INTERVIEW: Abbi Aitken targets Super Six as Scotland prepare for Sri Lankan adventure

Jake Perry talks to Scotland captain Abbi Aitken

The line-up for the ICC Women’s World Cup will be completed in Sri Lanka this month as ten teams contest the Global Qualifier for the tournament to be held in England later this year. With only half of the participants confirmed so far, the four teams who missed out in the ICC Women’s Championship will join the six winners of the ICC Regional Qualifiers in a bid to claim one of the four remaining places at the showpiece event to be played in June and July.

Scotland’s women will be in Sri Lanka after an outstanding summer brought them victory against the Netherlands in the European Qualifier as well as promotion to Division Two of the NatWest Twenty20, and as the side now looks to carry that momentum into the upcoming tournament captain Abbi Aitken is both excited and quietly confident about her side’s chances.

“Our preparations are going really well,” she said. “[Coach] Steve [Knox] has brought in a lot of new ideas and training methods and the squad is in a really good place at the moment. We are really lucky to have had access to the facilities of two partners to assist in our training too, Nuffield Health and Tribe Yoga, who have both been brilliant.

“Steve understands the commitments of everybody with work, university, school and so on, so we’ve tried to focus on having at least one full weekend a month away,” she continued. “That’s not always easy with the geographical locations of the girls. We have people the length and breadth of the country from Aviemore to London, but there has been great commitment from everybody.

“The squad has been away to a variety of places. We went to Loughborough, for example, the ECB facilities there are world class, and that was very helpful to us.

“They have been packed, tough, physical weekends, really good sessions,” she said. “We’re definitely preparing well.”

Thirteen of Scotland’s fourteen-man squad have experienced tournament play before, having played at the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 Qualifier in Thailand in 2015. With seamer Priyanaz Chatterji the new addition Scotland has a number of options on which to call, and for Aitken the ever-growing experience within the squad bodes well both for this tournament and beyond.

“We had an eighteen-man squad to pick from, a very committed, talented group,” she said. “The pool of players we have continues to grow and as it does it becomes more and more difficult to get into that final group. It’s a good problem for us to have, of course, but it does mean at the end of the day that there are disappointed people left at home.

“Unfortunately Annette Drummond has had to miss out. She broke her wrist back in July so was unavailable for selection which is a shame. We do wish Annette the best in her recovery as she is unfortunately still battling with the injury.

“But I’m more than happy with the final fourteen. We have that blend of experience and youth and we’ve also got a good variety of skills in there.

“A number of the girls are also getting experience abroad at the moment,” Aitken continued. “Katie McGill and Kari Carswell are in the middle of a season with Northern Spirit in New Zealand just now. They are playing a standard of cricket which has been brilliant for them, a real eye-opener, and that will undoubtedly be advantageous for Scotland too. Lorna Jack has just headed out to join them as well.

“Fi Urquhart lives in Sydney and is playing a good level of grade cricket out there, and last but not least, of course, Kathryn Bryce is with the Melbourne Stars [at the Women’s Big Bash] just now. It will be brilliant to hear her stories and what she’s learned about how they go about things over there. It’s fantastic for Kathryn to get that experience at such a young age.”

Scotland has been drawn into Group B alongside South Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea. After the initial round-robin stage the top three in each group move into the Super Six phase, with the first four qualifying for the final stages of the World Cup and the remaining two retaining – or perhaps gaining – ODI status.

“Obviously there are big names there that everyone will associate with cricket on a global scale. South Africa and Pakistan are two big, big teams and there is nothing but excitement from the girls at the prospect of playing them,” said Aitken. “The opportunities to meet teams like that don’t come around often for us so the chance to put our skills up against theirs, to see what level they are playing at and what we need to do to get to that level ourselves is a great prospect. There are obviously nerves there but being the underdog we have nothing to lose.

“We know Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea a bit more. In the WT20 Qualifiers we came up against Bangladesh and lost, unfortunately, but that experience gave us an idea of where they are and where we need to be, what areas we need to improve on and so on, so tactically we are more aware this time around.

“And Papua New Guinea, we played against them in a warm-up game and won so we can perhaps take a bit more confidence into the game against them.”

After a warm-up match against Zimbabwe Scotland play South Africa on February 8th in the first of four matches to be played over the next six days. The contrast between the notoriously humid Sri Lankan summer and the Scottish winter could hardly be starker, but the experience of 2015, says Aitken, will prove invaluable.

“Thailand was a massive eye-opener for the girls,” she said. “Before we went away we knew that fitness would play a big part but it was only when we were there that we realised how crucial it was.

“Experiencing that has really helped for the upcoming tournament. We know that if anything Sri Lanka is going to be even hotter and more humid so we have really focused on squad fitness.”

The upcoming tournament offers Scotland a rare opportunity to measure themselves against some of the big hitters on the world stage. But this is not a team merely content to make up the numbers. For Aitken qualification for the Super Sixes, and with it the guarantee of ODI status, is the clear objective.

“The squad sat down a few months ago and it was the unanimous decision that that was our goal,” she said. “We know that to do so we will have to beat a team we have never beaten before and a team that are ranked higher than us but we wouldn’t have set it if we didn’t think it was realistic.

“Cricket Scotland’s support has been brilliant with more funding and more resources which is all we can ask for. The squad know that they have to put in the performances to justify that support.”

And every one of those performances will be critical.

“First up we have Zimbabwe in Colombo in our official warm up game,” said Aitken. “They are ranked similarly to us and I feel that we are relatively evenly matched.

“It will be our first game in Sri Lankan conditions as well as our last chance to try out a few combinations, but we will be very much going into that game with intent and knowing that a win will set the tone for the rest of the competition.

“We are setting our standards high in this tournament. We may be the underdogs but we are up for the challenge.”

(Reproduced with the permission of Cricket Scotland)

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Jake Perry writes on Scottish cricket for Cricket Scotland and CricketEurope and is a regular contributor to HoldingWilley.

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket

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