“Most of the spinners we’ve faced this summer haven’t really spun the ball much and they were getting a lot of turn out there.”
It’s easy to forget when speaking to Scotland’s captain Kathryn Bryce that she’s only 20 years old.
For a start, she’s far more comfortable with the media than someone her age has any right to be, her answers honed by years of being asked the same questions about what it’s like playing and captaining her sister.
Then there’s the fact that her international career already spans seven years, her debut having come as a 13-year-old. She’s had to grow up fast – it would be hard to survive as the first girl playing for your school’s boy’s first XI, or to handle the trials of a winters spent in Australia and the publicity that comes with training with a WBBL team without doing so.
But mostly, it’s because she possesses a cricketing wisdom far beyond her years, and an intimate knowledge and understanding of the game bestowed upon and attained by very few. To hear her succinctly analyse and summarise her side’s underpar batting performance against Thailand – “The ground was so wet, and with the wind going so much one way it became very hard to hit boundaries. We had to score off a few more balls early in the innings.” – and then to see her assessing that wind as she set her fields, moving fielders a few steps one way or the other as the gusts rose and settled, was to see a natural and gifted captain in action.
She was also the only batsman to truly get to grips with the challenges the conditions presented, taking her time, adjusting her approach, before eventually accelerating to an unbeaten 39. She helped Scotland recover from 24/3 to 97/7 a total which would prove match-winning and seal their passage to the semi-finals of the Women’s World T20 Qualifier.
Two teams will progress from the qualifier to the main event in the Caribbean in November, meaning Scotland and Bryce are just one win away from confirming their first-ever appearance at a top-level global event. “We’re all buzzing about that,” says Bryce. “It’s just so exciting. There’s lots to improve on, but it’s something we feel isn’t completely out of our reach.
“I think it would be absolutely massive for women’s cricket in Scotland. We got to the semi-finals [of the WT20Q] in Thailand in 2015, but to go that one step further would be incredible and hopefully raise the awareness of the women’s game around the country.”
To get there however, will require beating Bangladesh, something which might be the biggest test of Bryce’s skills as a captain and cricketer in her career thus far. Bangladesh, still riding high on the confidence of becoming the first team to knock India off the Asia Cup perch, are yet to lose more than three wickets in a game in this competition. Scotland meanwhile, have shown cracks, particularly with the bat – the two times they have batted first they have failed to pass 100.
But there is one aspect of the contest that looms over the rest: Bangladesh’s leg-spinners Rumana Ahmed and Fahima Khatun, and just how on earth anyone is supposed to play them. So great is the threat that they pose, and so key have they been to Bangladesh’s successes, that it’s possible that if Scotland can find a way past them, everything else might just fall into place.
In this tournament, they have been little short of rampant. In Bangladesh’s last two games they have taken a combined 12 wickets for 17 runs across 12 overs of nigh-on-unplayable leg-breaks and googlies, the apex coming in their side’s last group game against UAE, when a Fahima hattrick sparked a collapse of 6/0 in eight balls, Rumana only narrowly missing out on a hattrick of her own at the end of the stretch.
They have form against Scotland too, with the pair having taken a combined 5/9 against them in a warm-up game for this competition as the Wildcats slipped dramatically from 35/1 to 47 all out.
Scotland’s challenge is compounded by the fact that though they both share a bowling style, Fahima and Rumana pose different questions to a batting side. “We have plans and we have had success which is great,” says Rumana. “We are both bowling leg-spin but our thinking and our field set is a little bit different. My bowling is a bit slower than her, she’s quicker through the air.”
“[Fahima] is always improving. On our tour to Ireland she did well and she has continued. Her approach is good and her accuracy and consistency is good. Everything is perfect! I’m so happy because leg-spinners are a very good strength in any team, and we have two leg-spinners. I’m very confident [for the game against Scotland].”
So how do Scotland go about combatting a duo that no team has been able to tame so far? As galling as that warm-up experience was, it offered Bryce some clues as to what the particular dangers they pose are.
“From now we start thinking about it,” says Bryce. “It’s always been in the back of our minds but we were trying not to look too far ahead – I think sometimes in these competitions if you look too far ahead you forget to play the game that you’ve got in front of you.
Her approach is good and her accuracy and consistency is good. Everything is perfect!
“I think most of the spinners we’ve faced this summer haven’t really spun the ball much and they were getting a lot of turn out there. We didn’t adapt our plans quickly enough, so hopefully that’s something we can improve on going into the game.
“In general we knew what it was going to do. We knew a couple of them have got the googly that goes straight on so that wasn’t the issue. It was more the spin in general and not really adapting to that.”
It meant the day between the final set of group games and the semi-final became vital – less a chance to rest than an opportunity to try and figure out a way to cope with the ball that turns square. “We’ll be doing a lot of work. The sweep will be a massive option, and then just going in and having real confidence. And then if it’s not turning, we’ll have to be ready for that as well!”
The prize at stake is huge, and the challenge for the Wildcats clear. Now it's over to Bryce and co. to find a solution. It will be fascinating to see them try.
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