After a weekend which saw the likely title contenders flex their muscles again, Round Four of the Women’s Premier League brings two match-ups which could have a major bearing on their ultimate fortunes. In-form Northern Lights travel to Hamilton Crescent to take on West of Scotland, while Carlton look to give their own chances a significant boost at home to still-unbeaten Stewart’s Melville.
The defending champions have been impressive since their opening-day loss to West, and captain Annette Aitken-Drummond is hoping that her side can continue the good form it showed against Dumfries & Galloway last time out.
“We really like travelling down to Dumfries,” she said. “There’s always a real excitement about playing at Gatehouse, it’s a lovely wee ground hidden in the middle of a forest.
“And [our performance] was good,” she went on. “We used quite a lot of bowlers actually, everyone was up for it and bowled really well. We opened with Maisie [Maceira] and Abbi [Aitken-Drummond], which was a bit different for us – so far this season we’ve opened with Maisie and Gaby [Fontenla] to get a bit of in-swing and a bit of out-swing – but we wanted to maybe play with the batters’ minds a little bit, with spin at one end and pace at the other. It seemed to work well, with Abbi getting a couple of early wickets, then everyone chipped in with a few more before Maisie cleaned up at the end, so it was really good.
“Maisie is really, really promising: she took six wickets [for 16] on the Saturday [for Gala’s second eleven] and then three [for 14] for us on the Sunday. We’re working really hard with her in training, trying to get her to think more in terms of fielding positions, variations and things like that. Obviously we don’t want to put too many things in her head – sometimes it’s good to just run in and bowl – but we’re trying to get her to think a little bit more about how to get wickets and get people out.
“What she’s done consistently well this season is to bowl at the stumps,” Annette added. “It sounds really simple, but it’s something that a lot of bowlers don’t do enough.”
The women’s section at Carlton continues to go from strength to strength, with a second eleven now playing in Cricket Scotland’s newly-established Challenger League.
“We have worked really hard on the social aspect of the club, because as we don’t really have a school or a university feeding into it we have to work a wee bit harder to find new players,” said Annette. “We make a big deal after training of having a bite to eat and a drink together, and then it’s about getting in some really good coaches to make the sessions as rewarding as possible. Women’s cricket can be difficult to coach because there are so many different abilities there on an evening, so we try to make our training sessions as effective as we can, and that’s working really well for us.
“It’s pretty monumental when you think about how far we’ve come from when I started about nine or ten years ago, when I would turn up to training and there were maybe four of us there, to get to a point where we can quite happily put out two teams on the same day,” she continued. “It’s something that I didn’t know we would ever see, to be honest, and it just means that everyone has got the chance to play.
“What Cricket Scotland has done really well in bringing in the Challenger League is to make sure that there is something for everyone, because some of the women who come to training want to play hardball cricket but don’t want to play Women’s Premier League, and now there’s something for them to do just that.”
While the new division has added further depth to the domestic women’s game, the top flight continues to develop at pace. This year’s competition is likely to be its closest one to date, with a number of teams already proving their strength.
“I think you’ve got three or four teams who are challenging to win the league this year, and you’ve got others who are probably still developing, trying to find their feet a little bit,” said Annette. “I think the introduction of the Northern Lights has been fantastic: because I’m born and bred in Meigle, I know from experience that there’s lots of talent up there that has sometimes gone a little bit untapped, certainly from when I was playing, and from what I’ve been hearing there are loads of women and girls playing cricket in the north, which is really exciting because now they’ve got somewhere to go.
“They look a really competitive team, and the Stew-Mel/Northern Lights game will be a very interesting one indeed: that might well turn out to be the title decider.
“But the league is really good. It has always been competitive but I think there’s a different edge to it this year, and I’m really enjoying it.”
Last year’s match at Grange Loan saw Stewart’s Melville inflict what turned out to be Carlton’s only defeat of the season. Annette was missing that day, but other significant absentees have left the champions in an unaccustomed position.
“I am playing this time,” said Annette, “but unfortunately Abbi isn’t as she pulled her calf in the game last weekend. But Stew-Mel are a stronger team than us at the moment, I think: they’ve brought in Hannah Short, who is a fantastic cricketer, while we’ve had a few changes – Sam Haggo has been missing through injury, we’ve now got Abbi injured and we lost Hannah Rainey to Dumfries & Galloway as well, so we’re maybe just lacking a little bit in experience.
“But in saying that, it’s a really good chance for some of the younger players to step up and show what they can do. We’re going into the weekend as underdogs, but we know that anything can happen on the day.”
Women’s Premier League – 12 June 2022
Grange v Dumfries CC/Galloway CC (at Portgower Place)
RH Corstorphine v Watsonians (at Royal High School)
Carlton v Stewart’s Melville (at Grange Loan)
McCrea FS West of Scotland v Northern Lights (at Hamilton Crescent)
The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the men’s and women’s league action from across the country every Tuesday, with player interviews from our featured games. Follow @ScotlandPod on Twitter for all the latest information.