Mommsen rates the 2016 World T20 tournament in India as one of his favourite experiences in the Scotland shirt. © Getty Images

Mommsen rates the 2016 World T20 tournament in India as one of his favourite experiences in the Scotland shirt. © Getty Images

Preston Mommsen’s cricketing journey began in South Africa and culminated in Scotland, but the former Scotland captain is now miles away from the sport, and works for a property investment company. Mommsen hung up his boots in 2016 at the age of 29, much to the surprise of everyone around him. But for Mommsen, who’s always been outspoken throughout his career regarding the level of treatment and support given to Associate nations, perhaps it was one match too many.

But despite being away from the game, returning briefly in 2017 for a round of World Cricket League games in Namibia, Mommsen still has strong feelings about Scotland’s performance at the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers in which they failed to qualify for the 2019 World Cup and also lost out on funding that could have helped to develop the game further in Scotland. Wisden India caught up with Mommsen for a chat about his journey leading an Associate side, the ball-tampering issue in the South Africa-Australia series, and a possible return to cricket in an administrative position.

What was the start of the journey in cricket like for you?

I grew up in South Africa and cricket, as you know, is one of the big sports in South Africa along with rugby. It was kind of a natural thing for a young boy in South Africa to do, to get involved with cricket, to play cricket. I was fortunate to grow up with two older brothers, they loved cricket themselves. I was never short of people to throw balls at me. It was the family and the culture that I grew up with, a major part of that.

I moved to Scotland as a 19-year-old to do school in Scotland. While I was playing I saw an opportunity to potentially play for the national team, to go to the World Cup. That was a major draw for me to play cricket on a global stage, obviously play at the pinnacle of world cricket, the World Cup.

On the ten-team World Cup

I can only imagine what other people who aren’t aware of the cricketing landscape, what they think of the ten team, I don’t want to call it a World Cup because it isn’t. It is just a tournament with ten teams. It is like a Champions Trophy. Really nail it down. It is such a difficult one to comprehend. I do not get it and I don’t know what it is going to take for people in these positions to realise the mistakes they are making at the end of the day. I appreciate it comes down to the numbers and to the money, but they have to take it on terms of surely trying to expand the tournament and really using it as an opportunity to showcase to the world, to grow the game that way. Why would you not want to do that?

Comparing the level of Scottish cricket when you began your career to how it has developed now – what are your observations and thoughts?

When I started there were obviously structures in place. This was 10 years ago, however few (there were). There is a significant improvement now, and I am fairly confident that the statistics and numbers show a huge increase in participation as well as the performances of our age-group national teams and how they have been competing at global tournaments. I am sure their performances have improved vastly. So there has definitely been improvement in games made at the organisational level. At both the age-group level and the national level, we have managed to attract a world class coach in Grant Bradburn. We’ve got a CEO with a very good successful business background. He didn’t know much about cricket but he was ambitious and eager to help the national team.

It was heart-breaking for Scotland and their fans throughout the World Cup Qualifiers despite having been one of the best performers in the tournament. How did you feel the team played?

The tournament as a whole was a fantastic showcase for cricket and the landscape outside the top ten. From a Scottish point of view specifically leading into that, the team’s results were up and down. It was an up and down six months leading into the tournament. Nobody thought we had a chance of qualifying. But as we know, the chances are of the guys peaking at the right time and going into form at the right time. The guys must have prepared very well and smartly. They got some fantastic results in the qualifying tournament. A couple of games could have gone either way. The tournament was incredible from a Scottish point of view. I am proud as an ex-player to watch the team perform positively. It is not just the results we got there in Zimbabwe, but also the manner in which we got them. Taking down Afghanistan on day one was a massive win for us and we quite easily could have taken down Zimbabwe and West Indies if things had gone slightly differently. So a very good tournament for Scotland, and a showcase for world cricket. It showed the strides the teams below the full members have been making. Very competitive cricketing world at the moment.

Speaking of your retirement, what happened that made you want to hang up your boots?

I was in the fortunate position of playing cricket professionally with the 2015 World Cup in Australia and 2016 World Twenty20 in India, which was a good experience. The fixtures and schedule for our team were very few and far in between. It was a struggle for us to get competitive matches against not only full members, but matches against The Netherlands and Ireland also were very hard to come by. I was spending a lot of time training but there is only so much training you can do. You really want to be playing as much as possible so you’re always playing, growing your game to the next level. The big thing for me was lack of opportunity, lack of being able to play competitive fixtures. There were concerns about the future of the game from a Scottish point of view, so I thought it was the right time for me to begin my journey on another career. I knew I didn’t want to stay in cricket forever so I had to make a tough call.

