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Women's County Cricket Day: Diamonds Season Preview

— 3 May 2021

This article has been taken from The Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s 2021 Yearbook to mark Women’s County Cricket Day.

The Northern Diamonds are ready and raring to go as they look to build on last summer’s excellent start to competitive life as one of the eight new women’s Regional Centres of Excellence.

Coach Dani Hazell’s side reached the final of the 50-over Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, only to be beaten by Southern Vipers in the late September final.

But this time around, confidence is high in their ability to go one step further in both the RHF Trophy and the new ECB Regional T20 competition.

Early signs are good ahead of their late May start.

A host of squad members are currently in action for Yorkshire’s county team.

Last weekend, they beat Cumbria in back-to-back T20s and today face North East Warriors in the same format at Harrogate.

Hollie Armitage, one of the five Diamonds contracted professionals, is arguably in the form of her life.

The 28-year-old batting all-rounder captained Tasmanian side Clarence to a one-day title in March whilst wintering in Australia. To cap things off, she scored a century in the final.

Against the Cumbrians last weekend, she scored two half-centuries and took five wickets with her rapidly developing leg-spin.

Contracted alongside Armitage to the Diamonds are Phoebe Graham, Jenny Gunn, Beth Langston and Linsey Smith.

Effectively replacing the Yorkshire Diamonds, who played in four years of the T20 Kia Super League, this side’s existence will see it represent Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland – something they did with vigour in a shortened 2020 campaign.

The RHF Trophy was drawn up at late notice by the ECB once domestic cricket was given the go ahead following Coronavirus – eight teams split into two regional groups, each team playing six games and top of each group advancing to the final.

And the Diamonds raced out of the blocks, winning their first four matches.

In the end, they only lost one in the group phase – by six wickets against Central Sparks at Emerald Headingley on September 13 – and advanced with comfort.

The squad included many names who had performed well whilst wearing the White Rose in the KSL; Armitage, Helen Fenby, Bess Heath, Langston and Katie Levick. Then, they were able to make use of England players Katherine Brunt, Nat Sciver, Smith and Lauren Winfield-Hill at either end of the competition.

We can expect to see them all again this summer.

The Diamonds got off to an excellent start with August Bank Holiday weekend wins over the Sparks at Edgbaston on Saturday 29 and another Midlands side, Lightning, at Durham’s Emirates Riverside on Monday 31.

All England players were available before heading into a training camp ahead of a late summer T20 series against the West Indies at Derby, and all four shone across the two aforementioned fixtures, highlighted by five wickets against the Sparks for seamer Brunt and a century against the Lightning for her wife Sciver.

Winfield-Hill made a winning start as captain, with her 72 off 71 balls helping to secure a nine-wicket win chasing 145 against the Sparks after Brunt’s superb 5-20 from nine overs, including four of them bowled.

The win over the Lightning was more hard-fought.

Sciver, one of the star’s of the world game, showed all her class to fashion a recovery from 84-6 in the 22nd over after Winfield-Hill had elected to bat.

She took the lead role in an 84-run partnership for the seventh wicket with Alex MacDonald (28), with her 104 off 113 balls ensuring a score of 226-9.

But there was more peril on the horizon for the Diamonds as captain Kathryn Bryce, who earlier took the new ball and claimed 5-29 from 10 overs, posted 71 not out from number three in the order. England opener Tammy Beaumont hit 51 and the other Bryce, Sarah, hit 57.

The Lightning were 117-1 and later 152-2, but they subsided badly to 217-7. Sciver struck twice in the 37th over as the score became 152-4, while Smith and experienced Jenny Gunn were miserly and claimed two wickets apiece.

The return clash with the Lightning followed on Saturday September 5 at Leicestershire’s Fischer County Ground, Grace Road, and again the Diamonds had to dig deep to secure a victory – by two wickets with seven balls remaining as they chased a target of 227.

Now without their England players, Langston, Gunn, Armitage and MacDonald all claimed two wickets as the hosts were bowled out for 226, a target which proved to be competitive across the board in this competition.

And it certainly proved so as the Diamonds slipped to 7-2 in the seventh over and 119-7 in the 30th, with off-spinner Lucy Higham claiming three wickets.

Thankfully, though, the visitors had the experience of former England one-day World Cup winners Gunn and Langston to count on.

They shared a controlled and sensible 81 in 15 overs for the eighth wicket, with Langston hitting 37. When she departed (200-8 in the 45th), Gunn kept her cool to finish 50 not out off 72 balls – four fours included – with seamer Graham chipping in with 15 unbeaten.

Aged 34, Gunn had to be coaxed out of retirement ahead of the campaign by Hazell, a call which proved to be inspired as this contribution was supplemented by more to follow.

