Scotland were the runaway victors of the inaugural Intercontinental Cup, but since then they have rarely challenged to reclaim the title. Most recently, they finished third, at the head of a cluster including Namibia and the UAE, but with a vast chasm between them and the undisputed top-two of Associate cricket: Ireland and Afghanistan. However, the announcement of the ICC Test Challenge for the winner of the next I-Cup will provide a huge incentive to improve. Are Scotland up to the task?
Certainly, there is a healthy talent pool available to the Scottish selectors, especially with the ball. My first-choice attack would include Alasdair Evans (Derbyshire, Highlanders), Majid Haq (Reivers), Ruaidhri Smith (Glamorgan) and Iain Wardlaw (Reivers, ex-Yorkshire). Smith is the youngest at only nineteen years of age, and has been very impressive so far this season at Sophia Gardens, while Majid Haq is the elder statesman, now into his thirties. Evans, meanwhile, has burst into this season with figures of three for 29 (against the MCC), two for 32 and two for 14 (against Durham Seconds) and four for 12 and five for 23 (against South Holland Seafarers) - combined figures of sixteen wickets for 110 in just five games. Wardlaw, meanwhile, has been quietly consistent for Scotland since he made his debut.
Naturally, there must be back-ups, and the one that I'll pick out is another teenager: Under-19 graduate and Durham prospect, Gavin Main. The young seamer showed a glimpse of what he can do against the Indian youth side, as well as taking three expensive wickets against Kent in a friendly. His partner in crime in that Indian game was Chayank Gosain, a hotly tipped left-arm spinner, and between them they reduced the Indians to 24 for five, and gave Scotland a chance with only 89 to defend. Naturally, both are on the Scottish radar.
Evans, Haq, Smith, Wardlaw: A good four-pronged attack.
Unfortunately, these two men will not always score centuries, so there needs to be a bit of something else to supplement them. It could be the talented South African-born duo, Richie Berrington and Preston Mommsen. Alternatively, talented Brookes graduate Freddie Coleman is a talented prospect who has been nurtured by Warwickshire. Calum MacLeod, also, has worked hard on his batting and now scores a lot of runs, while Michael Leask has put a troubled start to his international career behind him to start scoring heavily this year. Against Ireland last year, the most reliable batsman was Safyaan Sharif, the Falkland all-rounder.
The trouble is, aside perhaps from Mommsen or MacLeod, none of these names looks like one that you would want to build a batting line-up around yet. One man who might be in a couple of years, is yet another youth graduate, Andrew Umeed; he doesn't have the runs behind him yet, but surely it is only a matter of time before the ability he showed against the Indian and Pakistani Under-19s will be channelled more consistently. And what of young Josh Davey, who burst onto the scene, faded, and has now been re-called to the squad? And who is the better option with the gloves - David Murphy or Matty Cross?
So, the answer to my original question: no, Scotland probably won't play in the Test Challenge. If I had to put my money somewhere, I would probably put it on them retaining their third place on the I-Cup table. However, if Afghanistan or Ireland were to slip, and Scotland were to slip into the final, then they might just be able to spring a surprise. Possible, but not probable at all.