The move to professionalise women’s domestic cricket in England is already working a treat, says Northern Diamonds director of cricket James Carr. You have to look no further than Emerald Headingley for proof of that.
Hollie Armitage, Phoebe Graham, Jenny Gunn, Beth Langston and Linsey Smith are all in their first years as full-time professionals with the Diamonds.
At the age of 35, it is unlikely legendary England all-rounder Gunn’s development as a player will significantly improve.
But her experience will be vital for the younger players such as all-rounder Armitage, seamers Graham and Langston and left-arm spinner Smith.
Armitage’s development has been proven consistently on the field during the last few months, both abroad and at home.
She captained Tasmanian club side Clarence to 50-over silverware during a winter in Australia, scoring a hundred in the final. The 23-year-old has also scored runs and taken wickets for the Diamonds and Yorkshire in the early stages of the home summer.
However, unlike Armitage, the progression of others is something the public haven’t been as privy to.
Carr, however, insists the signs are excellent.
“Jen is a proven professional over many years,” he said.
“But Linsey is spinning the ball more than she ever has before, and Beth and Phoebe are bowling quicker than they ever have before – hitting the keeper’s gloves harder.
“Hollie’s got runs under her belt in Australia and with the Yorkshire county side. Hopefully she hasn’t spent all of those runs up!
“That’s what the programme is meant to be about, to transform performances.
“Under the pressure of professional cricket, that is the proof in the pudding.”
That development is not just limited to the professional players. It applies to the rest of the Diamonds squad as well – the amateur players who have had greater access to training and coaching this winter as well as being positively influenced by their contracted colleagues.
“We’ve got the same squad, but a proper winter with them compared to the three weeks we had to get going last year means they are in a better place,” continued Carr.
“Last year was a bit rough on everyone – three weeks, let’s play six games.
“But the girls are now learning and developing as, or like, professional cricketers and athletes having had a six-month off-season.”
It promises to be an exciting summer in domestic cricket, with an expanded Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy supplemented by a regional T20 competition.
“We’re not just in a bubble in Yorkshire and the North East. There are seven other regions who have had the same preparation as we have,” said Carr.
“I’m really excited to see what the standard’s going to be like.
“Everyone had a taste of it last year, and they will all be very, very hungry for it this time.
“Ourselves, the Vipers and the Western Storm, we will probably be expected to be the top three sides.
“Let’s be honest, the Storm were unlucky not to be in a (RHF Trophy) final last year, and the Vipers have had success for a number of years now going back to the Kia Super League days as well.
“It was nice to put a squad together who was able to compete with those sides, and we want to make sure we’re at the top of the ladder again and competing in finals going forwards.
The Diamonds, featuring a wide range of players due to injury and unavailability, have played a couple of friendlies so far, losing one-day games to Central Sparks and an England Academy side.
They begin competitive action with a RHF Trophy clash against the Sparks at Headingley on Saturday May 29.
“The friendlies have been a good looking glass,” added Carr. “But it isn’t the same as trophies and points on the line.
“They serve a purpose, but the real show starts on the 29th – and we can’t wait to get going.”