  • Jenny Gunn and Sterre Kallis in action in 2020
  • Next up was the ‘Roses’ battle. We say Roses in inverted commas given the other influences, the North West Thunder were not only represented by Lancashire, but Cheshire and Cumbria too. Still, the rivalry remains even in a new advent of the women’s game.

    The two sides met at Liverpool’s Aigburth ground Thursday September 10, and it was a pretty comfortable 73-run win for the Diamonds, who made it four wins from four to put them on the brink of the final.

    There was early trouble at 57-4 in the 17th over, including the loss of Netherlands international batsman Sterre Kalis for a third successive duck as she was bowled by an unplayable grubber from seamer Alice Dyson. She left the field with arms outstretched as if to say, “What am I supposed to do with that?” But she need not fear as her luck was soon to change.

    The Diamonds recovery was led by left-hander MacDonald, whose superb 110-ball 92 from number five included 10 fours and two sixes and was filled with a fair share of sweep shots.

    Yorkshire all-rounder MacDonald, helped out by 29s from Gunn and Graham and 23 from Heath, posted her highest domestic score in six years to underpin a commanding 248-8.

    And against a youthful looking Thunder side, coached by Barnsley-born former England coach Paul Shaw, it was a target which looked pretty safe. So it proved as the hosts lost regular wickets to limp to 175-8. New ball seamer Langston and leg-spinner Armitage struck twice and MacDonald once, while Levick’s leg-spin accounted for a magnificent 3-22 from 10 overs.

    One more win would seal top spot in the North for a Diamonds side, who had claimed two four-point wins and two with an additional bonus point (Sparks at Edgbaston and Thunder at Liverpool).

    But they would be made to wait as the second-placed Sparks kept the race alive with a six-wicket win at Emerald Headingley on Sunday September 13.

    The Diamonds were bowled out for 217, which included a stylish 87 from number three Kalis, a 21-year-old with 17 T20 internationals caps under her belt.

    Langston then struck with the second ball of the Sparks chase, only for captain and opener Eve Jones (77) and second-wicket partner Marie Kelly (49) to steer the ship with a stand of 123. Two quick wickets, including Jones, left the score at 172-4 in the 40th over, but the Sparks, for whom new ball seamer Liz Russell had earlier claimed four wickets, got over the line with 3.2 overs remaining.

    It meant that going into the final round of games, the Diamonds were five points clear of the Sparks with a better net run-rate.

    The Sparks had to beat Lightning with a bonus point and hope the Diamonds suffered a heavy home defeat at Headingley against the Thunder on Saturday September 19. Neither happened, setting up a final against Southern Vipers eight days later.

    Against the Thunder, Langston starred with 3-18 from 8.5 overs, while Graham, Levick and Gunn chipped in with two as the visitors slipped to 8-2 and later lost their last seven wickets for 52 to be bowled out for 143 inside 43 overs. Only two players reached 20 for the Thunder.

    In reply, Kalis continued her impressive upturn in form with an unbeaten 55 and was backed up by 36 for skipper Armitage and 26 not out from Gunn, securing a third bonus point win with 20.2 overs remaining and six wickets in hand.

    So, to Edgbaston they went. After the Thunder win, Levick spoke about how this new team had run with the progression shown by the Yorkshire Diamonds in the final year (2019) of the KSL competition.

    In that, they only just missed out on Finals Day by two points despite having won one more game than the Vipers, who qualified courtesy of claiming two bonus points.

    But all that was put to one side as the excitement grew for the Sunday September 27 showdown in Birmingham. On the eve of the game, Winfield-Hill was released from the England T20 squad to play – and she captained the side.

    Unfortunately, it just was not to be as the Vipers won by 38 runs defending a target of 232. The Diamonds certainly had their chances to win.

    First of all, they brilliantly dragged back an excellent Vipers start from 100-0 in the 24th over after Georgia Adams and Ella McCaughan (35) threatened to make a mockery of Winfield-Hill’s decision to bowl first.

    Spin was key as Levick claimed 3-49 from eight overs, including the big wicket of Adams for 80 – she moved to 500 competition runs in the process.

    Armitage claimed two, getting number three Maia Bouchier (28) caught at mid-on with a drag down short ball. That, leaving the score at 150-2 in the 32nd over, proved a huge wicket as the innings stuttered to 231 all out.

    In reply, the Diamonds were ideally placed at 74-1 in the 15th over, only to subside themselves to off-spinner Charlotte Taylor, whose 6-34 from 10 overs proved to be the competition’s best haul.

    Kalis tried in vain to steer the ship out of trouble with 55, but a loss of six wickets for 36 through the middle of the innings was irreparable damage. They finished a hugely positive campaign bowled out for 193 inside 43 overs.

    The Diamonds begin this season’s campaign in the RHF Trophy, at home to Central Sparks on Saturday May 29.

    That fixture is expected to see the return of crowds to Emerald Headingley for the first time since 2019.

    It promises to be a wonderful occasion.