SCOTLAND, at least, walked away from the opening World Cup defeat to New Zealand with pride salvaged and limited praise earned despite an off-key rendition from their batsmen. England’s subsequent loss to the Black Caps was sung to the tune of a funereal march, the vocal and negative analysis lobbed in their direction drowning out any attempt to spin positives from what was a humiliating display.
Bottom of Pool A, shorn of skill and confidence, few could wish for a better moment to face Eoin Morgan’s side than the present. Despite inexperience at this level, in spite of past records and relative might, the Saltires will approach tonight’s Auld Enemy clash in Christchurch with unusual buoyancy. They have, quite simply, nothing to lose but a match. Their foes, confronting potential disaster, will carry immense pressure and precious little momentum.
“Beating them would be very special,” Preston Mommsen declares with a glint in his eye. “We know our first target is getting a first World Cup win. To know that could be England is amazing.”
And why not? If his bowlers are deployed as they were against the Kiwis and are similarly relentless, then chances will come. Catches cannot be squandered or opportunities blown. Even that might not suffice if the English can dig themselves out of the mire. Yet Mommsen, one of the quartet of first-ball ducks on Tuesday, cannot surely expect lesser collective returns from himself, plus Kyle Coetzer and Calum MacLeod. In the disgracefully infrequent gatherings between the neighbours, the supposed minnows can hardly ever have felt so confident of jumping the shark.
“This group has come up together,” Mommsen says. “And this feels like the right time in the cycle. Guys are at a peak age, a healthy age. We’re still relatively young, and we’re inexperienced in terms of big fixtures on this kind of stage. We’re quite raw but I’m hoping that can still be an asset for us.
“Obviously, we’re certainly not where we know we can be. But we’re not too far off that. And that should mean we can not only be a force in the Associate world, but in the Full-Member world as well.”
Transplanted from Natal, the 27-year-old grew up in a cricketing world where fear was a needless impediment, a regular face at Kingsmead, the traditional staging post for South Africa’s Boxing Day Test. “I had great role models: Shaun Pollock, Jonty Rhodes, Andrew Hudson, quality players,” he says. “We’d be playing at the side of the field, but also watching these guys, seeing how they went about their business.”
It is, he acknowledges, important that this Scotland squad bequeaths similar inspiration. Occasions such as these, when cricket nibbles at the edge of the radar, are few and far apart. The governing body – whose annual revenue is a staggering £120m less than that of the ECB – is doing little to capitalise. Its long-time chief executive, Roddy Smith, departed recently. The vacancy remains unfilled. Amid the void, the odds of a legacy will lengthen with each passing day.
“We need to do it,” Mommsen argues. “I’m involved in the youth set-up at Carlton and I see the talent coming in. You hope this will show them there is a career path available. It’s vital, as an organisation and administration, that the opportunities available are taken.
“World Cups don’t come away very often. This gives you huge exposure. That’s not our job. But you hope behind the scenes, those things are happening.”
All he can do is pray results deliver the necessary stimulus. Afghanistan will follow on their schedule on Thursday. A repeat of the 150-run drubbing inflicted in January in Abu Dhabi would do nicely. For both, it will be a vital encounter for their historical cup record.
England first, though. Time to match their habitual rivals and make some noise.
“The way Ireland have performed, they’ve gone with no fear,” Mommsen notes. “And they’ve turned over some really good teams. We take inspiration from that.”
The insights of Paul Collingwood will be priceless against his old team. With hackles raised and nerves tweaked, you can bet your NZ dollar that Morgan will bat first should the toss go his way. Bring it on, his counterpart signals.
“Hopefully the experience of playing them in Aberdeen last year will help,” Mommsen says of the 39-run loss at Mannofield. “That game, realistically, could have gone either way. We know we’re not far behind them. We know we’ll have to play extra-special cricket. But I reckon we can produce on the day.”
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