliest challengers for a Super Eight spot – who can now only equal their points tally.

The onus is on Jos Buttler’s men who will have to thrash Oman and Namibia in their next two games. And even that might not be enough. Enter the tantalising prospect of England rooting for Australia to inflict enough damage on Scotland in the final match of Group B to reduce the run-rate figure.

The defending champions relying on favours from their enemy. Perhaps nothing sums up just how well Scotland have done in this World Cup more than that sentence right there.

Comparisons are flimsy at this juncture, given skewed sample sizes (Scotland’s two-and-a-half matches to England’s one-and-a-half) and differing opponents. But there’s a serenity to Scotland that England are missing and might not find. A control of their own destiny. Heck, even something as simple as comfort. The kind that should come more naturally to three-time World Cup winners across formats than a team who usually arrive at ICC events having to qualify to be let in having already qualified to be let in.

The first half of this match was by no means crisp. George Munsey dropped Pratik Athavale over the fence for six to take Oman batter to fifty. Cross missed the chance to stump Ayaan on 14, allowing him to bat through to the end, finishing unbeaten on 41.

The chase should not have been as high as it was. And there were portents for awkwardness against a side that had Australia fretting. Scotland responded with 50 for 1 in the first six overs, their most productive powerplay yet. At that stage, Australia had only managed 37 for the loss of Travis Head against a combination of Bilal Khan, Kaleemullah and Mehran Khan.

Much like Bridgetown, Antigua’s North Sound had itself a short boundary and an assisting breeze. Before McMullen and Cross utilised it for a quick finish, the early going was made straight and true or with the odd shuffle down the pitch to pierce the infield. Then Munsey dipped into his bag of sweeps once the fielding restrictions had been lifted – notably with back-to-back reverse swept sixes off opposition captain Aqib Ilyas – and the rest piled in.

In a tournament that has largely played out on slower, grippier surfaces so far, Scotland’s malleable top six can lay claim to being the most in form, with the receipts to prove it. Munsey and Michael Jones started with an unbroken 90 against England. Berrington and Michael Leask stunned Namibia with an expertly rescued second innings, before McMullen – the team’s first half-centurion on this trip – and Cross did their bits here. All are striking above 130 through attacking whenever possible, buying into a broader team edict of aggression while encouraging batters to find their best ways of achieving that. McMullen’s wristy hockey strikes through a V of mid-on to forward square leg was a shining example of that.

This is already shaping up as the best of Scotland’s nine appearances at global ICC events. It will be confirmed outright if they make it through to the next stage. Of course, they do not need to beat Australia on Sunday to do that. Losing in style works just as well. Not that they’re entertaining the latter. Why would they given how things have run for them thus far?

“We’re just going to have to be the quickest team to adapt when we get there and assess out the conditions first,” said McMullen, reciting from a well-worn but effective playbook. “And then just go and play our brand of cricket.”

It is hard to remember a time when Scotland had such a clear brand of cricket, so instep with modern trends and yet equally adaptable. It will face its strongest test next weekend. That glory sits on either side of the result is more a condition of their excellence than the whims of weather and scheduling. Most of all, it has been earned.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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