Amongst the plethora of announcements which have surrounded Scottish cricket over the past few weeks, none has been more exciting than the news that Scotland will host the ICC Global Qualifier for the Women’s T20 World Cup later this year. After missing out on qualification to the last edition of the showpiece event by a single place in the Netherlands last July, the prospect of Kathryn Bryce’s team going one better on home soil is a tantalising one indeed.
For Scotland Women Head Coach Steve Knox, the tournament offers opportunity on a number of levels.
“To have hosted the Europe/Americas Qualifier in Stirling a couple of years ago was brilliant but to host the Global Qualifier is a step up in terms of the number and profile of the teams that will be coming,” he said. “To have two Full Members in Bangladesh and Ireland competing against us will be great, and the opportunity we have to really sell the game, given the development that’s already taken place in Scotland with regards to the female side of the sport, is huge. It’s perfect timing with regards to that and hopefully further development can be kick-started on the back of it.
“If two or three more teams are playing Premier League cricket in 2020 as a result of hosting this tournament then that would be a fantastic legacy as far as I’m concerned. But speaking selfishly from our point of view, too, it’s also a great opportunity for us to qualify for a World Cup.”
Scotland’s third place finish at the last edition of the Global Qualifier was the team’s best-ever, but the value of the tournament as a learning experience has, says Steve, gone far beyond that achievement.
“In the end we were close but not as close as we wanted to be,” he said. “We got to the semi-final and kept Bangladesh to 125, which in a T20 on a good wicket was a good effort, but their bowlers were a level above us at that stage and, put bluntly, we weren’t brave enough.
“The girls have all acknowledged that and said that we need to be braver as a team in T20 because you have to take calculated risks. That has been the message we’ve been looking to ram home this winter. We’ve got to try different options and be a bit braver, both with the bat and the ball – have the confidence to go to your yorker, for example, don’t die wondering.
“If we’re prepared to take risks it opens up so many more opportunities. Occasionally we will get it wrong, but the best thing about this coming summer is that we have two months leading into [the European Qualifier in] Spain where we have a lot of opportunities to try things.
“It doesn’t matter if we get things wrong – this is the last year of the ECB competitions in their present form so if we come last, who cares as long as we have learned something that we can use along the way. So hopefully come September if we are chasing 120 against Bangladesh in the semi-final, we are prepared to be 40 for 2 off six overs rather than 25 for 1. That makes all the difference in this game.”
Scotland’s strength in depth was demonstrated in Holland as a number of new faces came to the fore, and with several notable absentees for the start of the new campaign, too, the further additions to the squad will be keen to make the most of their opportunity to impress.
“Rachel Scholes is unavailable in June because of work,” said Steve. “Lois Wilkinson as well, and with Kirstie [Gordon] out of the mix, too, that’s a lot of spin lost as well as a lot of experience. You can’t just replace that in six months.
“But we have replaced like for like which is great,” he continued. “Hannah [Rainey] is a great example of someone who stepped up in Holland last year having not really been in the picture at all the year before. She played for the ‘A’ team, benefitted from that, then took the bull by the horns in terms of giving it a go.
“Hannah’s commitment has been fantastic, and that’s the most pleasing thing about all the new players who have come in. Ikra Farooq and Katherine Fraser, for example, have both been at every possible training session. The amount of work we can then do escalates enormously which leaves us in a really strong place. The more players we have coming through the stronger our depth becomes.”
Before the Global Qualifier begins on August 31st, Scotland will play the Netherlands and Germany in the European Qualifier in June. Although the host’s place in the global event is assured, the T20 tournament in La Manga will serve an additional purpose as the pre-qualifier for the 50-over Women’s World Cup Global Qualifier.
“Even though we have the hosting rights, we aren’t as free to experiment as we would have been because it is the qualifier for the 50-over event as well,” said Steve. “But for me the tournament is about being ruthless. We’re ranked ten places above Holland and fifteen to twenty places above Germany so let’s go out and show why we are ranked where we are. As long as we do that it’ll stand us in good stead for August and will hopefully mean we are successful in making that next stage for the global fifties.”
Beyond Scotland, the tournament also marks the first appearance of Germany in the ICC competition, a team Steve knows well through his role as Head Coach of the country’s men’s team. Their participation is, he says, just reward for what is one of the fastest-growing cricketing nations in the world.
“I’m away with Germany in Guernsey the week before La Manga – we have our European Final which we have to win – but I’ll be changing my allegiances very quickly afterwards!” smiled Steve. “But I know that [Germany’s Women] are really looking forward to it. They realise that it might be a struggle results-wise but they are not too worried about that. They want to be involved in ICC events and they have some really keen girls who have shown some amazing commitment.
“It might not be this year, it might be three years down the line, but you’ve got to start somewhere. The potential in Germany to grow the sport is huge, male and female, and it would be really exciting for European cricket if they can become a permanent fixture.”