Long before the FIFA Women’s World Cup had brought enlightenment in certain quarters, Kathryn Bryce had already sampled an amuse-bouche of the fervour that women’s sport can generate when properly promoted and with the best ingredients dished up.
Scotland’s cricket captain served an internship of sorts Down Under as a quasi-apprentice in the Women’s Big Bash League amid the stellar cast of the Melbourne Stars, never summoned into the fray but still able to profit from witnessing just how Australia’s marketeers cultivated a product worthy of attention on its own terms while also gratefully accepting the boon by association from its masculine counterpart.
Instructive inside and outwith the boundary rope. “It helped me a lot to be around top players in a big tournament, understanding how they prepare for each game and varying what they do,” the 21-year-old affirms. “Do they want to score runs, go in and bat, or even take time off? That’s all new to me, seeing that on a day-to-day basis.
“I wasn’t playing, just training and then being there on match day. But seeing it up close showed me that when women’s cricket gets backing, it can take off. You see the support. Loads of people coming in to watch. A lot of the bigger ones were standalone women’s games with grassroots stuff beforehand. Seeing people getting excited about it is fantastic.”
Hence Bryce was more than an enthused spectator of the attention seized by Scotland’s footballers in recent weeks in France prior to their inglorious exit. What potential might be unlocked, she senses, if her own side can plot their own route to a global stage and then pit their nerves and skill against the established order. What a prospect indeed.
First things first, and the Wildcats will head to La Manga this week where a World Cup qualifier with the Netherlands and Germany provides the first hurdle on the road to the international mainstream. Although the tournament’s matches are Twenty20s, the victor will secure passage into next year’s final bunfight for spots at the 2021 50-over World Cup in New Zealand.
“We just need to focus and not breeze through thinking we’ll win,” Bryce declares while acknowledging her youthful side’s status as clear favourites. However, with Dundee and Angus staging August’s qualification shootout for the next ICC World Twenty20 – and the hosts already guaranteed a slot – the Dutch and Germans will also squabble among themselves for one trip to Tayside. Convoluted? Not half. Such are the obstacles to be circumvented to exit the shadows into the light.
Worth the journey, Bryce believes. “The Women’s World Cup a couple of years ago was huge. I was at the final and the atmosphere was incredible with people talking about the game.”
And, of course, it featured a Scot with talent to burn – Kirstie Gordon, persuaded to repatriate herself to England by the lure of a professional contract and greater opportunities.
“But the hope is we become even better and Scotland get to World Cups,” her former team-mate reflects. “And then that choice will become more difficult.”
Strength in numbers is key, she affirms, an opinion solidified in Oz. Bryce grew up playing for Watsonians in Edinburgh, girls and boys, women and men, side by side. An admirable lack of segregation, certainly. With downsides also.
“It’s difficult,” she ventures. “I grew up playing with boys but you do learn a lot from that, because they hit the ball a lot harder, etc. But if we had more women’s teams, that would help the overall standard improve.
A lot of girls don’t enjoy playing with men when they’re younger. It can be intimidating. You lose people from the sport and the best thing is to keep girls involved for longer.”
She can offer evidence that persistence can pay. Bryce will join Gordon in England’s Kia Super League later this summer on a Loughborough Lightning side coached by ex-Scotland bowler Rob Taylor. Paid to play, with hype thrown in, and a chance to elevate statures and reap rewards. “It shows you,” she adds, “if you do perform there are so many opportunities that can come along.”