On how few opportunities Associates get:

It comes down to the lack of opportunities. If you had to look at Cricket Scotland’s fixtures list, now because it has not qualified for the 2019 World Cup, it would be very, very bare. The only cricket I am aware of is England in July (one ODI) and two T20Is against Pakistan that same week. I don’t think anyone knows when the next game will be, which is just unacceptable for a professional cricketing nation.

Are you planning on getting back to cricket at any point?

I didn’t think about this when I was playing but however the more time I spend away from the game the more I do think potentially someday I will have something to give. That route (going through administration) may provide a route for me back into the game. I have really given it a great deal of thought. For now, I am trying to learn as much as I can in a commercial sense. Cricket is in the blood. I watch as much as I can. Every chance I can, I watch Scotland and keep up to date on all news and scores.

So will we see you donning the coaching cap any time soon?

Never say never. If the right opportunity presents then certainly I would consider it.

Did you ever think about perhaps shifting countries and playing for England, maybe like Eoin Morgan?

In terms of playing for England obviously, that is the option a Scottish or Irish player has if they are world class like Eoin Morgan, who has done fantastically for England. We try and push our best Scottish players down into county cricket so we know they are exposed to a much higher level of competition day in and day out. I was fortunate to spend some time at Leicestershire in 2013. I was unable to spend more time though I’d love to do so. At the moment it is less favourable for counties to employs players like me because of their payment structure. There’s more benefit for employing someone who is English qualified and below the age of 23.

Unfortunately, the opportunities are quite limited. I would have loved to play county cricket to improve my game but that just wasn’t to be. The counties get more payments if they have more who match that criteria.

As player and captain, what are some of your favourite moments in the Scotland shirt?

I was in a very fortunate position to be a professional cricketer captaining my country. One of the most special moments was when we won the World Cup qualifying tournament in New Zealand in 2014 prior to the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. We lost our first match in that tournament but we rallied as a team and in the end won the tournament beating UAE. I won the player of the tournament as well. That was a huge game because people have gone on about it in this tournament as well.

On his plan for what Associate nations should do:

The obvious thing for me is more cross Associate playing series. I don’t see what is to stop us touring other nations, touring the likes of Nepal or the UAE to get more cricket and to grow on the field effectively. It needs the Associates to really come together to be very creative about their planning and the fixtures that we can create together. I think the World Cup qualifying tournaments has actually showed that it can be quite powerful, a product where it’s Associate vs Associate and also Associate against the lower full members. How many of those games came down to ten runs, to two wickets, to the last over. It was very competitive. The ICC has a great product there.

The effects of not qualifying are seen in Zimbabwe with Heath Streak and the others losing their jobs. It was harsh and probably not the right decision. I thought they played some great cricket but it highlights the pressure they are under during these tournaments.

When we were in New Zealand in 2014, if we hadn’t qualified, our careers were probably on the line. We needed to get that extra funding to ensure we had a period of cricket and fixtures till the 2015 World Cup. That single tournament secured our future for a few years. There was an immense amount of pressure going into that tournament and us coming on top was something I will look back on with fond memories.

Attending the 2015 World Cup was special for the players involved. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a win losing to Afghanistan by one wicket. But we were able to make up for that in 2016. For a cricketer, it cannot get more real than playing a World Cup (World T20) in India, where it is a religion. It was a surreal experience and for this Scotland team to get their first ever win in a World Cup there, that was something special.

What do you make of the direction that the game is currently moving in, with the shrinking of its premier world tournament?

It looks terrible we can’t present our sport to the outside world in that fashion and being so limited and so inclusive in taking advantage of the opportunity in showcasing the game to the whole world. I can only imagine what other people who aren’t aware of the cricketing landscape, what they think of the ten team, I don’t want to call it a World Cup because it isn’t. It is just a tournament with ten teams. It is like a Champions Trophy. Really nail it down. The fact is that cricket’s governing body, the powers that be, the management guys that make the decisions, they cannot see this as a negative. They cannot see the long-term benefits and gains in trying to be more inclusive to the other teams outside of your full member nations and the potential for growth that is there, they are not tapping that.

It is such a difficult one to comprehend. I do not get it and I don’t know what it is going to take for people in these positions to realise the mistakes they are making at the end of the day. I appreciate it comes down to the numbers and to the money, but they have to take it on terms of surely trying to expand the tournament and really using it as an opportunity to showcase to the world, to grow the game that way. Why would you not want to do that?

