'It's World Cup cricket for you' - Scotland's dream ends despite hardly putting a foot wrong

Finch on Australia's six drops: They were uncharacteristically sloppy (4:16)

Finch was impressed by some of Scotland's batters but also points out where they fell short (4:16)

At 11.19pm on Saturday night, Scotland were clear favourites to top Group B: Australia needed to score at 13.30 runs per over for the final 39 balls of their run chase and had little incentive to do so. As Saturday night turned into early Sunday morning, they rued a missed opportunity and prepared to fly home later that day.

Associate cricket hardens teams to cut-throat scenarios but even still, Scotland's group-stage elimination from the T20 World Cup 2024 was as tough as they come. They had a DLS-adjusted 108 to defend against England when rain intervened in Barbados, and were clinical in victories over Namibia and Oman. Of the dozen teams who will head home at this stage, they will be the only one to have lost only one game.

It was a bizarre day for them in St Lucia. As much of the island nursed the after-effects of the weekly Friday-night street party in Gros Islet, Scotland's players tried to fit in mid-afternoon naps in preparation for their first 8.30pm start of the tournament. There was one major distraction: unexpected rain in Antigua, which delayed England's match against Namibia by three hours.

The prospect of a no-result was tantalising: the points being shared would have guaranteed Scotland's progress to the Super Eight and allowed for a night of celebration with Australia at the demise of their mutual sporting rivals. Cricket Scotland tweeted pictures of the bright sunshine on Reduit Beach, captioned "What a beautiful day for a game of cricket in St Lucia!"

But when the rain abated long enough for England to get across the line in a rain-shortened 10-over match, Scotland knew they had to beat Australia for the first time in their history to qualify. It was a task taller than the Piton mountains in the south-west of the country, with Australia unbeaten against Associate opponents since 1983.

The early dismissal of Michael Jones, bowled by Ashton Agar via his pad, foreshadowed a routine Australian win but it proved anything but. George Munsey and Brandon McMullen put on 89 in 48 balls for the second wicket, with Munsey at his innovative best and McMullen hitting each of the five bowlers Australia used for six, including two off Adam Zampa.

Australia dragged things back to restrict Scotland to 180 but made a slow start to their chase. Their powerplay total - 36 for 2 - was their lowest since the previous World Cup, and could have been even fewer if Jones had held onto a difficult chance running back from mid-on when Travis Head was on 15.

They tied Head and Marcus Stoinis down through the middle of the innings and after 13 overs of the run chase, ESPNcricinfo's win predictor gave Scotland an 85% chance of victory. Then, triggered by Stoinis' reverse-swept six, Australia changed gears completely to turn an equation of 87 off 39 balls into 41 off 27.

From that stage, even the wickets of Head (caught at long-off eyeing a fourth consecutive six) and Stoinis (bowled reverse-sweeping) were not enough for Scotland to get back ahead, and Tim David's straight six saw Australia home with two balls to spare, cueing sighs of relief at England's hotel in Antigua.

"The guys can hold their heads high," Richie Berrington, Scotland's captain, said. "It's great learning for us and great experience for the guys. Obviously we are disappointed, being in the position we were in. We set out when we came here to go through to the next stage but, unfortunately, we haven't quite done enough to do that this time around."

It was a magnanimous response after a cruel elimination. One question will linger: could they have beaten England in Barbados? "It would have been interesting to see them finish that game," Mitchell Starc said. "They were right in the mix to get through to the Super Eight and pushed us tonight… They've been playing some good cricket."

If Scotland had qualified for the Super Eight at England's expense, they would have extended their stay in St Lucia by five nights. Instead, their players wandered over to thank the travelling fans in the Gros Islet Stand with their exit confirmed. "It's World Cup cricket for you," McMullen said, ruefully. "It's all part of the sport we play.

"As a kid growing up, I idolised these guys," he added. "It was pretty surreal to rub shoulders and share a field with them. The experience was incredible and you learn so much from how they flick a switch and they could just whack it over the boundary rope… It was awesome to be on the field with them and learn just by watching how they go about it."

It has been a tough weekend for Scottish sports fans, their 5-1 thrashing by Germany in football's European Championships followed a day later by this narrow loss. They have hardly put a foot wrong at the T20 World Cup, but their Super Eight dream is over.