For Abbi-Aitken Drummond, playing cricket for Scotland is now about seeing what she can give back to the game.
A veteran of the national side having made her international debut at 14 years old in 2005, she picked up the sport through Kwik Cricket sessions at school, progressed through junior training at her local club in Montrose and went on to serve as Scotland captain for eight years.
Cricket in Scotland is by no means a major sport like it is south of the border, and that perhaps shows in the history of the women’s team. Only established in 2000, Aitken-Drummond became the 30th player to represent her country when she made her debut as a young teenager. Progress is being made though, and it is now possible for someone like Kirstie Gordon – from Huntly in Aberdeenshire – to play in the County Championship for Kent.
Aitken-Drummond would have loved to have those opportunities when she was younger, but after relinquishing the Scotland captaincy in 2017 she has other goals in mind for the remainder of her career.
“I’ve been playing for Scotland since I was 14, and although that might make me sound like some child prodigy it really just unfortunately highlights the lack of an age group pathway and the low number of women playing the sport in Scotland 15 years ago,” the 29-year-old explained.
“A lot has changed since the days of my first cap, and even in the last three years as I’ve continued to push for my place within the Scotland set up. The women’s game in this country is continuing to grow year on year.
“Some of my younger national teammates are starting to pick up semi-professional contracts and retainers in England, and receive opportunities to play seasons in Australia and New Zealand which is brilliant for their personal development and overall strive to play cricket for a living. I do look upon them with a mix of pride and jealousy, but while opportunities like that weren’t available to me at that age I appreciate that I’ve been a part of that journey to get women’s cricket to where it is today.
“I’m still proud to be part of the Scotland set-up and love every time I’m afforded the opportunity to pull on the thistle. I’m currently sitting on 151 caps, one behind my good friend and ex-captain-turned-coach Kari Carswell (nee Anderson) who retired on 152 as Scotland’s most capped female. That’s a little motivating goal for me to push past, and Kari’s always very encouraging that I do, even though I wind her up that I’ll get to 153 and hang the boots up!
“I still feel like I have a lot to achieve. A personal drive for me is to continue to prove to myself that I can compete and fight for a place in a Scotland starting XI at a time where there is now more expectation, more pressure and more competition for places than there ever has been.
“For a long time my ability got me to where I was to a certain extent, but now I want to prove to myself that I’ve got more to offer the sport. It’s also always been a dream of mine to get Scotland to their first ever World Cup. That’s a huge ask of us, but year on year there is that sense that we’re getting closer – that’s enough to make me say to myself, ok, one more season, and I’m determined to help the team get there.”
Being named captain was an honour, and something Aitken-Drummond points to as the highlight of her career so far. On a personal level too, being skipper helped her grow – even if that was sometimes through being forced into uncomfortable situations for the self-proclaimed introvert than by choice.
In any sport, the responsibility of being captain is a lot to put on a teenager, but while there were tricky moments Aitken-Drummond would not have done things any other way in hindsight. In fact, it has had an impact on how she approaches youngsters coming into the national team now.
“I’m a very patriotic Scot and to have the privilege to lead my country was something I’ll forever cherish,” she insisted.
“Being handed the honour at the age of 19 too was a little daunting, but I feel it’s due to this experience that I was able to learn so much about myself and really develop as a person – arguably faster than I would have if I hadn’t carried that responsibility from a young age.
“I’m very much an introvert and you would have struggled to find a school report that didn’t mention ‘has ability but lacks a little confidence’ when I was growing up.
“When Kari Anderson stepped down as captain, it was due to her accepting a player/coach role with the national squad. I never expected her to then ask me to fill her shoes as captain at 19, but she obviously saw something in me – that maybe all those school teachers had too – that I didn’t quite see in myself.
“Having been given that responsibility at that age, I was thrust into situations where I had to take control, make big decisions, have uncomfortable conversations with players, speak to media, motivate, be an ear, a shoulder for my teammates – the list goes on and it was some learning curve.
