Scotland's Chris and Tom Sole are following in the footsteps of their father David, who led Scotland's rugby union team to its most famous victory.
The 1990 Grand Slam rugby union decider lives on as perhaps Scotland’s proudest sporting moment. Up against an England side who were red-hot favourites, Murrayfield’s tartan army ramped up the decibels – commentator Bill McLaren said he’d “never heard such an emotional rendition of ‘Flower of Scotland’” as was sung before the game.
But if it were just down to David Sole – who captained Scotland that day and led his team in a now-famous slow march onto the field before the game – his sons Chris and Tom, both of whom are representing Scotland at the Cricket World Cup Qualifiers, might never have heard of their dad’s part in the game.
“It’s probably the game he speaks about the least,” says Chris. “He’d tell some good, funny stories but they would never really be about him. We’ve asked a couple of times why they walked out on the pitch and stuff like that and he’s always answered the questions, but he’s never gone out of his way to tell a story about the 1990 game or anything like that. He was always very humble about it. He’d never really boast about his accomplishments.”
It was left to the general public to explain the reverence held for their father in Scottish rugby folklore. “You used to find out how big a deal the rugby actually was from other people,” says Chris. “Growing up it was always quite cool, especially when we were younger, going around the streets, where you’d have people cross the road to say hello to Dad. Everyone used to ask what’s it like to have such a famous dad, but I don’t know how to answer, I’ve never had another!”
It’s not uncommon to find cricketers with family ties to the sport – Wikipedia lists well over 150 ‘international cricket families’, and at this tournament alone there are the O’Briens of Ireland and the likes of Ed Joyce and Craig Ervine, whose siblings have played international cricket. But it is rarer to find them with family members who reached the peak in another sport altogether.
“I played a bit of cricket when I was at school,” recalls David, who won 44 Scottish caps and three for the British and Irish Lions. “But because rugby was very much my first love, in the summers I tended to try and do work at university and catch up on the two terms when I’d been playing rugby, so I didn’t play that much cricket.
“Cricket actually comes from my wife’s side of the family, her brother was a very good cricketer, he was on the books at Gloucester before he saw the light and got a proper job!”
Chris and Tom both recognise how important the support of their parents has been. “Our mum’s now the kit expert,” says Chris. “She never thought she’d end up knowing everything about a cricket bat. She’s always supported us a lot. Our dad as well, he’s played quite a bit of cricket and we’ve even managed to play with him a couple of times.”
“Dad always pushed us to try any sport once,” adds Tom. “He’d say, ‘Play it once, and if you enjoy it carry on’.”
It’s down to this ‘try everything once’ attitude that the Sole family has achieved the astonishing feat of having international representatives in three different disciplines – with sister Gemma having played for Scotland at the Netball World Cup and the Commonwealth Games, drawing attention for playing ‘Flower of Scotland’ on the bagpipes before each game. Brother Jamie, who spent a season at rugby union side Newcastle Falcons, completes the set of sporty siblings. Naturally, as the four grew up, sport dominated.
“In 2005 when the Ashes was going on we had a place up in Aberdeenshire and we had Ashes cricket going on in the garden virtually all through August, so that really captured the imagination of the boys,” says David. “We’d all be out in the garden playing cricket and dashing in to get updates on the scores when it was getting too tense.”
Chris has fond memories of that unforgettable summer: “I think we had Ashley Giles set up as a wheelie bin at one point!”
And while it was inevitably competitive, the competition was always laced with support, the siblings spurring each other on to greater heights. “No-one likes losing in our family,” says Tom. “I’m definitely the worst for it!”
Chris has no doubt why. “Youngest child syndrome! He’s used to getting his own way and didn’t always when he was playing against me and Jamie and Gemma. Growing up we’ve always played a lot of sport together, and when Gemma was playing for Scotland we set up a netball hoop in the barn on the old farm, and we’d go down and help her train. There’s always been a lot of competition but I think we’ve also helped each other quite a bit, and it’s moulded us into the way we play sport today.”
David recognises a closely-knit family unit. “We’ve got a family WhatsApp group so we’re always updating the scores if Jamie’s got a rugby match so that everyone in the family sees what the scores are, whether the boys are in Barbados or Zimbabwe or Dubai. They are always interested to see how everyone else is getting on.”
