Scotland captain Kyle Coetzer rued an “opportunity missed” as their slim hopes of reaching the T20 World Cup hopes were extinguished after a 16-run defeat against New Zealand at Dubai.
They subdued Kane Williamson, who made a four-ball duck after glancing a catch down the leg-side as the Black Caps slipped to 52 for three, but Scotland were unable to keep the pressure on and were left to chase 173.
Martin Guptill’s barnstorming 93 off 56 balls in baking conditions propelled New Zealand to 172 for five and, while Scotland had their moments in the reply, Michael Leask’s 42 not out off 20 deliveries proved too little, too late.
After being limited to 156 for five, Scotland were left to reflect on a third successive Super 12s defeat, ending any faint possibility they had of reaching the knockout stages, and Coetzer admitted it was a tough lesson.
He said: “If we were able to restrict Guptill earlier in the innings, that would have changed the game. But for us to go out there and put on a bit of a show to show what we’re capable of, that’s something to take from this.
“We’ve had a number of games against New Zealand over the years. Some have been close, some haven’t – and this is one. Sixteen runs, it’s a reasonable size in T20 cricket.
“But we’ll probably look back on those little moments in the game where we could have closed that gap and maybe is that an opportunity missed?
“I did say to our team, ‘If we’re going to win it’s going to be the long game, it’s not going to be a short game, it’s going to be a tight one’. A couple of those moments, they just took them in the game.”
There were some encouraging moments for Scotland, with Mark Watt taking one for 13 in four boundary-free overs – the only bowler able to contain Guptill, who visibly struggled with the heat as his innings progressed.
Guptill became only the second batter after India captain Virat Kohli to go past 3,000 T20 international runs during a sparkling innings that contained six fours and seven sixes before holing out seven short of a hundred.
But Scotland refused to be cowed in their response as Matthew Cross clattered Adam Milne for five consecutive fours to give his side a sniff at what would have been one of the biggest wins in their history.
They lost wickets at crucial stages, though, and while Leask thrilled a sparse crowd with some lusty late blows to leave Scotland needing 26 from the last over, a sensational rescue act never seemed to be in the offing.
Nevertheless, Coetzer paid tribute to Leask and believes bigger things lie ahead for the off-spinning all-rounder, saying: “I’ve heard many times of innings in Scotland where he’s been hitting balls into Dumfries somewhere.
“It’s just a glimpse of what Michael Leask can do. He’s still not reached his peak yet, I don’t think, and I’m excited to see where he can get to.”
Watt has been a revelation during Scotland’s campaign with a miserly economy rate of 5.12 in six matches and Coetzer feels the slow left-armer’s displays merit being recognised on the lucrative franchise circuit.
Coetzer said: “He’s certainly put his hand up to be one of the best left-arm spinners in this competition.”
While New Zealand kept their aspirations of a top-two finish in the group alive, Scotland have no intention of throwing in the towel in their remaining matches against India and Pakistan, and will approach both with gusto.
Coetzer added: “There’s still a little bit left in the tank yet but we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. There are two fantastic sides we’re going to come up against so we’re really looking forward to it.”