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MacLeod wants to look his best in Mannofield shop window

SOMETHING strange is happening.

Calum MacLeod's peformances with the bat  have earned  him a temporary contract with Durham.  Picture: Alan Harvey/ SNS Group
Calum MacLeod's peformances with the bat have earned him a temporary contract with Durham. Picture: Alan Harvey/ SNS Group

Once left to scuttle recklessly about on half-frozen pitches while their English neighbours tittered, clinking iced cucumber gins in perspex clubhouses, the Scottish cricketer is suddenly, splendidly, in vogue.

A late burst of winter aggression in their ICC World Cup qualifying tournament - bulldozing their fellow minnows to book a berth at next year's showpiece - has made more than a few sit up and take notice of the national side. There had already been positive signs, despite the ultimate failure of the ill-fated T20 World Cup qualifying tournament in Dubai, and by the time the 50-over edition in New Zealand arrived, the Scots were accelerating.

Defeat to Hong Kong in the opener sent the stuffy doomsayers off shaking their heads and muttering about old mental failings, but Scotland - coached by Craig Wright and Paul Collingwood - rattled off seven wins in a row with previously undiscovered swagger.

And now, at the first wisps of the English summer, the blue Scot is to be spotted perched in prominent places. Kyle Coezter has been named Northants T20 captain, to duplicate his national role. Matt Machan is batting and bowling for Sussex in the county championship. Josh Davey just signed a contract with Somerset.

And Calum MacLeod - whose 175 against Canada is one of the 25 highest scores in ODI history - has been rewarded with a temporary contract at Durham.

He has been piling on the runs and scored 103 not out in a T20 for the second XI against Yorkshire on Tuesday. It took the appointment of Collingwood - along with a mountain of runs - to make all this happen. "I knew he had a skill level that was incredible," the Durham captain has said of MacLeod.

They were driving one day, in New Zealand, off to the Scotland team's second home: the golf course. "He just asked me if I'd be interested in it," recalls MacLeod. "The coaches and I were away for a game of golf somewhere and he kind of floated the idea around and it went from there. I knew before the tournament but didn't say anything until it was sorted."

He praises Collingwood's contribution to the national side's success. Rather than start ripping up techniques or redefining tactics, the Durham all-rounder used his experience as a T20 World Cup-winning captain to create an atmosphere in the camp that was conducive to winning matches. He could be seen prowling the boundary, laughing with the players, arranging games of golf and signing autographs.

"Where he felt he could add the most in the short period of time was more on the environment and the team culture," says MacLeod.

"Relaxing away from the game, making sure we were spending time where we weren't just always thinking about cricket so we were fresh when we were at it. So everybody's switched on when it comes to the big moments in games."

Once a promising bowler whose good start was shattered by investigations into his action, MacLeod has reinvented himself into a modern batsman.

Released by Warwickshire in 2010, he returned home to Lanarkshire and worked relentlessly on his batting. Last year, he admits, he had put out of his mind any attempts to go back south, instead focusing completely on Scotland.

It paid off with a string of performances that have earned a second chance, and the showdown against a strong England side tomorrow at Mannofield offers an opportunity to nail down at least a summer-long contract.

"It's exciting," he admits. "They're a world-class side, albeit over the last couple of months they've had their own little struggles. That doesn't mean they're not going to be coming into the game favourites.

"But we've just got to find a way to perform and whoever does will be putting themselves in the shop window if they manage to do it against them."

MacLeod is bullish about their chances. Although he recognises that England will be busting a gut - coach Peter Moores' first match in charge makes this no exhibition - their change of leadership brings its own pressures. "It adds a bit of nerves for them," MacLeod says. "Knowing that their last game was against the Dutch, and knowing how that went [they capitulated in Bangladesh], knowing they've got a new coach, they'll have nerves; they know they've got to do well."

Scotland will also have a new coach in attendance. As the firm underdogs, though, despite their winter of content, the match simply represents a rare chance to test themselves against one of the best ODI sides around.

"That's exactly what it is," MacLeod says. "There's no pressure on any of the Scots lads to go and perform. The last few months, the media pressure that's been put on that England side . . . if we perform well enough to exploit that then we might have a chance."

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