Time to End the Majid Haq Impasse?
Another Scotland campaign, another disappointment. That much-needed first win on the global stage was finally achieved but only after elimination from the World T20 had already been confirmed after two losses which, in different circumstances, might never have happened. Scotland will never have a better chance of reaching the latter stages of the WT20, and with their upcoming fixture list looking about as busy as a new mother’s social calendar that missed opportunity in India is going to hurt all the more.
So where did it go wrong? Take a quick look and we blame it on the batting. Against Afghanistan it was a middle order unable to break the shackles of accurate bowling. Against Zimbabwe it was the top order, falling apart in a collective act of hari-kari. In both games moderate chases were made to look insurmountable as Scotland got caught in the twin headlights of pressure and expectation. Brittle, inconsistent batting did for us, we’ll say.
But that is to take the easy way out. In a T20 innings there is always that ebb and flow, collapse and recovery. The openers performed brilliantly against Afghanistan and Richie Berrington, Preston Mommsen and Josh Davey so nearly got the team over the line against Zimbabwe. Just a few precious runs saved would have made all the difference.
The truth is that there is a far more significant elephant – or panther, maybe – in the room. Like it or not, the non-selection of Majid Haq had the greatest impact on Scotland’s campaign.
There were certainly no cricket-related reasons to leave Majid at home. For all the signals to the contrary, with disciplinary charges dropped and official clearance to resume his Scotland career given, the fall-out from the 2015 World Cup continues. The decision by Cricket Scotland to leave Majid in the cold regardless, and not for just any tournament, either, but for one crucial to Scotland’s whole international future – to be played on the sort of pitches that would suit him best to boot – unquestionably cost the team. They cut off their nose to spite their face.
Majid’s record cannot simply be dismissed. He lies 46th on the list of all-time T20 international wicket takers with 28 from 21 matches, one wicket more from one innings less than Steven Finn has managed so far, at an average of 16.85 and an economy rate of 6.29.
In his World T20 appearances, in 2007 and 2009, Majid claimed big-name wickets including those of Shoaib Malik, Younis Khan, Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith. He returned figures of 2-25 in 2009 as South Africa’s batsmen racked up a total of 211-5, a cool head amongst the mayhem. That big game experience is impossible to replace and was badly missed in Nagpur.
Consider again how Scotland lost those two matches in India. Afghanistan, and later Zimbabwe, scored too many runs – about ‘ten to fifteen’, according to Preston Mommsen in his post-match interview – and despite Kyle Coetzer and George Munsey getting off to a rip-roaring start against the Afghan seamers Scotland’s middle order had no answer to the spinners that choked their run chase in the middle to late overs. Was Majid not likely to have fulfilled a similar role?
In each of the Group B matches – and in the first match of the Super 10s, with New Zealand defeating India having left out their two most celebrated pace bowlers and packed the team with spinners – seamers found it tough going on the sluggish Nagpur surface. Scotland’s seam-heavy attack was always going to be its weak spot. There was simply not enough spin.
There are significant question marks over how the spinners they did have in the squad were actually used, too. Not to take anything away from slow left-armer Mark Watt, who stepped up and bowled very well, but looking to a nineteen-year-old in his first major tournament to be your lead spinner – in India – was a big call. The decisions not play Michael Leask against Afghanistan and to only select Con De Lange for the Hong Kong match, after Scotland’s fate had already been sealed, were also curious to say the least.
But the overriding question is inescapable. Are Scotland really strong enough to be able to leave a cricketer of the talent and international experience of Majid Haq in the wilderness?
Those at the top of the ICC are hardly going out of their way to make things easy for the Associates. Desperately unjust, but this is the reality of the situation for the foreseeable future. Reduced opportunities will inevitably lead to increasingly fierce competition for the few chances that remain to perform on the global stage and reap those crucial financial rewards that come with it.
“Every time you take the field, no matter what version of cricket – T20s, fifty-over, four-day cricket – you’re playing for something, you’re playing for a place, you’re playing for money, you’re playing for funding, you’re playing for opportunity,” said Mommsen.
“Associate cricket is about winning at all costs, and unfortunately that’s just the nature of the beast. And it is a beast.”
To give Scottish cricket any chance Cricket Scotland has to take that on board. They have to harness the talent at their disposal – all of it.
We will never know, of course, but had Majid played the Scots might well be in the Super 10s now. And what difference would that have made to the profile, the finances, the very future of cricket in Scotland?