The Preparation Behind the Tour
From Neil Drysdale
They have walked, they have danced, and they have padded up and strutted their stuff on one of Scotland's iconic structures. They have organised their own fund-raising initiatives, sold wristbands and penned letters seeking sponsorship, while trying to fit in winter training, amidst near-incessant sleet and snow, with work and educational commitments. So when a Scotland Women's development squad heads to the UAE to take part in the ARCH Trophy next week, they can reflect proudly on the fact they have made this opportunity happen almost entirely through their own enterprise and enthusiasm.
Nobody in the camp, least of all the Scots' redoubtable skipper, Abbi Aitken, expects the week-long tour to be anything other than testing, as the youthful ensemble prepare to tackle Wales, Lancashire and Sussex on February 18, 20 and 21. And yet there is a resilience about these new kids which bodes well for the future of the sport in their homeland. Other less ambitious individuals might have looked at the money required to finance the trip - in excess of £25,000 - and decided it was beyond their means. But not Abbi and her allies, all of whom will be based in Abu Dhabi for the duration of their stay.
"It needed a big effort, but we were all excited by the prospect of going on this tour and the support we have received has been phenomenal," says Aitken, one of those little coiled springs of boundless energy. "We had a sponsored walk across the Forth Road Bridge, we held a ceilidh, and a race night, and various other events, and the girls did everything they could to whip up interest from friends and family and local businesses. It has been a challenge, no doubt about it, but, in a way, we have become even more thrilled about this adventure because we have had to go out and make this a reality. And we've done it!"
The team's head coach, Kari Carswell, herself an accomplished all-round cricketer, is among those who have watched and applauded the industry shown by her charges. "The players and their clubs have all made such a significant impact and have helped raise the money and that shouldn't go unnoticed," said Carswell. "I would also like to thank Philip Hudson and ICC Europe for the contribution they have made towards this trip and they are fantastic supporters of the women's game.
"It was quite daunting at the start to think about how we were going to raise the money, but we have somehow managed to reach the milestone. At times, you wonder [if it was financially viable], but it shows the tremendous spirit and generosity of those who support Scottish women's cricket and I am extremely grateful to them all."
The potent mixture of dogged determination and stahanovite commitment displayed by such characters as Aitken certainly shouldn't be underestimated. A feisty Aberdonian, her instinctive competitiveness is clearly in the genes - her cousin, Lisa, is Scotland's No 1 squash performer and a rising star on the WISPA circuit - and, while she recognises that her compatriots will be jousting with formidable opponents in the Middle East, nothing fazes her, as she pursues progress for her personnel.
"We realise that it is going to be a steep learning curve once we are out in Abu Dhabi, but I'm confident that the girls will adapt to the conditions, and the fact they have been so heavily involved in the preparation for this venture has simply fired them up," said Aitken. "The squad has the right balance about it and our research into the conditions we might face in the UAE influenced our selection, but although we have three matches in four days, we can't wait to be involved in the tournament.
"Raising the amount of money we have done is fantastic and not only have companies and organisations been generous with their monetary donations, but I would also like to personally thank ASCO Transport Aberdeen and especially Willie Smith and Pauline Buchan for the support and training equipment they have provided me with. It is very much appreciated."
The squad have no illusions over the magnitude of the looming mission. They will be underdogs and will have to rise to the occasion within a short timeframe. But their determination to get there in the first place has merely fuelled their desire.