Self-help aiding Saltires’ fightback

WITH psychological wounds yet to heal following recent disappointing results, Scotland’s cricketers touched down in New Zealand last week as much in need of therapy as coaching.
Preston Mommsen in action for Scotland. Picture: SNSPreston Mommsen in action for Scotland. Picture: SNS
Preston Mommsen in action for Scotland. Picture: SNS

As a group, they have been used to being told to bury any negative thoughts but those days have gone.

With Peter Steindl having stepped down, the new stand-in coaching duo of Paul Collingwood and Craig Wright immediately asked for open-ness rather than discretion.

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With the qualification tournament for the 2015 World Cup at hand, it was impossible, they felt, to move on without confronting the reasons for the Saltires’ recent failures, most notably their inability to qualify for this year’s World T20.

Batsman Preston Mommsen admits it has been a cathartic process, but also a necessary one.

Australian Steindl was well-liked and his diligence as a coach respected.

“However, you could argue that change was needed,” said vice-captain Mommsen. “The fact is now it has happened and, slowly, we’re seeing a cultural shift in the dressing room.”

Much, you sense, can be attributed to Collingwood, who has never been one for coating under-achievement with sugar to alleviate the bad taste.

No wonder that the Durham stalwart was among the names floated as a potential recruit for England should they opt to clean house in the wake of their Ashes failure in Australia. The Scots, who start their World Cup qualification group campaign against Hong Kong this evening, were asked to pose tough questions to themselves.

Collingwood was looking for motivational fuel for the next three weeks.

“We did focus a lot on honesty,” added Mommsen. “And on being open with each other, being open to criticism from players and coaches.

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“In the past, we knew we weren’t 100 per cent honest with one another. We had wanted to create that environment but, for some reason, we couldn’t quite do it. But in my time so far with the squad. I’ve felt a greater willingness to communicate, to talk about each other’s games, about the team, and to talk cricket with the guys.”

An absentee through injury from November’s Twenty20 qualifiers, Mommsen took notes as he observed the destructive implosion. There was no doubt that the side under-achieved, he said. There is no illusion that Scotland’s past reputation provides any edge in the race to land one of the two golden invites to join Ireland, Afghanistan and the ten Test Nations when the sport’s one-day showpiece is held in the southern hemisphere next winter.

“One hundred per cent, we need to prove ourselves,” he said.

Queenstown, where Scotland play their first three games, and where Kiwi Corey Anderson last week demolished the record for the fastest-ever century with a 36-ball effort in an ODI against West Indies, is a batter’s nirvana.

The Scots’ top order, hitherto 
fragile, has been tasked with hitting the magic number of 80 runs in every game to lay a solid foundation for their colleagues.

There are promising signs. A 63-run victory over Namibia yesterday, sparked by an innings of 71 from opener Calum MacLeod and a four-wicket haul from Rob Taylor, made it five wins out of five in the build-up.

With Hong Kong, Nepal, Canada and the UAE in the first round, there is no reason for Kyle Coetzer and his cohorts to be apprehensive. However, finishing outside the top two would effectively downgrade Scotland to the status of minnows, with the consequences echoing from the elite through to village league.

Jobs, of players and coaches alike, are on the line. A huge responsibility, another weight to be unburdened in group discussion in order to lighten the load. “We laid the facts bare,” Mommsen confirms. “We appreciate that there’s a lot riding on this.” Better to confront the demons than bury heads in hands. There has been enough of that already.

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“This is massive for everyone involved. Even beyond just going to a World Cup. This is about our careers. This is a defining moment for the current group of players. And we except that and fully embrace it. That’s part of the pressure, but we’re excited to have that challenge, knowing that, if we stick to our plans, we can go to a World Cup.”