Cricket: Calum MacLeod relishing his second innings

‘I DO miss the feeling of getting a wicket,” Calum MacLeod concedes. The view of the umpire’s finger edging upwards. Then two arms joyously following suit.

Such moments are what the young boy from Lanarkshire lived for when he went down to his local club, Drumpellier, often in the company of his brothers, dreaming of making his way in the game as a fast bowler, writes Mark Woods.

When MacLeod, then aged 17, was granted an apprenticeship at Warwickshire, everything appeared to be falling into place. Just as quickly, it all fell apart. His bowling action was adjudged illegal. His employer, though supportive, cut him loose. He returned to Scotland seeking answers but with questions about his future buzzing around his head.

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Many would have opted for self-pity and drifted away. Instead, MacLeod chose reinvention. When Scotland begin their Intercontinental Cup match against Canada at Uddingston on Wednesday, he will be near the top of the batting order. His livelihood is now predicated on scoring runs rather than preventing them. He is a batsman, first and second.

That was not the initial plan. At Edgbaston, he had expected the remedial work on his bowling action to provide a quick remedy. As it dragged on, his enjoyment ebbed. “The thought of coming to training to spend 45 minutes or an hour doing drills again, every single day, and not seeing the returns, was quite mentally hard to get myself up for,” he reveals. “The enjoyment of coming to training wasn’t there. And when you can either do that or spend 45 minutes working on batting or fielding, where I can contribute in games, that seems more sensible.”

So, when it was suggested he change trades, it was a no-brainer. Scotland coach Pete Steindl and his assistant Tony Judd adopted MacLeod as a pet project, altering his approach in and out of the nets. “I spent a lot of time thinking about things, which is a different mindset to what I used to have,” he acknowledges.

Patience has been required but this summer, the 23-year-old has provided evidence that his travails have not been in vain. Last week, Northants invited him south for a trial. And, although Saltires skipper Gordon Drummond has seen his men win only once in their seven Clydesdale Bank Pro 40 ties so far, MacLeod has asserted himself, scoring a half-century against Nottinghamshire, following two half-tons collected against the Dutch and Kenyans in the spring in Dubai.

That’s the job now. “There’s a bit of pressure there,” he admits. “But it’s a nice pressure because you know you have to go out and perform to make an impact. Same with fielding. I’ve really focused on making myself better there. That still allows me to be an all-rounder even though I’m not bowling.”

He still turns his arm over on occasion in club cricket. His action has been deemed fully compliant by the scrutineers. “That’s not the issue,” he says. “If I’m being honest, I don’t think the pace and the consistency is quite there to go out and bowl at international level yet. The margin for error is too small at this level. I could see myself doing a job if I was asked to. But I think there are other guys who Drummo would turn to first.”

He might yet re-assess that. Or perhaps, like former Scotland captain Gavin Hamilton, there is no going back. MacLeod’s appetite has been fully recovered. And he will relish the chance to test his obduracy over four days against a Canadian team which has regressed in recent years amid internal wrangles.

“I love the longer form of the game,” he says. “I just wish we played more of it.

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“This year we’ve had more three-day cricket against Second XI county teams as well as the Intercontinental Cup. It’s a different test of skills. It’s more a test of your basics over a long period of time, as opposed to Twenty20 where you can be more expansive and experimental over a short period. You have to value your wicket more.”

Others have gained experience of late outside of the hustle and bustle of the shorter game. Preston Mommsen has made progressive steps at Leicestershire, while Ally Evans and Josh Davey are tentatively pushing themselves forward in Derby and at Lord’s.

With Scotland benefiting last week, along with Ireland, from an extra cash injection from the International Cricket Council, there is a timely need to prove the Saltires’ value on the world stage.

The I-Cup is a decent barometer. “We showed that last year in reaching the final that we can do well,” MacLeod says. Even in times of uncertainty, there is always room for improvement.

• Scotland v Canada, Intercontinental Cup, 11am, Wednesday, 4 July, Bothwell Castle Policies, Uddingston, South Lanarkshire