As the profile of Scotland's women's cricket team grows, attention is turning to schoolgirls to fill their ranks in future, reports Roddy Mackenzie
Peter Drinnen refuses to be stumped when faced with the difficult task of getting schoolgirls to take up cricket. Cricket Scotland's technical director has a dream that within the next five years there will be so many girls playing the game, a full-time women's cricket development officer will be appointed.
This summer, Scotland's senior women's team will compete in the European Championships in Wales, bringing to a climax a programme that has been considerably expanded this year. However, as the younger age group starts to stir, filling the pads of the women's side will be a priority over the next two to three years.
Throughout the winter, east and west district development squads - about a dozen girls aged 12 to 18 in each - have been meeting on a monthly basis.
On Sunday, at Westwood's Health Club in Edinburgh, the two squads will meet, along with the central district development squad, which has been meeting for the past five years. The intention is to play some competitive cricket in addition to receiving coaching, and the Scotland women's squad will be in attendance.
For Mr Drinnen, it is a significant step forward for the girls' game, although he acknowledges there is a long way to go.
"It's a real charter for us to get more women playing the game. Since our main sponsors, Lloyds TSB Scotland, came on board in July 2003, the two areas they wanted us to concentrate on were youth development and growing the women's game throughout the country," he says.
"We want to create avenues for girls to develop in the same way as we have established pathways in the boys' game, but because we don't have the playing numbers, those pathways are disjointed. We're desperately trying to fix them.
"There is an unwritten rule that girls can play in under-age boys' teams.
We need to try and ensure that as they mature, they can move into a local women's competition, but that is some way off. At present, we have to go with regional development squads," he explains.
"The senior women's team has improved substantially over the past couple of years and has benefited from working with Australian international Julia Price, who has been coaching in Scotland for the past two summers.
Unfortunately, other commitments mean that she will not be back this year, but her influence has been significant.
"However, we will not be able to sustain that improvement if we do not have young players coming through and that is why it is so important to get the participation levels up in the girls' game."
Steven Knox, Cricket Scotland's east district development officer, has been working hard at nurturing the girls' game. In addition to this weekend's event, he has set up fixtures against Dollar Academy (on May 25) and the east district boys' under-12 team (on June 24).
He concedes that he is drawing from private schools to give his programme a kick-start, with George Watson's College and Mary Erskine School particularly strong in Edinburgh. "There are no plans to go into the state schools in Edinburgh just now for the girls' game," he says.
"Our policy is to get primary schoolgirls playing the game through kwik cricket (the introductory game) and then trying to get them attached to a club.
"It is our ambition to have a women's team attached to every club, but we're a million miles away from that at the moment. What we are trying to do with the development squads is to give them some level of competition to help them improve.
"We're trying to build the pyramid downwards. Starting off with the national women's team and then district teams and then filtering down to the clubs. But we have to widen the base."
Clarence Parfitt, the north and central district development officer, has made impressive inroads over the past five years and his model will be followed in the east and west. He has a squad of 18 girls training regularly at Arbroath Cricket Club, all from state schools, who have graduated through kwik cricket at primary schools.
"Arbroath is now the base for women's cricket in the area and we have players coming from Montrose, Forfar and Dundee. The squad has been taken on by the Angus development group," he explains.
"Things are starting to happen and I know that the Fife development group and Forth Valley development group will both soon be starting girls'
squads. There is also now a girls' group in Aberdeen."
Setting up playing opportunities for schoolgirls will not be easy, Mr Drinnen acknowledges, but with the Scotland women's team having a higher profile this year, he is hopeful that there will be a spin-off for the youth game.
"It is finding a place for the girls in clubs that is the difficult part and clubs being confident enough to find places for girls in their third XIs or second XIs," he says.
"Numbers are an issue, but that's the same the world over. Even in Australia there were difficulties in growing the women's game. It is something you have to devote a lot of attention to.
"But within five years, I'd like to see a specific women's development officer in Scotland to drive the game forward.
"My role at the moment is to see that policy, strategy and pathways are implemented. The operation is down to the development officers, Steven Knox, Clarence Parfitt and Steven Seligmann in the west."