“There were certainly times I was uncomfortable and anxious with certain situations, but I had a duty to fulfill and eyes were on me, and it just wasn’t an option to hide. I think that’s why now, being a senior squad member, I can get frustrated with younger players choosing to not contribute in team meetings or tactical sessions, because I didn’t have that choice and I was extremely uncomfortable at times, but I did it, I learnt from it, and I’ve taken a lot from it.
“Now I make sure that I can try to help those younger players not to hide, but feel safe and confident enough to be more vocal, because I know in the long run they’ll benefit. Looking back, the captaincy was the best thing for me and has certainly helped me in the outside world away from sport too.”
Aitken-Drummond identifies as bisexual, and has been happily married to her former Scotland teammate Annette Drummond since June 2019 – adding to a cricketing family that also includes former Scotland men’s captain Gordon Drummond.
The same shyness that the bowling all-rounder grew out of as Scotland captain actually helped her come to terms with her sexuality. While never really believing it was wrong, she was never one to enjoy being singled out or the centre of attention and so kept her first relationship with another girl more secretive than she might have with a guy.
Her family – which includes another Scotland international in her older cousin, squash player Lisa Aitken – were entirely supportive, and while never publicly making a big deal of her identity it was never actively kept secret from her colleagues. Even if it had been, it would have been pretty difficult to maintain that secrecy when Aitken-Drummond started dating her now-wife, who was then one of her teammates.
The dynamics of their relationship have changed over the years. Abbi was initially Annette’s captain for Scotland, but now Annette is regional manager for the East of Scotland, who Abbi plays for.
“At the beginning of our relationship, things weren’t super out in the open purely for the fact that we were team mates and had to make sure we were happy and things were right between us before coming out to the rest of the squad,” Aitken-Drummond recalled.
“When we did it was absolutely fine and as we expected. The only slight awkwardness was due to me being captain and being heavily involved in team selection. Choosing not to select my other half in a starting XI was never fun, but I had to completely separate my relationship with her and my duties as captain. Thankfully she was the definition of a true team player so never made the situation awkward and fully accepted her role and understood my duties within the team.
“Annette and I still play for the same cricket club in Edinburgh, and we never shove our relationship in people’s faces as we’re used to the different dynamics that come with being teammates having played together on a team long before we got together. We’ve always had very supportive club mates and those that are aware of our relationship have never seemed uncomfortable with anything.
“We have a new working dynamic to address in the last few years as she is the team manager for my regional team. Again, my regional squad team members are largely made up of my national and club teammates so everyone is aware of our relationship, but hopefully they see that when the hard work starts we are able to separate the two.
“I had been captain for around four years when our relationship started, so I was fairly used to the responsibilities that came with it. We found it easy enough to switch from being a couple in our downtime and then teammates when around the squad or on tour. Tours could often be weeks at a time and we were roommates too, so it was actually a bonus for us both to have each other away from the team as we could completely relax and almost forget the intensity of a tournament’s schedule on our rest days.
“I’m so grateful that I have a partner who understands the needs and the commitment that it takes to play at that level. She appreciates that on weekends I can have a full training schedule or that summer holidays are just impossible because of the cricket season – and that’s definitely made easier because of her experience of playing national level for so long too.
“In terms of our more recent dynamic, that’s caused no issues whatsoever. In fact, it’s been great, she pretty much organises my life and keeps me on track on a daily basis anyway so I’m used to her bossing me about and keeping me in check! In all seriousness, I think there is a lack of women holding positions like the roles of team managers and coaches in sport in general, but certainly in cricket, so it’s been great to have her in that role to help the next generation of Scotland cricketers coming through.”
While many LGBT+ athletes speak of using their platform to spread a message and try to make a difference, the reality in Scotland is that cricketers’ reach more often than not is minimal.
