A decade ago, Abbi Aitken was a 16-year-old cricketing phenomenon thrown in at the deepest of ends. Scotland’s women had touched down in Stellenbosch for the World Cup qualifiers barely 24 hours before their opening game, ill-prepared for the challenge and on an irrevocable course towards a hiding to nothing during their entire stay in South Africa.
Now the captain of the national side, Aitken is one of three remnants of that squad set to take the field in Colombo on Wednesday when the qualification tournament for this summer’s World Cup in England begins with a group game against her erstwhile hosts.
“We’re the complete underdogs, people are expecting us to lose,” she says of a pool that, the South Africans apart, includes Pakistan, Bangladesh and fellow minnows Papua New Guinea. But,” she adds, “and this is the difference from the past – we used to turn up at tournaments to make up the numbers whereas now, there is belief within the squad which wasn’t always there in previous years.”
It is a lot to ask, Aitken acknowledges, for the Wildcats to advance firstly onward into the Super Sixes – an accomplishment that would bring One Day International status – or to even dare to chase a semi-final berth which would despatch them south of the border in June.
Progress is what they seek most. Visible, tangible gains. Ask the all-rounder to reminisce over memorable appearances on Caledonian soil and it is not amnesia holding her back. “We played Japan but that wasn’t classed as an international fixture,” she responds after a grand pause to ponder.
ODI status would finally unblock the road that leads to the home fixtures Scotland require and crave. “It would mean that we’re more attractive to visit for some of the bigger teams. They all come on tour to England every few years anyway so why not throw in a wee tour to Scotland as well? Getting more games in Scotland is crucial. The last game we played here was five or six years ago which is crazy.”
It will take at least one upset in the rankings. The team have been polled to agree a common goal. “It was unanimous to say ‘let’s get to the Super Sixes’,” Aitken reveals. No matter the stature of the opponent, they will stroll outward with intent. “We won’t separate the games. We’ll try and get four wins.”