Cricket World Cup: Champion of personal pride

The Coach: Jim Love of Scotland; Andrew Longmore talks to a determined Yorkshireman about his cross-border raid
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The Independent Online
JIM LOVE'S son Thomas came home the other day, triumphant that Scotland had won the Five Nations' Championship. Time to move on, his father thought. Love laughs at that moment now. "He said: 'Dad, I've spent longer in Scotland than I have in England', and he's right. It's 'ye ken' this and 'cannae' that, I have to tell them to slow down because I can't quite grasp what they're saying at times."

Family allegiances will not be split this month. If it's cricket, Scotland are kings, whether the support is voiced in the broad tones of Yorkshire or the crisper vowels of Edinburgh. Either way, leading his Tartan Army south for a romantic tilt at their first World Cup, Love cuts an unlikely Braveheart. In the Yorkshire dressing-room of the Boycott era, Love was one of the few who did not covet the captaincy or indulge in the ritual blood-letting. Enjoying his pint and playing his cricket were Love's simple priorities, in whichever order they presented themselves.

Only now does he wonder what a switch of counties might have done for his morale. There were plenty who felt he had more to offer than his tally of three one-day internationals - or his famous block off the last ball to bring Yorkshire victory in the NatWest final against Northamptonshire - might suggest. The one dot ball of his career, he says. And needless. Yorkshire had already won on faster scoring rate so Love could have followed his instincts and smashed it for six.

His description of his career at Yorkshire reflects his confusion. "I enjoyed it" retreats into "I quite enjoyed it" then "I tried to enjoy it". The last is probably nearest the mark. But a masterclass in the destructive team dynamics has helped to turn the taciturn Yorkshireman into an unexpectedly gifted coach. No side in the tournament will be happier or more committed than Love's Scotland.

It is just as well because their baptism will be seared with a branding iron. Australia first, at Worcester; then Pakistan, at Chester-le-Street. Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, followed by Shoaib Akhtar and Saqlain Mushtaq. Then Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, along with New Zealand and Bangladesh. Though he won't say the name (he refers to Boycott as the "man you just mentioned"), Love recalls Boycott's rigorous assessment of the foe. "He used to bring out this little black book and talk about the opposition bowlers. By the time he'd finished, you were a gibbering bloody wreck. They bowled every single ball under the sun, slower balls, quicker balls, away swingers, in-duckers, three different bouncers and then you'd get out in the middle and think 'Well, it's not doing that today'. Yes, McGrath bowls line and length and he's quick, that's the same for a lot of the bowlers we're going to face. But we're not going through them in huge detail because it will frighten us to death."

If Love has timed his psychological preparation right and ignorance really is bliss, Scotland will take the field behind their captain, George Salmond, not ready to beat Australia, for all Ian Botham's generous offer of a crate of champagne if they do so, but ready to do themselves justice. Love expects no more than that. The thought of embarrassment is the one which wakes him at night.

"It all comes down to personal pride. We've proved before against the counties that if we have a good day and they're slightly off, then we can compete. We have to play the ball, not the man, that's the theory anyway. If they can see off Glenn McGrath, they've done a great job and we might build from there. If McGrath bowls a snorter at them, so be it. It's happened to many before. We're trying not to put too much pressure on ourselves. We beat Bangladesh last year and if we can end up winning two games, that will be a dream come true. But it's what we do, not what they can do that's important."

Merely qualifying for the World Cup has been a significant breakthrough for Scottish cricket. A new pounds 3.4m indoor cricket centre has been funded by the national lottery; the Scottish Cricket Union is being restructured to bring the administration into line with the more professional approach being adopted on the field. Love has all the mod cons of a pro side: the use of a physio, a psychologist and a specialist bowling coach in Graham Dilley. "The majority of what we've achieved over the past few years is down to Jim," George Salmond says. "Yet he's so self-effacing. He was coach of the year in Scotland last year but he always tried to deflect the glory on to the players. Before Jim, we had Omar Henry, who was a fantastic guy and a great motivator, but Jim has carried on from there in terms of his forward thinking and the absolute professionalism he brings to our cricket both on and off the field.

"When he first came here I think it took him a little time to realise exactly where we are in terms of development after spending his life as a professional. I think he thought he'd come up to join a bunch of ruffians. But once he'd got everything in perspective, it just took off."

A spirited performance in the World Cup would enhance the SCU's claims for one-day international status, which is the next ambition. "Bangladesh have got it, Kenya have got it and both have gone full-time," Love says. "It would be very difficult for us to go full-time, but we might be able to go part-time." If Scotland return home early from the World Cup, at least they will be following a well-worn path. The only disappointing aspect has been the inability of the SCU to find a sponsor for the team, a search not helped by the England and Wales Cricket Board's decision to sign an overall sponsor for the tournament.

An ability to clutch at straws was not part of the job description given to Love when he first moved north of the border in 1992, but it has been a useful quality in recent weeks. Salim Malik and Wasim Akram might have a total of over 500 one-day internationals between them, Love says, but not many have been at Chester-le-Street in May. A white ball on snow could be interesting, he murmurs. In the topically surnamed Salmond, Scotland have a canny leader, in John Blain, a young fast bowler of deceptive pace and in Mike Smith an elegant batsman. The successful conclusion of the tug of war with England over the talented Gavin Hamilton has lifted morale in the squad. In future, under a new International Cricket Council ruling, all Scots are dual qualified, which means they can play for Scotland until called up by England. If only Dougie Brown and Peter Such, two other prominent Anglo-Scots, were available, too. The thought fades into reality.

"We know where we stand against sides like Australia and Pakistan," Salmond says. "But Jim's told us to enjoy ourselves and play with a smile on our faces. They're human beings and they can have a bad day at the office, like anyone else. If we can compete long and hard for as long as possible, maybe one or two people will sit up and take notice."

Love is already starting to look ahead. Scottish cricket needs to make the most of its speck of the spotlight. "The profile of the game has been raised enormously since we qualified and it's vital that at the end of the World Cup, the whole thing doesn't just fall away. There's been a lot of interest, even in the Scottish media, and quite a big show on television, which is unusual. That's why it would be nice to win a game and capitalise on all the attention." Love might do the same. There's a national job going south of the border, after all. Then England could win the Five Nations in peace again.