That tends to suit Aitken-Drummond, who has never spoken publicly about her sexuality in part because she has never been asked.
Even when approached by Pride of the Terraces, there was some hesitancy about going through with this interview, but in the end she decided it was more important to assure others that it is possible to be both LGBT+ and an international athlete.
“I’m a relatively private person, so I’m sure there are still many people that know me that don’t fully know me if that makes sense,” she admitted.
“It used to bother me a lot what other people thought of me, more so because I cared how it would make them feel or react, but the older I get the less so I worry about that kind of thing. I guess the few that are aware of ‘Abbi Aitken: the cricketer and ex-Scotland captain’, may not really know about ‘Abbi Aitken-Drummond: the happily married wife and proud LGBT+ advocate’.
“I’m a nervous person in life full stop and a massive over-thinker, but I also know that when I force myself to do something out of my comfort zone, more often than not I surprise myself or cope better than all the negative scenarios I’d run through in my head.
“I’ve never had a journalist ask me questions about my personal life or my relationships so I was instantly uncomfortable at the thought of doing this interview, but the longer I thought about it, the more I realised how silly that was.
“I’m not ashamed of who I am, and I have the best friends, family and teammates around me that thankfully have always shown nothing but love and support for me and who I choose to love. I know that unfortunately that isn’t and hasn’t always been the case for other LGBT+ people but hopefully, as time goes on and the more we educate society and become a more accepting and kinder one at that, those difficult ‘coming out’ conversations for people will no longer be newsworthy, or even needed at all.
“I guess I forced myself to say my bit, in my own words, in the hope that if there is anyone reading this who hasn’t yet come out, or are struggling to accept who they are, that often it’s not as bad as you’ve told yourself it will be, and you’ll also realise you have some incredibly amazing support networks around you and maybe even make some new friends along the way.”
Cricket Scotland, where Aitken-Drummond works, signed up to Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign at the end of last year to promote LGBT+ inclusion by making sport everyone’s game.
It was a move that she was delighted to see her governing body make, as she can imagine the impact that seeing her role models donning the laces could have had on her growing up.
“I was very proud that Cricket Scotland signed up to Rainbow Laces, it’s important that the country and organisation I represent ensure they play their part in voicing their support of the LGBT+ community, “ Aitken-Drummond added.
“Contrary to what some people may think, that responsibility doesn’t and shouldn’t solely lie with those athletes who are part of the LGBT+ community, but also lies will our heterosexual allies, whose voices and support are just as powerful and effective.
“I do firmly believe that cricket is one of the most inclusive and diverse sports out there. It is played all around the world across many countries and with people from a vast array of cultures, religions and ethnicities, and cricket in Scotland should be no different.
“It’s important we continue to celebrate and welcome these differences and most importantly learn about them – it can be a really powerful thing.
“I don’t know how you can measure the impact Rainbow Laces could have, but I don’t think that’s the point. It’s a statement, it’s the right thing to do, and it’s another step in Cricket Scotland’s efforts to continue to be an as inclusive a sport as possible.
“True fans of cricket and the lovers of the game know that one of the sport’s brilliant things is the diversity of the people involved. It really is a sport for everyone; from all walks of life, cultures and people with varying abilities, and the LGBT+ community are of course included in that.
“Regardless of whether people agree or disagree with a campaign such as Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces, the movement generates conversation, and conversations create spaces for change, and that’s the real difference and the real impact.
“The rainbow brand is a well-known symbol of the LGBT+ community, and as a young sporty kid, in a potentially confusing, hormonal stage in my life, if I saw a sportsperson that I looked up to openly speak of their support for the Rainbow Laces campaign and how much of a welcoming and inclusive sport that their sport is, that absolutely would hit home and make me want to aspire to be in and play that sport even more.
“The impact could be huge, but if we didn’t voice our support from the start, then we’d never know. Silence sometimes tells you more in my opinion, and that’s not always a good thing.”