Sandy Strang on Scottish cricket: Help on the horizon for beleaguered Wildcats
But sadly the Scotland Wildcats, our senior ladies cricket team, has lately looked less like a predatory tiger than a timid supine moggy. Results have been dismal. Heavy defeats by Wales, twice, and Lancashire, also twice - "seven or eight dropped catches and 'rabbits in the headlights' batting" bemoaned coach Adam Park-Elliott - followed by last weekend's admittedly less resounding two ECB Women's County Championship losses to Devon have cast an ominous shadow over the team's participation in this week's ICC European Women's Championship at Stirling County's splendidly appointed New Williamfield.
There are some genuine glimmers of hope, though: "The spirit in our squad has never waned," stresses Park- Elliott, "and we're starting to bat with far more conviction, and to hold onto our catches."
We also have some proven performers. Captain Kari Anderson, scorer of a fine 69 in the team's last major win against Derbyshire last September, is the charismatic Rachael Heyhoe-Flint of the Scottish game. Eighteen year-old ex-Firrhill pupil Leigh Kasperek, a product of Saltires skipper Gordon Drummond's Edinburgh Sports Academy, is a supremely talented all-rounder, who has already been selected for a European Women's XI, as has current vice-captain and wicketkeeper Charlotte Bascombe from Murrayfield DAFS,. Some other names to look out for are Prestwick's Samantha Haggo, Edinburgh Uni's Cat Tams, and West of Scotland's Lynne Dickson.
"When so many of our players are getting little or no regular match practice at club level," argues Kari Anderson, "it's very difficult to expect them, however experienced, to perform at this level with any consistency." But that could soon be changing. Andy Tennant, Cricket Scotland's Head of Community and Development, bullishly takes up the tale: "A few years back the Scottish Ladies team comprised virtually any and every girl who played cricket, but not now. We worked initially on a top-down structure, focussing on strengthening the international team. Now the emphasis is on working from the bottom up. We've recently appointed our first-ever Girls and Women's Development Officer Lea Tsui, part of whose remit is to encourage clubs to start up girls-only sections.
"Kinross, winners of this tear's inaugural Women's Indoor Sixes Tournament hosted by Edinburgh Uni, are a shining example," points out Tennant.
"We also have the likes of Corstorphine Lionesses, Western Women - captained by Wildcats' Caroline Sweetman, once a century-maker as a pupil at George Watson's College - and burgeoning ladies teams at Arbroath, Ayr, Carlton, Forfarshire, and Stirling, and a Borders Girls Cricket Focus Club at Berwickshire High School, Duns. University teams at Edinburgh and St Andrews are flourishing, and some schools like Watson's, Mary Erskine and Glasgow Academy have girls' teams. "We have fewer than 500 players at present, but the realistic aim is to double that number. We're looking to have around 20 clubs playing consistently against each other."
To this end Cricket Scotland has also this season launched an inaugural Scottish Women's Cup, following on from a national indoor competition held at Peebles in March. "It's a 16-overs-a-side format,' explains Lea Tsui, 'on a regional basis, with the winners advancing to a National Finals Day on Saturday 18 September." "It's so much good fun," enthuses Gill McElnea, mother of Ayr CC starlets Andi and Scott, and organiser of last month's girls' cricket festival at New Cambusdoon.
Meanwhile our ladies this week take on Ireland, Holland, and an ECB Development XI. "The big prize at the end is reaching the next stage of the Women's World Cup qualifying competition," points out Wildcats' Assistant Coach Gordon Allan."Holland, and Ireland, centred on the big Dublin clubs like Clontarf and Malahide, have pointed the way forward for ladies' cricket," concludes Andy Tennant. "The Scottish women's cricket scene has real wings to fly." Over to you, girls."
Dalnacraig's high endeavour
Age shall not weary them…. Hail those seasoned veterans of Dalnacraig, aka Dundee High School FP Seconds, winners last week at idyllic Scroggie Park of the prestigious Two Counties Cup. It's been a torrid season for the Dundonians, currently languishing at the foot of the Strathmore & Perthshire Union Division 1 and they couldn't have asked for a tougher test than the league leaders themselves, aspiring up-and-coming Kinross. But cometh the hour, cometh Hopkins, McLaren, and Lindsay. Former Forfarshire all-rounder Bob Hopkins celebrated his 57th birthday with a splendidly crafted captain's knock of 55 not out in only 38 balls, two for 16 opening the bowling, and a crucial catch.
'Hoppy' was well supported by that evergreen Peter Pan figure Graeme 'Spider' McLaren, continuing to defy his 60 years. Venerable McLaren provided a solid opening platform with 15 before donning the keeping gloves. A third veteran in whites was that redoubtable Panmure RFC hooker Duncan 'Bucket' Lindsay, a relative youngster at only 47.
The doughty Dundee men posted a decent 132 for 4, and after Hopkins had removed the youthful twin threat of Kinross' junior international Ross brothers James and Peter Dalnacraig were able to squeeze the game, as the formidable Fifers subsided to 106 for seven to lose by 26 runs. The vintage champagne corks were popping long into the night.
Scots come of age
They've done it again. Hard on the heels of our all-conquering U18s, the Scotland U15 team in Holland have swept all before them at the European Championships for the third successive year. Played five, won five, in utterly commanding style.
Talent abounds in this squad. Look out for Grange all-rounder Will Edwards, scorer of 216 runs at an average of 71, and voted the tournament's most valuable player; West of Scotland's precocious batsman and leg-spinner Andrew Umeed; slick Ayr keeper Seb Stewart, an SNCL debutant just a fortnight ago; Omar Afridi, currently holding down the No?3 slot in Stoneywood-Dyce's remarkable ten-game undefeated Division 1 run; Michael English, presently opening the batting for Ferguslie firsts; and ebullient all-rounder and team skipper Lyle Hill. Ireland have been top dogs right across the international age-group spectrum for some time now. Not any longer.