Of all the names included in Steve Knox’s squad for the ICC Women’s World Cup European Qualifier, there is one which has been particularly gratifying to see.
After a year on the sidelines Samantha Haggo is fit and firing again, and as Scotland prepare to take on the Netherlands and Germany in La Manga the twenty-six-year-old can barely hide her delight at being back in the fold once more.
“It’s absolutely brilliant,” she said. “I’m on cloud nine just to be back amongst the girls and training again at a time when it really feels like something really special is happening.
“For me personally, the break has done me the world of good. It sort of feels like being a twelve-year-old again, having that love for the game and the freedom to be out there running about and not really thinking about it too much. I’m just so excited to be playing!”
Samantha’s last appearance for the national side came in the 2017 ICC Women’s World T20 Europe/Americas Qualifier in Stirling, where, despite a loss on the day to the Netherlands, Scotland sealed a place in the Global Qualifier as winners of the tournament. The onset of illness scuppered Samantha’s hopes of being part of that campaign, but now, with two games in the Women’s Regional Series as well as several for Scotland ‘A’ under her belt, the end of what has been a long road back to fitness is at last in sight.
“I only started training properly again back in November with the Eagles,” she said. “I was keeping in touch with Knoxy, letting him know how I was getting on, but obviously I knew I couldn’t expect to just walk back into the Scotland set-up with how the Wildcats have been progressing over the past year.
“But it was really good for me,” she continued. “It got my face about again, people could see that I was training again, and then when I was asked to come along to the [national squad] sessions at Mary Erskine’s, Knoxy could see how serious I was about it. I got through the fitness tests, was invited back into the squad, signed my player agreement and it’s just gone really quickly from there.
“It now feels like I’ve never been away. Those first sessions back in November, I was blowing off a couple of steps as if I’d never bowled in my life before. It was bizarre – I was sore for three days afterwards, catching balls was strange, it was all so unfamiliar, but once I got back into the swing of things and got the muscle-memory back, it was all good again.”
Scotland will be equally pleased by her return. With 105 caps to her name Samantha is one of the most experienced members of the squad, but as she looks ahead to La Manga she is keen to emphasise the value added by every other member of the team.
“That some of us have the experience of having played in tournaments like this before will be very important,” she said, “but at the same time we are all learning from each other. A lot of the younger players have such composure – Charis Scott, Megan McColl, I wish I had had an ounce of what they have got when I was their age! So we’re in a really good place as a squad with a real balance of youth and experience.
“Looking ahead, we know the Dutch very well, what to expect from them, what sort of players they have and how they’ll approach it,” she continued. “Germany are more of an unknown quantity, but we’ll be looking to focus on our own game and put into practice what we’ve been working on. We’re well-prepared and looking forward to getting out there and, all being well, coming back with a win.”
Having travelled the road she has, though, few will be surprised that it is the prospect of pulling on a Scotland jersey again which is most exciting of all.
“I’m looking at everything through a fresh pair of eyes,” said Samantha. “On the field I’m as feisty and competitive as ever, but I’m not over-analysing things in the way I might have done before.
“I’ve maybe matured a bit. A year was a long time to be away, and I’ve come back with a real appreciation of just how lucky I am to be involved in it all. I’m just so happy to be back.”