“Forehead… Left ear… Come on, pick up the pace, I want you moving a bit quicker!”
In a corner of Grange Loan a smiling Ellie Hird, Carlton Cricket Club’s CricHIIT Activator, is putting Carlton’s Women through their paces. It is a beautiful Friday evening in Edinburgh and, with another busy All Stars session completed and a junior hard-ball game still going on, a healthy number of parents and club members are soaking up an atmosphere as warm as the early-evening sunshine in which this famous old ground is bathed.
“Right shoulder!” The players drop to touch the required body part to the ground before resuming their jog once more. Ten are here tonight, a few down on usual, but the energy and humour of the group, driven by Ellie’s infectious enthusiasm, is a tremendous advertisement for an initiative which has already had quite an impact on the development of women’s cricket in Scotland.
The brainchild of Rosy Ryan, Cricket Scotland Development Officer and Scottish Women in Sport’s Role Model of the Year for 2018, CricHIIT combines the skills of cricket with fitness development. Developed over a twelve-month period in partnership with the governing body’s strength and conditioning team, all the elements of the ‘High Intensity Interval Training’ which gives the programme the second part of its name are there, but, with each one placed in a cricketing context, the dual-development it offers to cricketers of all ages and stages is nothing short of ingenious.
For Ellie, the impact of CricHIIT has been profound.
“In the past we always struggled to get people to get enthusiastic about the fitness side of training,” she said. “Nets, fine, fielding, fine, but when it came to doing half an hour of fitness they were more reluctant! But if you put a fun spin on it and make it cricket-relevant it entices people to come along, and CricHIIT does exactly that.
“For people coming into cricket it’s fantastic,” she continued. “Walking into a net and getting bowled at is pretty terrifying the first time, but CricHIIT places things like the bowling movement and the batting movement in a completely different environment. It’s with tennis balls and soft bats rather than hard balls and padding and that kind of thing, so it’s a great way to get new people involved in the sport without the fear factor of being thrown straight in at the deep end.
“From my point of view, I work in the fitness industry as a gym instructor, so anything that is about getting people to do exercise and enjoy it is fantastic. We’ve said to parents that if they want to come and take part in the CricHIIT session before the cricket training begins, as a social thing, to meet other people, then that’s fine, too. Anyone can access it whether they want to go on and play cricket or not.”
The session continues with bat-in-hand shuttle runs before a batting drill, each player taking turns to feed their partner’s straight drive under Ellie’s watchful eye. Carlton Women’s Head Coach, Caleb Whitefoord, who has kept in touch with proceedings as he busies himself on the sidelines, takes the opportunity to offer one of the younger players some one-to-one advice on playing the shot. “It’s cricket by stealth,” he later tells me. “The players are warming-up, building muscle-memory and working on their fitness all at the same time.”
“It is a way of getting fitter without realising it,” echoes Ellie, “If I was to say that we’re going to do shuttle runs, then 45 seconds of squats, then lunges, everyone will be like, no thanks, whereas if I say that we’re going to make it really fun with music playing and cricket gear and so on everyone is quite happy!”
More shuttle runs are interspersed with lunges, before Caleb has another chance to pass on a tip or two as the players go through their bowling movements, emphasising the rotation of the action to the accompaniment of Olly Murs in the background. A squat drill – “Get down low,” calls Ellie, “like you’re fielding the ball” – on-the-run catching practice and a team passing game finishes the session.
As the players prepare for their net session, I catch a word with Sally Powell, a recent recruit to Carlton’s ranks and an enthusiastic advocate of the CricHIIT cause.
“I used to play cricket years ago down in Buckinghamshire,” she said. “My mum got a few winter hockey players, some of my friends, some mums who had spent long enough watching their sons play cricket together into this motley crew, and it was great fun. Now my boys have started playing, they are seven and nine, so I was looking for some women’s cricket here and found this amazing bunch.
“I’ve been playing for about six weeks now, played two games and done four of these sessions, and it’s been brilliant. I’m not a gym-goer, but the atmosphere here, with the music playing and so on, means it doesn’t feel like you’re doing exercise. “It’s just a really good way to spend a Friday evening. I love it.”
Find your nearest CricHIIT club:
Strathmore CC: Contact Jenny McGregor
Brechin CC: Contact Nicola Forbes
Forfarshire CC: Contact Susan Bruce
Perth Doo’cot CC: Contact Rachael
Stirling CCC: Contact Shelly McGhee
Westquarter CC: Contact Helen Sutton
East of Scotland
Edinburgh South CC: Contact Amanda Fraser
Carlton CC: Contact Ellie Hird and Annette Drummond
Gala CC: Contact Caitlin Ormiston
West of Scotland
Dumfries CC: contact Sue Strachan and Jo Williams
Clydesdale CC: Contact Jeetinder Berman
Uddingston CC: Contact Ann Hargie
Galloway CC: Contact Natalie Hamblin