Kari Carswell Focuses on the Road Ahead
Ahead of the Scotland women's first match against the Netherlands in the ICC European Qualifier, Jake Perry chats to Kari Carswell about the state of the growing female game in the country.
Michael Hussey, perhaps the ultimate embodiment of the Australian professional, famously went by the nickname of ‘Mr Cricket’. Apparently the result of teasing from Alec Swann during his time playing county cricket with Northants, the name stuck, even becoming the title of his autobiography. It came to symbolise Hussey’s single-minded dedication to the betterment of both his own game and Australian cricket as a whole.
Meeting Kari Carswell is to encounter someone with a similar, intensely focused dedication. No-one has done more to drive the development of women’s cricket in this country than the 33 year old Stirlingshire all-rounder. The subtitle of Hussey’s book – ‘Driven to Succeed’ - might well be emblazoned on the Carswell family crest too, and as player, captain and in her twin roles as Women’s Cricket Manager with Cricket Scotland and, until latterly, player-coach with the national team, she has been pivotal in the growth of all aspects of the women’s game to its present healthy - and ever more exciting - position.
Down to earth, open and with heart unashamedly pinned to sleeve, Carswell speaks with pride at what has been achieved so far but with candour about the challenges yet to be overcome.
“I suppose the biggest change I’ve seen over the last few years is that more people seem to know about us!” she said. “We’ve worked hard to get the message out there through the website and social media, but clubs are also taking a keen interest in women’s and girl’s cricket these days. There are clubs that have always been really supportive of us but others are latching on to women’s cricket now too. That has really helped to raise our profile.
“I have to pay tribute to our coaches and volunteers going into the clubs and schools, and to our Wildcats too. They volunteer, coach, help promote events and so on and it’s brilliant that they are seen as really positive role models. That is something we’ll continue, to raise the profile of them individually and that of the sport across Scotland.
“It helps when your national team start performing on the pitch, of course. It’s not the be-all and end-all, but you’ve got something to shout about if your national teams are winning games of cricket.”
And those essential victories on the international stage are starting to arrive. Scotland’s fourth place finish at the ICC Women's World Twenty20 Qualifier in Thailand, a tournament in which they were widely expected to struggle, was an indication of how far the team has travelled and how close they are to achieving – perhaps even exceeding - Cricket Scotland’s target of a top twelve ICC Ranking by the end of 2019.
“I think it has shown how near we are to those ninth and tenth places in the world. Let’s not deny it, there is a bit of a gap, but it’s not a huge gap. If we could play better teams more often it would really bring on our cricket. It comes down to resources, of course, to finance and to the available opposition. But the Thailand experience showed that we have grit, determination and a squad who are willing to put in the work and effort to improve and get better. If you have that environment within a team you’re halfway there.
“We are probably in the best place we’ve been since the national team started in 1999. We have a really good balance of youth and experience, some exciting young players coming through and some old steady heads at the other end of the age spectrum as well. We talk about Kathryn and Sarah Bryce a lot, really talented young girls. In Abtaha Maqsood we have a young legspinner, they are few and far between in cricket, let alone in women’s cricket, so if we can keep helping her develop she will be a huge asset. We’ve got Kirsty Gordon, a left-arm spinner at Loughborough, we’ve loaned her to Nottinghamshire to play a higher standard of cricket.
“It’s about making those girls better but also making the girls in their mid-twenties better as well.
“These are exciting times. We need to concentrate on developing what is a very good pool of players.”
Overseeing that future development will be Steve Knox, who succeeded Carswell to the post of Head Coach in March. Carswell is frank about her reasons for vacating the role.
“After five great years I just felt that it was what the team needed. If you look at Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, for example, you’ll hear a lot of their fans saying that he’s maybe outstayed his welcome. I didn’t want things to go that way. I knew that it was the right time to go, to get somebody else in who has different ideas and who can take the girls on to the next stage of the journey.
“I probably couldn’t do that while I was playing as well. It was getting tougher to work on my own game while making sure the girls were getting the attention they needed. Latterly I found that balance difficult.
“Steve brings experience from the men’s game, the way they play. He knows a huge amount about cricket, he’s got a lot of coaching experience and brings a fresh approach, a new outlook, a different voice in the changing room.”
Cricket Scotland’s recently published Strategic Plan prioritises growth in grassroots women’s cricket. Ambitious targets for increased participation and community engagement have been set, building on the considerable progress in developing female specific programmes that has already been made.
“We’re offering some really good modified formats for girls and women,” said Carswell. “In Scotland we can blame the weather as much as we like but the reality is that we have to deal with it. We have to provide different formats which will allow us to play cricket. The indoor format is one of them, the National League and Scottish Cup can be eight-a-side, you can be really flexible between twenty overs and thirty overs, that’s entirely up to teams to arrange and agree on the day or just before.”
She is realistic, though, about the challenging but far from unique issues Cricket Scotland faces as it looks to grow the domestic game.
“Of course, we need more women, more girls playing cricket. It’s the same for boys and men, too. Because of that we need to be extremely careful in how we use the resources that we have. The old scattergun approach of doing things on a whim, those days are gone. We need to keep a narrow focus and do those things really well.
“The reality is that if you can get girls down to your club to play cricket your membership will soar. And that increases revenue and opens so many more doors. I understand that it involves an extra coach, an extra volunteer to drive the bus and so on, but it’s the right thing to do and that’s what we’re here to support. It’s hugely important for clubs to understand that there is a pathway for girls and women to play cricket. Whether it’s through the club game, schools, Kwik cricket, hardball, indoor cricket, whatever it is, there’s something there now for girls to go and play.”
And five years from now? What are the ultimate goals?
“Domestically we need to have more teams. We’ve got eight club sides at the moment and we want those eight to be as strong as possible. Ideally, though, we would like an additional six teams playing National League cricket. It’s important that we have a good spread across the country, too, we’ve got nothing north of Stirling in our league although we’ve got a lot of girls playing up in Huntly and Moray, for example. We’ve got opportunities to get something going in Dundee and Fife too.
“I care passionately about making the National League and domestic structure as strong as it can possibly be.
“Our national team will find their place. We want to be top twelve, we want to get to a global event, that’s everybody’s wish. If we can get the structures and pathways right, the amount of coach contact time, the right amount of games and so on, well, it might happen sooner rather than later,” she said.
“I don’t believe we’re that far away. We just need that little extra push to get over the line.
“There will be bad days along the way, of course there will. But hopefully the good days will outweigh them. And who knows? Maybe we’ll have a Scotland women’s team competing at that global event very soon.”