ANOTHER potentially seismic year starts with Mark Watt returning to the place that helped his career take off.

The Scotland left-armer was not exactly an international novice when he headed to the Middle East for the 2021 T20 World Cup but his performances there, especially against the bigger nations in the Super 12 phase, helped bring him to the attention of those not overly familiar with associate cricket and the gems that can be found therein.

The Edinburgh bowler’s long-stated ambitions have always been two-fold: to help Scotland make their mark on the global stage while simultaneously advancing his own prospects by appearing regularly in the often lucrative T10 and T20 franchise tournaments.

It is the latter that sees him open 2023 in Dubai as part of a star-studded Desert Vipers squad set to compete in the inaugural International League T20 event. Team-mates include the England trio Tom Curran, Alex Hales and Sam Billings and Sri Lankan duo Wanindu Hasaranga and Matheesha Pathirana, while the squad is captained by New Zealand batter Colin Munro.

The dream for Watt would be to one day play in the IPL (Indian Premier League) and wicket-taking, economic displays in the UAE over the next month against the likes of Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root and Dwayne Bravo would go a long way in advancing that goal.

“It’s exciting to be a part of the first edition of this tournament,” he said. “The team I’m in is pretty star-studded and hopefully I can bring something to the party too. I’m hoping I’ll get a game but if not it will still be great to be around these players to try to learn from them as much as possible throughout the month that I’m there. This is the route that I want to go down, representing my country and also getting these T20 gigs.”

Watt is one of three Scots involved in the tournament – George Munsey and Brad Wheal will also suit up – that gives associate players a chance to shine alongside their full member counterparts. The 26-year-old has never come across as someone lacking in self-belief, making it little surprise that he will not be hindered by any kind of inferiority complex when rubbing shoulders with some of the best players in the world.

“My long-term goal is just to play in as many of these tournaments as possible,” he adds. “Playing with the best players in the world is the quickest way to take your game to the next level. I want to see as much of the world as possible while playing with and against the real superstars of cricket.

“But I wouldn’t say I’m in awe of these guys. To me they’re just another bloke. You get to understand the pressures they’re under and how they cope. It’s just good to chat. I’m quite a badger when it comes to these things and like to ask as many questions as I can. I did the same with Imran Tahir [former South Africa bowler] when we played together at the T10. I just want to learn as much as I can from these guys in the short time that I’m with them.”

Scotland did not fare as well at the most recent T20 World Cup but Watt still managed to make his mark, especially in the opening win over West Indies when television pictures zoomed in to show him studying a piece of paper as he was preparing to bowl.

It soon became something of a viral sensation, with the Vipers even making a version of it in Watt’s signing announcement video. The player, though, says it was nothing more complicated than detailed analysis combined with a bad memory.

“I couldn’t believe that blew up as I’ve been using that notepad for a few years now!” he laughs. “That was the first time it got a bit of airtime. I didn’t go to university so this is my studying. I like to take notes on the opposition, where they’re strong, what fields to set, what ball to use with each player. I’ve not got a very good memory so it helps to write it all down. I don’t know why more bowlers don’t do it to be honest.”

Watt has also landed a new contract with Derbyshire and will spend most of the summer down south but will not stint on his Scotland commitments that include the World Cup qualifier in Zimbabwe in June.

“The World Cup didn’t go as well as we’d hoped but we finished the year on top of World Cricket League 2 which is where we wanted to be,” he says, reflecting on Scotland’s 2022. “We want to stay top so we’ve got one last series in Nepal before the qualifier. It’s not going to be easy to reach the World Cup but it’s another chance to take on Test nations and we’ll give it our best crack.”