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Flower of Scotland down English in Nail-Biting Finish

June 11, 2018

Peter Della Penna, in ESPNcricinfo, June 2018, where the title is The Stockbridge soundtrack to Scotland’s sensational Sunday”

Five minutes before the start of play on Sunday morning at The Grange, a bagpiper led the players onto the field. Moments later, the Scotland players cleared their throats to sing “Flower of Scotland”. The consensus amongst local journalists in the media box who had stood on the boundary edge to take it in was that none of Scotland’s 13-man squad was ever going to stand a chance against Paul Potts in a sing-off, let alone any other contestant past or present on Britain’s Got Talent.

But a funny thing happened. As the players’ off-key voices grew louder, so did those of the Stockbridge faithful who had poured into The Grange through the gates off Arboretum Avenue to the east and Portgower Place to the west. The fans didn’t care how they sounded, and the players had sung their last false note of the day. From here on, their willows would produce a melody for the ages.

Kyle Coetzer and Matthew Cross were the first to pick up their instruments and take the field. As the opener-wicketkeeper, Cross was the drummer in the band. He established the rhythm and beat in the second over, cracking David Willey for the first boundary of the day. When necessary, he could kick it up a notch with a crunching drive or ease back slightly with a back-foot punch.

Coetzer used the saxophone to mesmerize the home fans. Every one of his jazzy drives through the V is a tribute to John Coltrane and a reminder that there’s room for a classical instrument or two in any decent band. When he wants to hit a higher note, he just gets under the drive a bit more, as he did to Liam Plunkett to bring up his half-century and break the record for Scotland’s highest ODI stand against England.

When Coetzer finished his tune, Calum MacLeod played to the heavy-metal fanatics with his electric guitar strokeplay. Cuts and drives early to the medium-pacers, sweeps and slog-sweeps to the spinners, pulls and flat-bat cracks over cow corner to the medium-pacers. His unbeaten 140 off 46 balls was up-tempo from start to finish. It was an innings worthy of a hat-tip from the Rolling Stones, who had played to a sold-out Murrayfield Stadium the night before and took in part of the day at The Grange.

Vice-captain Richie Berrington was the bass guitar to MacLeod’s electric. Berrington didn’t have to do anything fancy. While MacLeod dominated their 93-run partnership, Berrington was content to just keep the bass notes consistent, turn over the strike to keep MacLeod in rhythm, and chip in the odd boundary when the opportunity presented itself.

George Munsey arrived later to join MacLeod. Like the harpsichord solo from The Beatles’ “In My Life”, he pulled out his trademark reverse-sweep in his first over on strike to show there’s room for a bit of unorthodoxy in Scotland’s lineup too. By the end of his fine little ditty, he’d marked up his maiden ODI fifty and helped MacLeod take Scotland past 300 in another century stand.

But England had some high-profile talent in their ranks too. Jonny Bairstow demonstrated the simultaneous grace and power of a cellist while at the crease. Just like Sheku Kanneh-Mason at last month’s Royal Wedding, Bairstow stole the show for his effortless brilliance. His virtuoso run of centuries continued at The Grange and the 40 pounds it cost to get into the ground was a bargain to witness him flay spinners Mark Watt and Michael Leask around the ground late in the Powerplay on his way to a 54-ball ton.

England were in perfect sync halfway through the chase and then out of nowhere came the first door knock in Beethoven’s Symphony Number 5, the needless run-out of Joe Root called through by Alex Hales for a non-existent single to short fine leg. The second ominous knock at the door came a few overs later when Eoin Morgan and Hales fell off consecutive deliveries to make it 245 for 5 and suddenly England’s line-up was playing with broken strings.

From then on, a sellout crowd but one that had relied on the players out in the middle to provide the soundtrack of the day began to find their voice. The raucous cacophony of Scottish cheers grew louder with each diving stop, each run saved with a slap back at the boundary. Moeen Ali did his best to quiet them with a violin score, driving elegantly to 46 off 33 balls, but with victory in sight the bow slipped off his strings.

By the end of the 47th over, the match was still in the balance and with no music playing over the loudspeakers, the sound of silence triggered tension in the air. England needed 16 off 18 with two wickets in hand, and Scotland needed the crowd to get behind them once more.

As if on cue, the Grange members on either side of the sightscreen at the Pavilion End began singing “Flower of Scotland” once again. It was hard not to get goosebumps listening to the collection of voices grow in unison, sensing that a famous victory was a matter of fate.

When Adil Rashid was run out to start the 49th over leaving England’s last pair with ten runs to get, Cricket Scotland CEO Malcolm Cannon could no longer hold back his emotions. From his position near the front of the VIP area on the southeast boundary, Cannon started to wave his arms furiously like an orchestra conductor and exhorted everyone around him to get as loud as they possibly could.

Four balls later, the top blew off The Grange. Safyaan Sharif let out a tenor’s scream after nailing Mark Wood on the toe with a yorker. When Marais Erasmus reflexively raised his right index finger, a chorus of euphoric screams rang out around The Grange. Grant Bradburn‘s Ode to Kaizen had reached its climax.

“Flower of Scotland” took over the loudspeakers stationed around the ground as the players and fans continued to bask in the glory of the moment. Those who didn’t spontaneously invade the pitch in jubilation were shedding tears of joy from the boundary. After an hour’s worth of unprecedented demand for interviews, Bradburn’s troops gathered back in the change rooms for one more full-throated rendition of “Flower of Scotland”: the pre-match anthem was now the post-match victory song.

Coetzer then led his travelling band back onto the field for a group photo to look back on for posterity’s sake. By this point, the only sounds echoing around the ground were bottle caps being snapped off of celebratory brews as Coetzer drenched Macleod in a fizzy-ale shower to honor his epic century.

But of all the enchanting sounds that carried around The Grange over the course of the most famous cricket result in Scottish lore, one stood out. It rang out while the Scotland squad circled the ground for a victory lap in the early part of the celebratory festivities once the match had ended.

It was sung by a group of young fans in their teens and early 20s pressed up against the boundary near the Portgower Place entrance. Their song consisted of a basic four-word chorus, repeated over and over. It was a hymn not just for Scotland but for all Associate teams around the globe who yearn for an opportunity to take the field against England or any other Full Member.

“Are you watching, ICC? Are you waaaaaaaaaaatching, I-C-C?”

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