This weekend, Saskia Horley is due to return for the NSW Breakers in the Women’s National Cricket League, having missed the first round of play to make her international debut for Scotland.
The 22-year-old all-rounder, who was born in Sydney and came up through the state pathways, had previously represented Australia in the U19s set up on a 2018 tour of South Africa.
Four years on, Horley has now decided to switch allegiances in order to find more opportunities and hopefully accelerate her cricket career.
Towards the end of a stellar 2021-22 summer with Manly – where she scored 646 runs and averaged 92.29 to claim the Women’s NSW Premier Cricket Player of the Year award – Horley expressed her desire to explore her options and potentially head overseas.
With a mother from Edinburgh and a British passport already on hand, it became clear Horley was eligible to represent Scotland.
Discussions between her manager and the national sporting body took place and before she knew it, Horley was all set to join the team for their Commonwealth Games qualifiers in January. At least she thought she was, until she caught COVID and was unable to get on the plane.
“My manager reached out to them about a month before the season ended here,” Horley told ABC Sport.
“We’d been chatting about potential opportunities and my mum had said, ‘Oh well, I’m Scottish, it would be cool if you could play for Scotland,’ and it kind of went from there.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to travel to Malaysia for the qualifiers and the team were unsuccessful … but I had really been looking forward to the opportunity and [coach] Peter Ross kept nagging me to come over for the T20 World Cup qualifiers, so it was exciting that we were able to make it happen later on.”
Horley spent a few months playing county cricket in England before linking up with the Scots, slotting into the Middlesex overseas player role when Manly teammate Shivani Mehta was unable to fulfil her contract due to injury.
During that time, Horley says her “UK Mum” and former Scottish cricketer Kari Carswell looked after her as Middlesex and the MCC’s head of women’s cricket; while her best performance came against Sussex in the Women’s London Championship when Horley captained the side to a 223-run victory with 82 runs at the top of the order.
Horley also stayed with a couple of families associated with Hornsey Cricket Club while representing their men’s third XI side and wound up being their second-highest run scorer (135) with the team’s highest individual score (70) despite only playing four games.
The runs kept coming for Horley, who was another standout in Bishop Stortford’s first XI women’s team – finishing the summer with their highest individual score (182) and best strike rate (149.18).
That form put her in good stead for Scotland, and Horley reached 52 and 44 in her first T20 International series against Ireland.
The team lost both of those matches in Edinburgh before heading to Abu Dhabi for the World Cup qualifiers, where they had a mixed bag of results (two wins, three losses) and unfortunately fell short of qualifying for a major tournament for the second time this year.
Despite this, Horley says she sees real potential with the Scotland group and is keen to keep playing with them in future years instead of trying to make it for Australia.
“The Australian team is very good, they’re consistent and have so much depth, but I’m really happy with my decision and the core group of players are around that 18-24 age bracket, so hopefully we can keep the group together and continue to push the next generation of Scottish cricket.
“A lot of the experienced players have vented how sick they are of coming close and still missing out on these big tournaments, but we know we aren’t far off where we want to be … ‘Break new ground’ has become the motto driving us forward.”
A fresh start with Manly
After reading through Horley’s achievements, it’s obvious she’s had a breakout 12 months, but her career hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
Horley was touted to be the next big thing in women’s cricket from a young age and experienced a lot of success in the pathways before unexpectedly hitting a roadblock at the top level.
She was the 2017 winning captain of the NSW Metro U18 National Championship team, and went on to debut for the Breakers and Sydney Thunder while she was still a teenager in 2019.
Somewhere along the way, Horley got into a bit of a funk and suffered a rough patch in form, which ultimately led to her being dropped from both professional contracts.
Horley got a job at an RSL and started a cricket coaching business while she contemplated her next move. Then last season, as grade cricket became her sole focus, she decided to hit the refresh button and switch local clubs.
“I’d played for Gordon since I was 12, so it was a tough decision … I guess I always knew Manly would end up getting a first grade women’s team and I could see myself playing there in the future, so I thought, why not go in their first year?” she said.
“It’s a pretty young side but we have such great access to facilities … We train twice a week on turf, which a lot of other women’s clubs can’t accommodate, and everyone is really invested.
“There’s also this great one-club mentality between the men’s and women’s teams … Our wicketkeepers train with Jay Lenton, our spinners train with Steve O’Keefe, you’ve got Morne Morkel involved … It feels like I’ve got more people in my corner.”
Are we putting too much pressure on young cricketers?
Through persistence, Horley has worked her way back into the professional set up, but the narrative of an upcoming star burning too brightly, too quickly, is not uncommon.
Now Horley has matured a little and got some life experience outside of cricket, she says she’s in a better position to take on her 2022-23 Breakers opportunity and put less pressure on herself.
“Going through all the underage teams, I had a really successful experience and perhaps in hindsight, I got into the professional set-up too early, but I was never going to say no to a contract, so that’s where I find it hard to comment because you’re never going to pass up that opportunity.
“As cheesy as it sounds, the time I spent out of the game has given me a chance to reflect on who I am and who I want to be as a person … It’s been a wild journey so far and I’m only 22, so these days I’m just thinking smaller picture and not letting myself get too far ahead.”