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Site of Bradman's last overseas ton gears up for World Cup League Two

Aberdeenshire Cricket Club holds a special place in the history of cricket in Scotland Peter Della Penna

Set against the grey stone slabs of neighbouring houses forming the eastern boundary on Cranford Road and the sounds of seagulls venturing in from the North Sea coastline sits a cricket ground steeped in history that serves as the answer to a few choice trivia questions. What's the northern-most ODI ground in the world? Or the venue where Don Bradman scored his final overseas hundred in recognised cricket?

Mannofield Park, the home of Aberdeenshire Cricket Club, holds a special place in Scottish cricket. The crowd over the next week might not have 13,000 people like it did when the Don bid his farewell to the UK cricket scene on September 18, 1948. But it will still be a historic occasion nonetheless for Mannofield Park to host the first series - involving Scotland, Papua New Guinea and Oman - in the inaugural World Cup League Two competition, the ICC's latest attempt at creating a more meritocratic structure for Associates to gain entry into the World Cup.

"It's a real special moment to be starting this new process, the first game in this rebranded tournament to come out of Aberdeen," Scotland captain Kyle Coetzer, a former member at Aberdeenshire CC and its nearest rival, Stoneywood-Dyce CC, said. "There have been some real special teams and people come to the area over the years. There is a lot of real good memories here. We played some YB40 games here back in the day. I remember playing Hampshire here when Imran Tahir wasn't an international player back then.

"The fact that we're playing in Aberdeen, it's exciting for us as a team to be here but on a personal note, it's really exciting for the guys who are locally from the area. We don't get many opportunities to play up here and the last game we did play up here was against England. It's a fantastic club. The ground looks outstanding. It's got some real history. The likes of Bradman scoring his last [overseas] hundred here at Aberdeen and I had my time here at the club as a junior over the years before I moved over to Stoneywood-Dyce when juniors were started over there. But my brother has captained the club so there's lots of good history here and lots of personal history here on my front in the Coetzer family."

Indeed, this week is also a homecoming for several of Scotland's squad. The bulk of home fixtures in recent years have been centred around Ayr and Edinburgh. It's been five years since Scotland visited for the ODI against England in April 2014. But Coetzer, Aberdeen's own, will be leading them onto the park while another local product, Matthew Cross, will be standing behind the stumps.

"I grew up playing club cricket here at Aberdeenshire," Cross said. "I remember watching lots of Scotland internationals. I've seen Ireland, Holland, New Zealand, I think even Australia were here at one point. We played England here a couple of years ago. I'm glad that we're back here now.

"There has been a lot of people who have come from Aberdeen and Stoneywood who have played for Scotland. Obviously, a lot of people think it's mostly Edinburgh and Glasgow but Aberdeen has produced its fair share of cricketers as well. People in Aberdeen will invest the time and money to produce cricketers because the Scotland captain, most ever runs for Scotland, is Aberdeen born and bred."

This week is also a chance to get a head start on claiming a berth in not just the World Cup Qualifier for 2022, but potentially a place alongside 12 Full Members in the ODI Super League for the 2027 World Cup cycle. When the previous incarnation of CWC League Two - the WCL Championship - last got underway in 2015, the prize for winning was ambiguous due to the fact that the top two teams in the 2011-13 edition, Ireland and Afghanistan, were guaranteed direct entry to the World Cup when it was a 14-team event.

After the 2019 World Cup was trimmed to ten teams, that dangling carrot of a top-two finish had disappeared and it wasn't until the competition was nearing its conclusion that it was decided the winner would secure a place in the 13-team ODI Super League. With a clearly defined set of prizes laid out by the ICC earlier this week before the 2023 World Cup pathway begins, the sense of urgency starts now for all the teams involved to not just finish in the top three to secure a place in the World Cup Qualifier but to win the League Two title.

"I think we've got the mentality that we have to win the competition," Cross said. "It's a long competition so I don't think we could be naïve to say we're gonna win every game. But we expect to go out to try and win every game. We would be disappointed if we don't win.

"We made that mistake in the last version of the World Cricket League. We didn't really know what was the end goal of it because no one really knew I think but now we know what the end goal is, we're going all out to win it."

The redesigned structure has also redefined what it means to be an ODI nation, particularly for one of the newest members to the club. In the old WCL Championship, only three of the eight teams had ODI status and only games including those teams were considered ODIs. But Oman head coach Duleep Mendis says the decision to award ODI status to all teams in the competition has done wonders for enhancing the profile of the sport in Oman, while the framework of the competition has also made it an easier sell to attract outside investment.

"For the first time, fortunately, and thanks to the ICC, they put this FTP for the Associate members," Mendis said. "We had an issue earlier, whenever we go for sponsorship, the first thing they ask is, 'What is your program for the next two or three years?' We didn't have an answer at that time but now we have an answer. We have the schedule up until February 2022. We know where we are playing and what teams we are playing and that gives us the advantage to produce documents and then they are interested."

The structure has also added some enhanced protections for teams that finish high enough. Netherlands were one win away from qualifying for the 2015 World Cup finishing just behind Afghanistan and Ireland in the WCL Championship standings. But two years of consistency counted for nought when they bombed out of the group stage of the 2014 World Cup Qualifier and lost ODI status.

PNG nearly experienced the same fate in the past 18 months. Having finished fourth out of eight teams in the 2015-17 edition of the WCL Championship, they briefly lost ODI status at the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, then faced a do or die match against Oman at WCL Division Two in Namibia this past April or face the prospect of missing out on ODI status for the next four years.

"Thankfully the ICC have got the structure right now," PNG head coach Joe Dawes said. "Under the current structure, we wouldn't have had to go through Namibia because of the position we finished at the end of the last round-robin. They realised they needed to get that right and they have, fortunately. For us, we're looking to start this tournament well and make sure we're not in that position at the end again, get as many wins in early and don't have to put pressure on ourselves at the end."

The chance to notch a few early wins in League Two at a place graced by Bradman is all the more special for Australia native Dawes.

"If you get to play on a ground where the Don played, that's pretty special isn't it," Dawes said. "For him to have played his last game in the UK here as a cricketer, I think that's pretty special. For the PNG boys to have some sort of connection to that, that's a great part of coming to England and Scotland."