Jake Perry chats to Scotland Coach Steve Knox.
As seasons go, the first for Steve Knox as Head Coach of Scotland’s National Women’s cricket squad could only have been fashioned by Carlsberg. Since his appointment in March he has watched his side reach the ICC Global Qualifier for the first time as well as secure promotion to Division Two of the NatWest Twenty20 competition on the back of an unbeaten campaign. Oh, and led the German national men’s team into European Division One for good measure.
Today, having finished a session of junior coaching at the National Cricket Academy in Edinburgh at the start of the half-term holiday, the 42 year-old former Saltire is happy to take a moment to look back on what has been by any standards quite a year.
“I’m very pleased,” said Knox. “We’ve achieved what we set out to achieve. One of the targets at the start of the year was to beat Holland in the European qualifiers and we managed to do that.
“Realistically I knew that promotion in the [Royal London] One-Day competition was going to be difficult because we needed to prioritise and use those games to find out what worked and what didn’t, but we identified the opportunity to get promoted in T20.
“For us to achieve those two objectives was fantastic, especially to remain unbeaten in the T20 competition. As a result we’ll be playing better teams week in, week out next year which is really important for us as we’re looking towards the next World T20 in 2018.”
Knox took over a team buoyed by a strong performance at the Women’s WT20 Qualifiers in Thailand. Led by Abby Aitken, a youthful Scotland side had demonstrated that they could compete with the more established nations, eventually securing fourth place in what was their first appearance at a major global tournament. The potential in the team is clear and Knox initially focused on how best to harness it.
“Finding the right combinations on the field was the first thing that had to happen and I think we’ve managed to do that,” he said. “By the time July came around everyone knew their role in the top six and was pretty much carrying it out, which allowed us to score 200 plus the majority of times.”
A well-balanced side in which responsibility is shared has been the key to success.
“Kari [Carswell] has been our main player for so long but to be honest for much of that time she was relied upon too heavily,” he said. “We were obviously very keen to move away from that situation and I think we’ve achieved that, we had four girls who scored over three hundred runs in all formats this year.
“Kari still played a big role at number three in the one-dayers but the pressure was on her less compared to before which has to be good.
“Kathryn Bryce has performed really well, she is a very important member of our squad who has taken on leadership responsibility as vice-captain too,” he continued. “She enjoys every challenge, she acknowledges it and then just gets on with overcoming it which is great.
“Her sister Sarah has emerged to open the batting too – at sixteen years old to break into the team, get yourself established and then keep performing is a fantastic achievement. Ollie Rae also opened the batting for the second half of the season, she feels comfortable there and contributed on several occasions. Rachel Scholes, on the flip side, went down the order and found her niche at five, she’s a really dangerous player and a good bowler as well.
“We backed that up with a bowling attack that gave us a number of options,” said Knox. “If seam wasn’t working we could turn to spin, we have three good spinners who played a really important role against the Dutch in the fifty over games. Different options are always nice and it’s important that the responsibility is shared around.
“I think the really exciting thing for me, too, is that the majority of the girls are aged between sixteen and twenty four, twenty five, so the next three or four years are very promising for us.”
Development of the women’s game is one of the cornerstones of Cricket Scotland’s Strategic Plan, published in May. A significant growth in participation, together with a top twelve ranking for the international side, are clearly defined targets for the next three years. There is work to do to achieve this, but Knox feels that Scotland are on their way to doing so.
“We have to get a domestic structure which allows the best players to play each other reasonably regularly. We haven’t quite got that yet but it’s starting to get there.
“One of the things we introduced this year was a regional competition. It involved two teams because I wanted strength to play against strength, I didn’t want it to be easy for anyone. Establishing that culture is really important within Scottish women’s cricket, it is saying to the girls that if you want to break into the national team this is the environment in which you need to perform, if you don’t you’re not just going to get in because you’ve played before.
“If we can get into the habit of playing tough cricket and doing well in tough situations then hopefully that will carry into the international arena as well.”
Reorganisation of the domestic league structure is also planned.
“Kari set up and developed the women’s national league over the past five years and moving forward we’re probably going to look to regionalise that as far as possible so that the girls who want to play recreationally are playing more locally.
“Hopefully that will grow the domestic regional club leagues and allow the women’s game to keep developing because we don’t yet have anywhere near a wide enough base of players at the bottom of the pyramid.”
Knox is also hopeful that the international fixture schedule may provide a boost to the profile of the Scotland side.
“We need the international team to play more against other international teams. I’m not sure how long it has been since the Wildcats played a home game against international opposition but it’s been quite a while. For our profile that needs to change, we need to play some games at home so that the girls and boys in Scotland who want to come and watch us can do so.”
For now, though, all eyes are turned to Scotland’s next assignment at the ICC Global Qualifier. Victory over Holland in July secured Scotland’s qualification to the tournament in February and with it the chance to meet some significant opposition.
“It’s a fantastic challenge and I’m very excited about it. The girls went to Thailand for the World T20 Qualifiers last November but this one is going to be much tougher. The quality of the opposition, together with the local conditions, us coming out of the Scottish winter into temperatures which will probably be in the early thirties, all adds up to a real test for us.”
But although their task could hardly be more daunting, Knox is relishing the opportunity for his side to spring a surprise.
“We’ve got three and a half really important months to get ourselves as ready as we can be. I don’t think there’s any expectation on us to qualify, we’re just going to go out there to give it our best shot.
“Let’s see what happens!”
Jake Perry is a freelance cricket writer. He writes regularly on Scottish cricket for Cricket Scotland, CricketEurope and CricIndex and has contributed to ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket.