'The future is looking good' - Abbi Aitken
As the squad prepare for their up-coming European Qualifier to reach the Global Qualifier against the Netherlands, Cricket Scotland writer Jake Perry speaks to captain Abbi Aitken about the current shape of women's cricket in Scotland.
The times are changing for women’s cricket. With attention at an all-time high, spurred on by the recent success of the ICC World T20 and the arrival of the Women’s Cricket Super League to England this summer, the profile – and accompanying media examination - of the women’s game has never been greater.
It is scrutiny that Abbi Aitken, captain of Scotland Women, welcomes with relish. With a young, talented side, a new coach recently installed at the helm and a crowded fixture list culminating in an ICC qualifying tie against Holland in July, the sense of excitement as to what may be to come is palpable.
“There’s a lot more media attention towards us now and that has been a massive turning point for women’s cricket, not just for us but right around the world,” she said.
“The buzz before we went out to Thailand (for the ICC Women's World Twenty20 Qualifier in November) was huge. It really sent a message to the girls that we have a big opportunity here, a real platform, and that set the tone for us.
“We know what we’re capable of, but it is thinking like winners which will produce the results in the future. Scotland across all sports can tend to have a negative mindset, a bit of an inferiority complex. We want to change that. We’re not happy to just sit back and be afraid to come out of our shell. We’re here to compete on a global scale and it’s truly exciting.”
The WT20 Qualifiers in Thailand provided tangible evidence of just how far Scotland has progressed in recent years, with a second place finish in Group B securing a semi-final showdown with Ireland.
“The girls have a real belief about them now. Looking at the national team, we would go to ICC tournaments and we wouldn’t really be tipped for anything, we were basically there to fill up numbers.
“But in the last three or four years we’ve proved that we’re here to compete and we’re here to win games. Looking on a global scale, particularly amongst the Associate countries, we’re now a threat.”
Still only twenty-five, Aitken has featured for Scotland since 2005, recently racking up her century of appearances in national colours. In a young side it is the sort of experience which will prove priceless in the quest to realise the ultimate ambition.
“We want to get to a World Cup and I don’t think it’s far off. Cricket is very much a momentum sport and very much a mental sport where you need to have that belief to produce the results. We have the potential, we have the talent, no doubt about that, we just need that experience to be able to kill off games when it is in our hands to do so,” she said.
“In Thailand third place probably should have been ours, but it’s that experience of playing at that level and with that expectation that’s invaluable going forward.
“Before the tournament we were probably not expected to get out of our group, so getting to the semi-final and being one game away from getting to a World Cup before being defeated by a very strong Ireland squad was disappointing but ultimately positive. We know what we have to do.
“It’s my dream to get Scotland to a World Cup and I firmly believe we will.”
Talking to Aitken her drive towards that definitive goal is apparent, and the recent appointment of Steve Knox as Head Coach of Scotland Women is another clear statement of intent.
“Steve is a vastly experienced man, he’s played for Scotland and isn’t a stranger to the county and international circuit either, so it is a massive step for us. He’s very strict in his approach and knows what he wants to get out of the team and I think that attitude is where we need to go.
“It was difficult for Kari (Carswell) as player-coach, it’s always a struggle to have that role no matter what sport you play. She did that so well, but to have a different voice, one that’s not afraid to cause a few upsets or say it as it is and who then doesn’t have to go out and play in a game, I think that’s going to be really good for us.”
Although the ongoing Royal London Women’s One-Day Cup has major emphasis, eyes are also firmly focused on the ICC European Qualifier against Holland.
“I guess that week in July is our ultimate aim this year. Best-of-three one-day games, with the winner going to the Global Qualifier in January 2017.
“Yes, a qualifier for a qualifier – always the Associate struggle!” she laughs.
But that sense of optimism around the women’s game is as authentic as it is infectious. And with women’s cricket continuing to harness the credit and attention it has so long deserved the potential for future growth is enormous.
“If you look back to when I was a girl growing up and playing Kwik cricket, I would be the only female playing in a boy’s tournament,” said Aitken.
“Now we’re being asked to go along and attend all-girls tournaments. It’s brilliant to see them really enthusiastic and keen and showing lots of potential.
“The future is looking good for women’s cricket in Scotland!”
Photos: Ian Jacobs/ICC