The attempt to watch as much of his sons as possible means some tough decisions have to be made. “We follow them as often as we can,” says David. “We went down to watch Chris when he was playing at one of the clubs Hampshire farmed him out to last summer, and watched Tom play against South Africa for Northants when he made his debut. We were in a very difficult position, because that same day Chris was playing against Sri Lanka for Scotland at Beckenham. It was painful!”
It turned out to be a memorable day for both Chris and Tom. “Northants bowled first and Tom bowled OK, got a bit of tap but managed to get Hashim Amla out so he was chuffed with that,” recalls David. “But unfortunately we had to leave before we saw him bat, so we were following the feed online as he scored 54 and very nearly got Northants over the line. He got them to needing 14 off three overs and then unfortunately holed out to Morne Morkel at third man. But we couldn’t see it as we were flying home. That was the day Scotland beat Sri Lanka as well. Absolutely fantastic.”
David wasn’t the only member of the Sole family struggling to follow Tom’s efforts from afar. “Our phones had been taken away [due to ICC Anti-Corruption procedures],” says Chris. “So I was onto one of the backroom staff that were allowed their phones and asking her to click through the scores and find out what Tom was on, getting her to refresh the page every 30 seconds to see if he’d got another run. And meanwhile out in the middle our boys were whacking it! It was a special day.”
All three are much more comfortable talking about their family’s achievements than their own. “It was easier for me because it was just a tour game for the South Africans so phones weren’t taken off us,” says Tom. “I was able to see that he got Angelo Mathews out and took three-for which was a ‘proud brother’ moment. Dad’s installed that in us with his ‘#prouddad’ tweets!”
That match against Sri Lanka wasn’t an official ODI. Had it been, it would have been Scotland’s first ever victory against a Full Member. They had to wait less than a month to achieve the feat, beating Zimbabwe by 26 runs at home at the Grange, and while Tom didn’t play – the two have never played a full international together for Scotland, injury and illness having so far prevented from taking the field at the Cricket World Cup Qualifier – Chris performed a key role as Scotland’s most economical bowler.
As the two have risen through the ranks, so Scotland have emerged as one of the coming forces of international cricket, and improved recent results have led to an increase in fixtures against top level opposition – this summer Scotland will take on Pakistan and England at the Grange in Edinburgh.
“My wife and I are keeping all our digits firmly crossed that they might actually be playing together, which would just be an amazing experience for them and an amazing experience for us as well,” says David.
The national team’s success has seen a rise in participation at all levels, with both Chris and Tom also noticing an increase in support. “There’s a lot more exposure now to young people, even in state schools in Edinburgh and Glasgow in particular,” says Tom.
“Chris went up to Callander CC, he did a Q&A just before Christmas, and they are now his biggest fans. It just shows that the popularity of the sport is growing outside the main Scotland set-up. The talent coming through the Scotland ranks is getting better, and the coaching is getting better. It is on the way up.”
Chris concurs: “The fans are always sending messages on Twitter. You’ll come back into the hotel and flick your phone on and there will be 30 messages to read. They follow you quite personally as well which gives you a really good connection with the rest of the fans. We’re very lucky to have such a good fanbase.”
Scotland have been spurred on by that support in the CWCQ, beating pre-tournament favourites Afghanistan, and tying with hosts Zimbabwe in dramatic fashion on their way to qualifying for the Super Sixes. That Tom feels the result was “a bit gutting” only reflects the progress the team is making.
Scotland begin the Super Sixes stage unbeaten, and, with teams carrying the points from games played against other qualifiers forward, in second place. There is still plenty to do, but they have given themselves an excellent chance of qualifying for the Cricket World Cup.
Given that the 2019 tournament will be limited to just 10 teams, it would surely register as Scotland’s greatest cricketing achievement, perhaps even one to rank with that famous Grand Slam win of 1990. There’s no doubt which would come first in David’s mind.
“The thing I always stress is that all the kids have made their own choices, and I think my wife and I have tried to support them as best we can, whether that’s cheering on the sidelines or from a resources perspective,” says David.
“They’ve always made their own choices and it’s great to see them finding their own way. I always say if you gave me the choice between playing for Scotland and winning the Grand Slam or watching my kids play sport, I’d always want to watch my kids.”
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