IT takes a lot to keep Mark Watt away from an Edinburgh derby which speaks volumes for the significance of the period ahead for the Scotland spinner.

At any other time, the diehard Hearts fan would have been inside Tynecastle on Sunday to watch the goalless draw with old rivals Hibernian but with a congested fixture list coming up there was no way the 25 year-old was going to take the risk.

“We were told to stay away from crowds as much as possible as we don’t want anyone to catch Covid at this stage with so many big games coming up,” said the player with the number 51 on his back in reference to the famous 2012 Scottish Cup final win.

“I watched it at home which was worse as I was jumping all over the sofa throughout the game! But it was just a case about being sensible to make sure I’ll be ready to play this week and in the other big games we’ve got coming up.”

All being well, then, Watt will be in the thick of it at the Grange today as Scotland host Zimbabwe in the first of three T20 encounters.

The Saltires’ only competitive action since December 2019 was a two-game series against the Netherlands earlier this year, the wait only serving to heighten the sense of anticipation among the playing squad.

“We’ve been begging for some cricket with Scotland as we’ve only had those two games in the Netherlands in the best part of two years. So we’re buzzing about the chance to pull on the blue shirt and get back out to represent the country again.

“International cricket is something you really look forward to so to have been starved of that for so long has just made the whole squad even hungrier to get back out there again.

“They’ve sold quite a few tickets for these games so we’re hoping the weather stays kind and we can get the three matches completed. The Grange is a tough place to bowl spin but it’s always good when you get the crowd in and they get right behind you.

“I watched a few of Zimbabwe’s recent games in Ireland. We expect they’ll bring the game to us as favourites as the Test-playing nation. But we’re a really dangerous side with batters who can whack it out the park all the way down the order, bowlers who can take your head off and spinners who’ve bowled really well at regional and club level. We’ve got all aspects covered and Zimbabwe should watch out.”

This series will barely be over when Scotland will be preparing to head to Oman, firstly for a number of one-day internationals and then the T20 World Cup a few weeks later.

“We’re going to have a lot of games coming thick and fast over the next two months but we’ve been training over the past two years for this backlog of games. When you’re playing against a full member like we’re doing this week or in the World Cup next month on TV then that’s when you’re really tested.

“The spinners have got a massive job over the next few months. Personally I’m happy to take a lot of ownership, knowing there is going to be a responsibility to take wickets.

“It’s really exciting when people are looking at you to put in a performance and expecting you to do well. I don’t mind that at all as it’s a sign that I’ve done well for Scotland previously. Every team needs match winners with the bat and ball and I’m more than happy to try to do my bit if I can.”

Watt was a callow 20 year-old when Scotland last played in a World Cup back in 2016 and believes he returns to the big stage a much shrewder and better prepared bowler.

“At that time I didn’t really think a lot about the game. I was just rolling with the punches and taking every challenge as it arose. I didn’t really put a huge amount of thought into my bowling and just did whatever felt right for me.

“Five years down the line, I’ve experienced a lot more. I’ve faced different batsmen, bowled on a much greater variety of pitches so I believe I understand the game a lot better.

“Batsmen are getting more confident in T20 especially at coming down the wicket to you so you need to study that a lot more so you’ve got an idea of what you’re going to be facing. And then you can deliver variations in pace and flight to try to outfox them hopefully.

“It’s not enough now just to turn up and bowl. You have to be prepared and try to figure out batsmen quicker rather than just bowling the same ball. I’ve learned and improved a lot since 2016 and hopefully I can go out there next month and have a better tournament and get us through the group stage.”