Photographer Donald MacLeod belongs to a minority in Scotland — he is a die-hard cricket fan in a country without any pedigree in the sport. Father of national team’s opener, Callum, Donald is travelling to Australia and New Zealand on a sporting pilgrimage.
Nobody knows better than Donald MacLeod just how dazzling Scottish cricket can look: cricket specks on dot-islands and cricket on meadows beside a scenic beach; old bats dusted out of broom cupboards and attics and an extempore challenge to cricket at a remote corner far-off Shetland islands, with 200 miles to the nearest postcode. The Gaelic-speaking photographer has shot the game his son Callum plays — he opens the batting for Scotland — in some of the most exotic backdrops that nature can offer. Yet, at this World Cup, the old lensman craves for deep words and solid performances to speak for Scotland, rather than pretty pictures.
He reckons the 2015 World Cup in the southern hemisphere would be important to clear cricket of the picture-postcard, amateurish idyll accusation. “It has a stigma that it’s not a Scottish sport. The fact that various vocations — the smiths and now bankers play it part-time makes for a good story in the press. But we’d like to be taken a little more seriously than that,” he says.
Scotland is the land of traditional uppie-downies — in summers, the upper side of a small town will challenge the lower one. It rains plenty and is windy. It’s fairly wild cricket.
“Weather, Weather and Weather are our top 3 challenges! Our climate is temperate but summers are short so it is difficult to find people playing cricket for fun (as against club sport) — it is easier to play football. In a sunny climate, it is a great advantage to be able to play sport every day — we are not able to rely on rain free days, even in summer,” he says of cricket’s northernmost outpost.
Not that the elements stop the Scots from having a go. “Scotland has Aberdeenshire, where they say more people play cricket than anywhere in England. Maybe, only Mumbai tops that number,” he adds.
As a newspaper photographer MacLeod covered many sports but found that he enjoyed covering cricket so much that he specialised in the sport. He’d shoot tournaments across the world, since 1990. “I’m lucky to photograph cricket in a number of countries — England, Ireland, the Netherlands, South Africa, New Zealand, UAE, Singapore and notably in India where the noise and madness of the maidans in Mumbai was a highlight of serious cricket fun,” he says.
He then saw the team making it to the 1999 World Cup in England. The progress, thereafter, has been slow. “I think qualification is fantastic. I was involved in 1999 when I thought taking part in the WC that year might propel the game to new heights in Scotland and it is fair to say that this progress has been slower than I hoped. However, with a greater number of professional or full-time players available and a development programme, the national team performance can make a difference. All current Scotland players are either county professionals, on Scotland contracts or devoting their time full-time to the game. The hope is that very soon all Scotland players will be fully professional,” he hopes.
England is often seen as the Auld Enemy in competition, but most cricket fans in Scotland follow England in Tests. Often Scottish club members will also follow one of the English county teams and many are “country” members of a number of counties. In the past though, at the Scottish southern borders with England at Kelso, there would have been a few “border-scraps” decided by bat and ball.
At the Cup, Scotland will be fortunate to have some fine batsmen at the moment, and MacLeod doesn’t mask his bias for his son. “MacLeod, Coetzer, Machan, Mommsen, Gardiner and Leask can all punish bowlers; I never tire of watching Majid Haq bowl his spin and Josh Davey is very much the man of the moment with the quicker ball; and in MacLeod, Mommsen and Berrington you have three of the best Associate cricket fielders,” he boasts.
Coached by New Zealander Grant Bradburn, it’s no surprise that the dominant emphasis is on fielding. “I think fielding is a strong point, as is a genuine will to play for each other — the “team” ethos is strong in the current squad,” MacLeod says.
Scotland will need to beat three teams to progress. “There’s no easy games at this level but you can see us beating Afghanistan and perhaps Bangladesh, if we play well. I think Australia might be too tough but on a bad day both England and New Zealand have proved vulnerable… so you never know.”
Clued into the team nevertheless, MacLeod lets in: “Matt Machan and Richie Berrington are the jokers in the pack — if anything is happening one of them will be involved, somewhere.” Not too keen on embarrassing anyone with the tales, he adds, “Suffice to say that there are a few stories over the years that seem to get better or wilder as the years roll on.”
He might be feeling a tad nervous for his son, but MacLeod is keen on clearing his own challenge as lensman. “In cricket, I hate missing a picture, missing a moment of quality in a game, so concentration is key. It’s a bit like fishing — sometimes the fish gets away!”
His soft-spot for New Zealand comes from thoroughly enjoying covering a Test at the Basin Reserve many years ago, but he knows a few blokes from the England squad and wishes Goerge Bailey does well, since the Aussie spent a season playing in Scotland. “I always want friends and acquaintances to do well, except against Scotland.” While picking his favourites for the title, he says, “New Zealand won’t be far away, against either South Africa or India in the final.”
Cricket’s not always front-page and the dreamy photographer remains a realist. “There will be some WC coverage in Scotland but not to the extent that rugby will gather. Interestingly, we have more cricketers and cricket clubs in Scotland than rugby players or clubs,” he says.
Yet, 1999 was a terrific period for Scottish cricket and for him as he covered 23 matches in that tournament, including the semifinals and final at Lords. “I want to experience that buzz again this time round,” he says.
The World Cup might be the immediate assignment, but the Scots value Test cricket as much. “As a team, to collect Test nation scalps has to be the goal and eventually Test status (despite our weather).”