I think there has been a fair bit of noise and momentum gained from the general public throughout the world. People are just unhappy with the decision to reduce the World Cup to ten teams. I get people who I’ve never met or spoken to messaging me on Twitter all the time about the ten teams – How can ICC do this? What are they doing and thinking? How can they reduce it? I hope this noise is starting to being heard in the headquarters of ICC at Dubai. I would love some proper communication from them. I have spoken about this before but it needs some really strong leadership for someone to actually stand up and say, “Look, we made a mistake in reducing to ten teams. We are taking this very seriously and we are looking to expand in the future. We see this as a huge platform to grow the game.” The fact that there is no accountability is staggering.

As a former captain yourself, what are your thoughts on the ball tampering incident that happened in the South Africa-Australia Test series?

I agree it’s unfortunate that this happened and extremely unfortunate for the three guys involved. As anyone who has played cricket at a decent level will know, yes, you will do anything to get an advantage to get a swing in the cricket ball. You will try as much as you can within the rules of the game. I think the incident that happened using sandpaper, the Australians will have huge amount of regret to have acted so… I guess stupidly is the phrase to use because how you can do that with live pictures? You are one of the top nations of the world. You are going to be scrutinised if you are doing anything not with the rules of the game. I think leading up to that point in the series, the incident with Kagiso Rabada and Steven Smith wasn’t really sending any positive signals about the game in the behaviour they were displaying. Not blaming anyone but the governing body of the game needs to have a harder backbone and needs to stand up when things aren’t portrayed the way they need to be.

Their behaviour in that series was letting down cricket. It wasn’t just letting down Australia or South Africa but I think it was letting down the game because a huge number of kids are watching that, and the behaviour on and off the field, the variables and the kids thinking that, “Because my heroes are doing or behaving like this that it’s okay for me to behave like that in the field”, which isn’t the case. They are role models for millions and they need to act like that and when they are not acting like that, strict measures need to be taken so that its nailed down and things don’t get out of hand as they did in the Cape Town Test. And I think the ICC regrets not stepping in and taking firm action with that whole series.

With Ireland and Afghanistan becoming full-fledged Test nations, the onus is now on Scotland and the Netherlands to maintain that level of competitiveness? Any ideas on how Associates can continue to push for more opportunities?

On the ball-tampering incident

The Australians will have huge amount of regret to have acted so… I guess stupidly is the phrase to use because how you can do that with live pictures? You are one of the top nations of the world. You are going to be scrutinised if you are doing anything not with the rules of the game. I think leading up to that point in the series, the incident with Kagiso Rabada and Steven Smith wasn’t really sending any positive signals about the game in the behaviour they were displaying. Not blaming anyone but the governing body of the game needs to have a harder backbone and needs to stand up when things aren’t portrayed the way they need to be.

It would be remiss of me not to talk about the good work that the ICC have done to help to develop nations like Scotland, Afghanistan, Nepal, Netherlands, UAE. How these teams have grown in the last few years, a lot of that is the input that the ICC does have in terms of development budget and I think the players appreciate that – the performance and the improvements that have been made taking these teams from principally amateur teams to very competitive professional set-ups. A huge amount has been achieved in that time. However, the growth is just starting to stagnate because of the lack of opportunity, so that where it comes back to the ICC. I don’t know why they don’t want to capitalise on all the good work they have done in getting the teams to the point they are right now.

As I have said, it comes down to the lack of opportunities. If you had to look at Cricket Scotland’s fixtures list, now because it has not qualified for the 2019 World Cup, it would be very, very bare. The only cricket I am aware of is England in July (one ODI) and two T20Is against Pakistan that same week after that. I don’t think anyone knows when the next game will be, which is just unacceptable for a professional cricketing nation to not have fixtures in the diary. What we can do again, it needs a lot of ambitious, out-of-the-box thinking which we are fortunate we do have in the leadership management of Cricket Scotland. They will be working very hard in trying to secure fixtures for the guys because they realise how important it is for them to be playing.

The obvious thing for me is more cross Associate playing series which doesn’t happen because whenever we are playing Associates it is playing for a spot at the World Cup or playing for qualification so there is always a lot riding on those games. I don’t see what is to stop us touring other nations, touring the likes of Nepal or the UAE to get more cricket and to grow on the field effectively. It needs the Associates to really come together to be very creative about their planning and the fixtures that we can create together.

I think the World Cup qualifying tournaments has actually showed that it can be quite powerful, a product where it’s Associate vs Associate and also Associate against the lower full members. How many of those games came down to ten runs, to two wickets, to the last over. It was very competitive. The ICC has a great product there. I think if they can explore that further, it can become a more regular sort of tournament. I think if you look at other sports, the way World Rugby has grown the Sevens game, which used to be quite poorly supported but is now a tournament that attracts millions across the world, they have used it brilliantly to grow the game. Each tournament is in a different city and different country, so different people get to experience the event itself. If they can try and use that sort of structure in cricket, I think that would be the start of something at least.