Calum MacLeod is the epitome of Scottish cricket’s resurgence. Aggressive, athletic and successful on the field for his country and at his county side Durham, open, charming and positive off it. His development from a frustrating and frustrated all-rounder to a fearsome top order batsmen is one of the main reasons the nation has qualified for its first 50-over World Cup in eight years.
Before the team jetted off to the antipodes to take on the world’s best, I sat down with him to talk about his side’s chances, his role in the side and what the future holds for Scotland in the quintessentially English game.
When asked just how excited he was to be a part of his first 50 over global competition, he replied: “Excited doesn’t quite cover it. We have a really tough group but that is going to make it even more special. Playing the two host nations in their own countries – and then obviously Scotland v England as a Scotsman is a game you can only really dream of.”
He is right to point out the challenges of Pool A, the tournament’s showpiece group, which pits Scotland against both host countries and the Auld enemy. But MacLeod sees this as a positive. “To play the host nations with good crowds and great atmospheres, the chance to do that as a Scottish cricketer is one that isn’t always there. I think that’s unbelievably exciting.”
“I think the format will suit us more [than in 2007, the last time they qualified]. The fact we’ve got six games gives us a chance to get up to speed in the tournament and give us the chance to get used to playing against those top nations so that by the time games two, three, four and five come around, we’ll be in the tournament, we’ll know what it’s all about and that exposure is something that we’re crying out for so it can only help.”
I asked him whether the squad were focusing more on these showpiece, high profile clashes with England, Australia and New Zealand, all three of whom will hit Scotland with quality fast bowling, or on the opportunities to beat Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who will probably have a more spin-based attack: “I think going out to Australia, obviously pace will be something we will be up against so we’ve done quite a lot of work on that. It’s generally the step up between Associate cricket and the Test Nations so we’ve done quite a lot of practice on that and we’ve been to Dubai and we’ve been to Australia and faced good quality bowlers so I think the base stuff has been done to go out there and have a good tournament.”
That experience in Dubai, where Scotland came last in a Tri-Series with Ireland and Afghanistan, but did comprehensively beat the latter in their final completed fixture is one that clearly still frustrates MacLeod even now. “Really we should have beaten Ireland, we missed the chances to win that game but we went into the last game with a chance to win the whole of the tournament and it’s probably been three or four years if we’re honest since Scotland have been in a position to really push to win an Associate tournament, so it shows we’ve closed the gap on the other two main associate nations.”
That win against Afghanistan came from a very strong bowling performance, but a greater balance is needed in MacLeod’s opinion if Scotland are going to be successful. “I think when it comes to Australia, you’re going to have to score the runs. If you look at the Tri-Series it’s been big scores, if you look at the Big Bash there are big scores out there. So I think we will have to score big runs but at the same time we will have to bowl really, really well. We have to be very clear in our plans when we come up against top players who have the ability to do that [score big totals].”
Scoring big runs is MacLeod’s job, and when talking about his own role he is relatively phlegmatic: “I’ve been up and down the order for Scotland in the last few years, and in a slightly different position for Durham, but I think the qualification tournament last year showed that if I get through the tough period up top then it’s a great chance for me to go through and make big scores which is what I’ve been lucky enough to do. It’s just getting through that period is what I need to figure out how to do.”
Amongst other things we went on to discuss, one of our own University’s young stars cropped up in conversation about the country’s future: new 1st XI player Michael English. “Last year in the regionals I did quite a lot of work with Mike, and was impressed with him. He was quite open to come up and chat. There were a couple of games early on where he found it quite difficult in certain parts of the game and he was quite happy to come up and say ‘OK, what can I do?’ I think that’s a good example for all players that you just feed off other people and he was very happy to come up and ask for information. The youth system, and the guys working at that level, are doing a good job. Some of the performances and the fact that the U19s are regularly qualifying for global tournaments is exciting.”
He sees the future as promising for the nation, continually pointing back to the fact that they are closing the gap on Ireland and Afghanistan. On the day I spoke to him, these two sides were given a boost in their hopes of bridging the gap from Associate to Full Member nation, a move that is in MacLeod’s opinion a reflection of the fact ‘they have been ahead of the other Associate teams in recent years’, but whilst he is heartened to see that those pathways for progression are in place, he feels ‘it’s slightly disappointing to see two teams that we feel are at a similar level two promoted.’
It is a mark of the man’s positivity and desire that he has this outlook, but with this attitude emblematic of Scotland’s feelings as a squad, one must believe they are well placed to cause a few upsets in Australia and New Zealand. If they can, then there is a strong chance that MacLeod’s powerful batting and outstanding fielding will have played a major part.