Well over 100 years ago, a bearded Corinthian called Leslie Balfour Melville put in a remarkable captain’s innings to help stage one of sport’s greatest upsets as Scotland’s cricket team beat the touring Australians at the Grange in Edinburgh.
That victory was as unlikely a turning of the tables back in 1882 as it would be today – that, after all, was the Aussie team which went on to humble England and cause some bail-burning theatrics which started off the whole Ashes rivalry – and remains Scotland’s only win over Tuesday’s visitors to the Grange.
This time Australia arrive off the back of a losing Ashes series, but of far more relevance is the sound beating they dispensed to England last week as Aaron Finch whacked a T20 record knock of 156 to see the Aussies take a 1-0 lead in the limited-overs series. Once again Scotland have in Preston Mommsen a skipper who is a sporting polymath who has also played representative rugby back in his native South Africa (Melville also played rugby for Scotland, won golf’s amateur championship and represented Scotland at tennis, ice skating, curling, long jumping and billiards), and once again they have a skipper who genuinely seems to believe Scotland can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.
The next two weeks may just about be the most important in Mommsen’s young life. Three years after making his Scotland debut, a wrist injury to skipper Kyle Coetzer means that the 25-year-old South Africa-born all-rounder will lead Scotland out against Australia, even though a groin injury which has kept him out of cricket for the past ten days means he is unlikely to bowl. But as well as taking on the tourists in their hunt for Scotland’s first one-day international win over a Test-playing nation, there is also the small matter of back-to-back games against Ireland on Saturday and the following Monday which will determine whether Scotland play a part in the next World Cup.
“We have to believe we can beat Australia on our own patch,” he says, “and we are certainly prepared to win. Our showing against Pakistan a couple of months ago at the Grange was pretty impressive. We bowled first and managed to contain them to a very gettable score and unfortunately we just kind of stuttered with the bat and didn’t get there, but we certainly gave ourselves the opportunity to win and that’s all we’ll be looking to do against Australia. It is the goal of this team to beat a full member nation in an ODI, and now’s as good a time as any to start. And while Ireland are very experienced at the forefront of associate [nation] cricket, can you imagine what they would be thinking if we arrived having just beaten Australia?”
That scenario would need a lot of things to happen, especially as a Scotland that is in transition was routed by an Australia A side which won by 360 runs at the Grange earlier this summer. Mommsen also believes that Australia were far closer to beating England in the Ashes than the scoreline suggests, yet he is clearly energised rather than daunted by the prospect, although he concedes that some key Scots will have to produce stellar performances if Scotland are to win against a side containing quality players such as the explosive Finch, canny batsman Shane Watson and impressive all-rounder James Faulkner.
“We’ve got players with the talent and temperament to perform on the big stage,” says Mommsen. “Matt Machin showed his class up in Aberdeen against Kenya a month ago, getting that big hundred that set us up for a big win in what was a very important World Cup qualifying match. He is also one who likes the big occasion and thrives on pressure – he has that extra dimension with the ball, and seems to be a canny wicket-taker and seems to get the important breakthrough just when you need it. He is a very important part of the team.
“And then we’ve got Majid Haq, who is a world-class off-spinner and we’ll be relying heavily on a tidy ten-over spell from him, hopefully picking up a few wickets. Maj is someone who loves playing against the big names, the big international players, and often rises to the occasion.
“Richie Berrington has also done very well in the international games before and can boast an international T20 hundred, which not many people can. One of those would be lovely on Tuesday.”
There is, of course, also Mommsen’s Carlton and Highlanders team-mate Hamish Gardiner, who is expected to make his debut on Tuesday. The 22-year-old was born in Brisbane but has a Scottish mother and lived in Scotland, playing for Scotland under-13s, until moving to Australia as a teenager.
“I’ve spend a lot of time playing for Carlton and Highlanders with Hamish,” says Mommsen. “Right from the start I’ve been very impressed by him: he’s very hungry, eager to learn, and his performances have been very good from the get-go this year.”
Much the same goes for Mommsen, who has been racking up runs at a prodigious rate ever since he arrived at Gordonstoun school on an educational exchange as a teenager and liked it so much he decided to stay. Now Scotland skipper, he is likely to come in at four or five against Australia and is in good form, having already got a couple of fifties in important matches this season. Who knows, if he could get another one on Tuesday he may be remembered 131 years later on, just like Leslie Balfour Melville.