IWD Feature: Cricket Scotland President Dr Sue Strachan on ‘choosing to challenge’

Sue Strachan in Cricket Scotland jumper

Cricket Scotland’s first female president in its 140-year history Dr Sue Strachan is a self-confessed ‘eternal optimist’ seeking to challenge the perception of cricket in Scotland from a niche sport entrenched in its old ‘proper’ ways to a sport for all- whatever that may look like. 

Of course, Strachan acknowledges the pressures of being a trailblazer noting although it’s not an easy task, it is one fuelled with excitement. 

‘I think as the first female president, and as a woman, I have to choose to challenge sexism in sport particularly in cricket.

‘Being first to do something especially as the first woman to do something nobody has to be that ever again. Nobody has to be the first, so you know, I will lie down and allow the next person to use me to step up. But at the same time, it’s a huge responsibility as well so I really need to not mess up.

‘It’s quite fun to be a pioneer sometimes isn’t it? It’s good to be out there and say why do we do it this way and when someone says well, we’ve always done it that way to be able to say well how about we do it slightly differently now. How about we change it up a bit, how might we refresh this and make it better.’

It’s clear to see Strachan’s words are backed up with genuine enthusiasm and real plans for actions. Disrupting the status quo, Strachan isn’t a tick box exercise but a leader with decades worth of board experience across multiple sports. Prior to being awarded the presidency, Strachan became the first representative of women and girls’ cricket on the Cricket Scotland board. 

‘That was challenging but I love a challenge. I decided I would approach it in a very positive way so every time they said something about the Scotland teams, I would say is that Scotland women’s team or the men’s team and every time they said something about the pathway, I’d say is that the girl’s pathway or the boy’s pathway?’

In her current role she also is chair of the equality delivery group driving her colleagues to engage with established and new clubs, taking cricket to different audiences to invite everyone to pick up a bat and a ball. 

‘We need to become more diverse we need to be more welcoming and so if I can be part of unlocking some of those doors then that’s a really exciting thing to do.

‘I think we can really change the landscape. I want to be able to reach out to communities where we haven’t reached before. I want to be able to reach out particularly to the ethnically diverse communities we have a lot of South Asian families and we have a big community in Scotland that’s originally from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, where cricket is just part of your DNA and so that’s something that I want to celebrate, and I want to help people from those communities feel more welcome in mainstream cricket in Scotland.’

Her diverse sport background paired with her current status as an international master’s squash player and being a part-time doctor gives her empathy towards the needs of people within and beyond Cricket Scotland and the actions needed to transform the organisation to open its door. 

While driving cricket participation is at the heart of Strachan’s presidency, her focus is also on the national teams. In 2017 she joined the Wildcats as a volunteer team manager ‘striving for better funding, performances and recognition’ noting that if she could help towards professionalising their existence, that would be a great legacy to leave behind. 

Sue Strachan in Cricket Scotland jumper

Strikingly the word ‘volunteer’ stands out here. The roles that Full Member sides may take for granted is a luxury for the fragile nature of Associate Member teams.

‘I can’t imagine the ECB’s women’s team manager is a volunteer they would think that was a really bizarre idea. So, we have to do a lot with a little. You have to do a lot with less support, with less finance, with poorer facilities. It has so many effects on athletes with great potential so it’s a real catch 22. 

‘Considering how little we have I think we do an amazing job but getting us to that next level is difficult. It’s a real conundrum and we’ve got to the stage that we’ve almost managed to achieve the criteria for Full Membership, but we need some really good performances at international level.

‘That makes it really difficult for our international teams and our players because they know how much rides on every game and I think Kyle Coetzer the men’s captain talks about this sometimes that we don’t have that much international cricket.’

Thinking of the stark contrast between their neighbouring Full Member England, Strachan recognises the challenges that await Cricket Scotland and the harsh reality of the current elite structures in place. 

‘Presumably, Full Membership was just like being part of a club but now there are specific things that you have to achieve in order to become a Full Member and it’s really difficult because Full Membership comes with a lot more funding and a lot more opportunity for your international teams to play other teams. But to get there you have to beat some of the teams that are Full Members both in the women’s and the men’s game. That’s really difficult because you then have to perform better than professional athletes despite the fact, you’re not professional athletes.

‘People see England Cricket and they see the fact that they have a big national training centre, that they have the county grounds all with great facilities and they have a lot of money going through the system.’

It was only last month that Cricket Scotland announced their first full time head coach for the women’s team. A welcomed step forward to drive the women’s agenda for T20 World Cup qualification and the one spot on offer for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham 2022. 

‘Until now we’ve had Steve Knox working part time. Peter Ross working part time. Both trying to coach a national women’s team who are scattered about the country because they’re all at school, university, or doing jobs. It’s not like they all live around the same place. We don’t have somewhere like Loughborough where everybody can go to university and then they can also play cricket. So, it’s really difficult to do and they have done an amazing job with the time that they were allowed to do it. But there is only so much you can do with that little.’

On the ICC, Strachan wants to see more support for Associate Members to bridge the performance gap by having the opportunity to play more regularly. 

‘I would really like to see the ICC support the next chunk of women’s teams like they do with the men’s teams to play some international cricket against each other in a cricket league of some sort. Give our players that opportunity, give them that experience. It keeps you in the game apart from anything else because if it’s all just hard work and you don’t really get a chance to play any international cricket then life sort of takes over.

‘I’m not going to be negative about it ’cause that’s not who I am so I’m going to take a pragmatist approach and say “right what can we all do that will help us get over the line?”. What will help our players play at their very best at the times that they need to?

‘That’s why I do the manager role because I feel that if I do that then they have more chance of being their best them and winning becomes a habit. It would be nice to develop that winning habit, for the games not to be so sporadic that each time you play you’ve got another new young squad. It would be nice to keep more senior players in the international game longer because they bring with them wisdom, intelligence, game sense, a presence and experience.

‘They create an opportunity for the youngsters coming in to feel that they are part of something amazing and to really encourage them to feel that being an international cricketer is now as Sarah [Bryce] and Kathryn [Bryce] have shown is now actually a realistic ambition to have even if you come from Scotland.’

Strachan’s presidency term ends in April 2022, but her ambitions extend to a legacy of inclusion setting the tone for future presidents to make Cricket Scotland as inclusive as it possibly can be at all levels across all forms of the game.

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