This time last year, Rachel Slater had just made her debut in regional cricket for the Northern Diamonds. This year, she’s been bowling in the Headingley nets with Australia international Mitchell Starc.
“It was pretty mental to be fair,” Slater said. “We just spoke about different skills and bowling at the death, which is something I’ve been working on a lot and we chatted about mindset and how to go about doing that stuff.
“He was like my idol growing up, so that was really cool and really useful and I definitely took a lot away from it. It was an unreal opportunity.”
Slater, born in the United States, brought up in Leeds and who qualifies for Scotland through her Glasgow-born mother, is still only 20 but has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top levels of cricket.
After being picked up in the Hundred as an injury replacement for Northern Superchargers last year, playing only one game, she has since made her regional debut, been selected to represent Scotland and returned to Headingley for this years’ competition.
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The Superchargers’ had a disappointing second campaign in the new professional franchise 100-ball cricket tournament involving eight men’s and eight women’s teams located in major cities across England and Wales.
However, Slater is confident that the experience will help her contribute to her national side when Scotland host Ireland in three games this week, starting tomorrow, and head to the World Cup qualifiers against the same opponents, United States and Bangladesh later in the month.
“Playing for Scotland has been really exciting,” she said. “It wasn’t something I really expected to happen, but to get more opportunities to play against some big names and some really good players can only be a positive thing for my cricket.
“The more cricket you play, especially at the higher level, the more different situations you are in and the more you learn how to deal with them. I think any time you’re bowling and there are 10,000 people watching, you’re under pressure, but the more you’re exposed to pressure situations, the easier it becomes.”
Slater is part of a strong Scottish contingent in this year’s women’s Hundred squads. Abtaha Maqsood has been a permanent fixture in the Birmingham Phoenix side, while the Bryce sisters, Katherine and Sarah, represent Trent Rockets and Welsh Fire respectively.
For players in Scotland, the competition has provided opportunities that aren’t at present widely available to cricketers over the border.
“At an international level, all the England girls are professional and then domestically as well there are professional contracts,” Slater said. “There isn’t any of that in Scotland, so all the girls work full-time or study – some are still in school.
“I think that’s the main thing is the funding and the fact that people are having to fit it in around their life, whereas we are very privileged down here not to have to do that and I can make a living playing cricket and focus everything on cricket, which obviously is going to help.”
New ICC status helps Scots ‘put the foot down’
It’s not only the Hundred that has allowed Scottish female cricketers the opportunity to play cricket professionally intermittently throughout the year. The Bryce’s and Slater have professional contracts with regional hubs in England and Maqsood has spent time at Sunrisers this summer.
“I think, whether it is people having opportunities in England or those things becoming available in Scotland, either way, its opportunity and people getting their name out there and to be paid to play cricket,” Slater said.
“Even if it’s just for the summer and not the winter, it’s better than nothing. But, definitely, that’s something that I hope will happen soon and, hopefully, it is just a matter of time.”
Coupled with the new opportunities available to Scottish players south of the border, broader avenues for women to play a higher standard of cricket are also opening up in Scotland.
Earlier this year, the ICC granted Scotland and four other nations one-day international status, widening the scope for the national side to compete against different opposition and further develop the national set-up.
“It’s really good and hopefully we can put our foot down and get some recognition,” Slater said. “I think that every country ranked above us is professional, so I think we’re definitely capable of competing at that level and with bigger teams, we just need to do it.
“It’s a great time to be a female Scottish cricketer and cricket is definitely on the rise and, like I said, the talent is there.”
Slater is also conscious of the impact having several Scottish faces on the most widely televised domestic women’s cricket tournament in the world could have.
“We probably are role models to young girls now,” she added. “With that comes responsibility and I feel very privileged to be in that position where I can inspire people and help people want to play cricket and have fun because, the more girls that play, the better the game’s going to get.”