More than his bowling, Mark Watt made headlines for whipping out a piece of paper in the middle of a World Cup match that read, “Don’t bowl slot.”
Playing in two World Cups in this day and age may not be considered a huge deal, given that there’s one every other year, but for Watt, who took to the game only when he was 14-15, it is a dream come true.
He could have forged a successful career in football and turned up for either Spartans or Leith Athletic in Scotland, but a knee injury resulted that he could no longer persist with his first love. Football’s loss was cricket’s gain, as has now gone on to play over 100 games for Scotland, picking up more than 120 wickets, and the best part is that he is just getting started.
An Arsenal fan, Watt would have certainly been among the millions of fans across the globe who cheered when Eddie Nketiah scored a 90th-minute winner against Manchester United on Sunday (January 22) that saw the Gunners go five points clear at the top of the Premier League.
The predicament for Watt though is that he is currently in the UAE playing for Desert Vipers in the International T20 (ILT20), a team owned by Avram Glazer – a majority stakeholder at Manchester United!
As a football fan, Watt reckons it’s pretty cool to be playing for a cricket team owned by someone who owns such a big football club.
“I don't think it matters too much. I think it's pretty cool that football owners have signed on for cricket. They're doing the right thing. I'm an Arsenal fan. Hopefully, the owners don't make it too awkward [laughs]. The owners have been really good to us so far. We are grateful for that. Long may it continue. I'm really enjoying it so far,” Watt said in a chat with Cricket.com.
A lot of Scotland’s success at the international level has boiled down to the quality and the structure of their club cricket.
“There's a lot of young talent coming through in Scotland. We've got a few young guys coming in for the squad for Nepal [next month]. That's really exciting. We're bringing young talent through Scotland A, and then Scotland development and the pro series and finally into the first team. It's really an exciting time. Club cricket in Scotland is getting better, the standard is improving, which is really exciting to see,” Watt reckons.
In 2021, Scotland won all three games in the first round of the T20 World Cup, including beating Bangladesh, to make the Super 12. It seemed as though that would be the case once again in 2022, especially after they saw off West Indies – the two-time champions – with ease.
However, things did not go according to plan against Ireland and Zimbabwe, and it resulted in a heartbreak for the Scottish side, who were looking to make it to the next round for the second time in a row. Scotland played just one T20I the whole year ahead of the T20 World Cup, and Watt points that out as a potential reason for his side not being able to get the job done in crunch matches.
“It was massively disappointing. Still don't feel 100% over it, to be honest. We had such a great start against West Indies, but we sadly couldn't pull through against Ireland or Zimbabwe,” the left-arm spinner said.
“I think that comes down to playing only one T20I game throughout the whole year in preparation for that game. If we had played four or five more games throughout the year, we would have more experience, and you are able to close out those games and learn from your mistakes, but we were thrown into the deep end by playing those games only at the World Cup.
“It makes it a lot tougher, but that is the life of an associate player, sadly. Hopefully, we can get a few more fixtures before such tournaments.”
Watt and the county tale
Watt has had the opportunity of working with some top coaches – none more so than Shane Burger – who recently quit as Scotland's head coach to take up a role at Somerset.
“Shane has been brilliant for our team. He is a cool, calm and collected character and he has been really good with our team. He has taken us to another level which is all we could ask for. He has definitely moved us in the right direction. Massive thank you goes out to Shane and the support staff. I wish him all the best. I think it's a really good opportunity he's got down at Somerset,” the 26-year-old said.
Not to forget, the left-arm spinner also works closely with the coveted coach Mickey Arthur at Derbyshire. “Mickey is unbelievable. He's a great coach. He's a great man-manager, and his love for the game is the most that I have ever seen. That's the main reason I wanted to stay,” Watt said.
“We've got a great team at Derby, and we're trying to get to new heights, and Mickey is the man to take us there. I am hoping this year is going to be a great year for all formats - 50-over, T20 and red-ball. We've got a great squad. Mickey has been exceptional. Long may that continue.”
Watt played first-class cricket for the first time in five years in 2022 when he played three fixtures - against Middlesex, Sussex and Durham. He looks to make the best of this opportunity in red-ball cricket to use those skills in white ball as well.
“Just figuring out how to get people out when time isn't an issue so they can keep batting,” Watt said of skillsets that can be transferred to white-ball cricket.
“They're not coming after you, and you need to be smart in your plans and think about different ideas about how to get wickets. That's something I need to work on because I have not done it before for a good 3-4 years.
“But trying to do it in ODI cricket, trying to spin it more, try and get the slip involved and maybe the short-leg. That has certainly helped my white-ball skills and my bowling mentality of trying to pick up wickets all the time instead of just defending.”
Watt’s way of wading through tough overs
Watt is one of those rare breeds of spinners who thrives on bowling in the death overs in T20s. Over 25% of his wickets for Scotland in T20Is have come at the death and has conceded at 8.4 an over in the phase, which is more than acceptable. Not to forget, 33% of the deliveries he has bowled between overs 16-20 have been dots.
He bowls them in such a way that it becomes for the batters to get under, and even though a majority of his deliveries may not result in wickets, they come in handy in terms of keeping the runs down. It certainly is not easy to execute such deliveries to precision on a consistent basis, but Watt says that it all comes down to practice.
“It's just practice. It's more like a mentality thing. I want to be bowling in the death, I want to be playing in the powerplay, I want all the tough overs,” Watt said.
“I just think as a spinner, you shouldn't limit yourself to bowling in just the middle-overs. The best spinners in the world can bowl all formats and across all phases. Spin is one of the toughest things to hit, and I don't see why you shouldn't be able to bowl at the death. With my yorker skills, I just like to have a go-to ball where I know I can get the batter off strike.
“So, if I slam in a yorker and he gets it for one, and then I bowl it to someone else...then it's game on at the death. I feel it's tough to hit. It's just practice and a little consistency and a little help from the bowling coach as well.”
An ODI World Cup beckons Scotland?
Scotland are well-placed in the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 and are more or less assured of a place in the ODI World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe later this year. Their remaining four games in the tournament will be in Nepal in February that will also feature Namibia along with the hosts.
Two teams from the Qualifiers will make the main draw in the 10-team mega event in India later this year. Watt is hopeful of getting some quality game time ahead of the qualifiers.
“We're playing really well in 50-over cricket. We'll definitely give it our all in Zimbabwe in the qualifiers, but we've got another four games coming up after this tournament. So, I'll be ready for them - preparation for number 1 - playing in this tournament but also having to think about how I am going to go around bowling and batting and playing for Scotland in February,” Watt, who is the leading wicket-taker for Scotland in the ICC CWC League 2 with 41 scalps at 20.14 said.
“It's exciting. We've got four more games before the Zimbabwe tour with the qualifications. Hopefully, we can put in some strong performances in the build-up to that.”