Northern Diamonds assistant coach Kyle Coetzer believes putting players under pressure but mixing that with fun will be key to a successful winter for the region.

The Diamonds squad returns to training today to begin preparations for 2024, when they will hope to regain the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy they won the season before last as well as challenging for the Charlotte Edwards Cup.

Head coach Dani Hazell leads a pre-season programme which will progress without the likes of Leah Dobson, Bess Heath and Sterre Kalis, who are all currently playing grade or Big Bash cricket out in Australia. 

Lauren Winfield-Hill is also in Australia recovering from a quad injury suffered on Big Bash duty late last month.

The Diamonds head into this winter reflecting on a progressive 2023. 

While it was a summer which didn’t yield silverware, there were plenty of positive signs for an emerging group. 

Winfield-Hill and Katie Levick stood out with bat and ball respectively, Heath progressed through to senior international cricket with England, captain Hollie Armitage was selected for England A and a host of youngsters returned noteworthy performances.

Leah Dobson

Picture by John Clifton/ Leah Dobson is currently playing grade cricket in Australia.

“You could run through each individual player and pick out some really good moments for them, which is a significant positive for us moving forwards,” said Coetzer, the former Scotland men’s captain.

“It was a new look team with a number of younger faces getting opportunities. And the way all of the players stood up at different stages – the more experienced ones included – was really pleasing to see.

“We were so close to making it (to the knockout stages) in both competitions. We played some decent cricket but just fell away a bit towards the end of the season. But we had some great games we played in at the back end.

“The girls have had some time to go away, take their minds off things and freshen up to get ready to go again. And by the sounds of things, they’re all raring to go, which is good.

“The desperation to improve is really important, and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in with them and all of the other coaches.”

The players were back in at Headingley last Thursday for fitness testing, but now the skills work begins with bat and ball as Coetzer embarks upon his first winter with the squad. Fellow assistant and compatriot Peter Ross is in the same scenario.

“When I came in, it was late March moving into April,” said Coetzer. 

“You’re always a bit careful of the timing with what you do because the girls are just heading into the season.

“We’ve had conversations about areas for improvement, and now is the time to add that detail into the practice. It won’t be just turning up and having a bat or a bowl. 

“We’ll be working hard, but it’s important that we also have a bit of fun at the same time because it’s a long winter.

“Progression and, ultimately, success comes down to who manages their skills and who manages their emotions in the big moments, and putting yourself under more pressure at training is a big part of that.

“It’s clear that every one of the squad has the ability to compete with, let’s say, the teams who finished higher than us last year. But that ultimately comes down to how hard the girls want to push and challenge themselves at this time of year.”

On the players who are currently abroad, Coetzer said: “I’m a strong believer that if there’s opportunities for players to have new cricketing experiences, that’s great. 

But it’s not just about the cricket, it’s about rounding yourself as a person. That in turn will help push your game forwards.

“It’s a really valuable experience for the likes of Sterre and Dobbo to be away.

“Bess as well, that’s just an awesome opportunity for her.”

Picture by Matt Lewis – ECB/via Getty Images. Bess Heath on her England debut in September.

But they aren’t the only ones playing cricket abroad, with Coetzer soon to be joining them.

The Aberdonian retired from international cricket with Scotland in February, aged 38. 

He immediately took on his coaching role with the Diamonds and continued to play league cricket near his North East home when regional commitments allowed.

Later this month, he will be heading to India to play in the Legends League Cricket T20 competition, running from November 18 to December 9. 

It is a six-team competition involving names such as Kevin Pietersen, Chris Gayle and former Yorkshire Championship winners Liam Plunkett, Ryan Sidebottom and Aaron Finch.

“It all came around quite quickly,” said Coetzer. “A couple of months back, someone asked whether I’d be interested in playing. 

“I wasn’t really expecting much out of it, but then two weeks ago I got a message saying that I’d been drafted. I’ll be captained by Harbhajan Singh, and the vice captain is Mohammed Kaif.

“There are a whole host of cool and experienced international names involved. 

“I’ll miss a few weeks with the girls leading up to Christmas, but after that I’ll be back and raring to go.”

In preparation for that tournament, Coetzer has been netting at Durham’s Riverside ground, which is close to his home. 

Picture by Matthew Lewis – ICC via Getty Images. Kyle Coetzer during his playing days with Scotland.

“I’ve had to strap the pads back on, which I didn’t think I’d be doing right now,” he laughed. 

“I went down to the Riverside the other day and ended up facing Matthew Potts. He’s getting ready to go away (with the England Lions to the UAE). That was into the deep end, but I wasn’t best pleased with the odd bumper. 

“I thought I’d be able to take some time away now and then prep in the New Year for playing some club cricket on a Saturday. But all of a sudden I’m going to India.”

Coetzer says he enjoys continuing to play league cricket – he has moved across the North East Premier League from Benwell Hill to Chester-le-Street ahead of 2024. And he believes it helps his coaching.

“I am keen to keep playing, but my priority is the Diamonds,” he added. “I’ll fit my playing in around that. It keeps me fit and keeps me going.

“It certainly has helped my coaching. Dovetailing playing and coaching has taught me how to manage my time better and manage sessions – what the players need. 

“If I’m getting opportunities like this in India to cross paths with legends of the game, that can only help. 

“I’m desperately keen to speak to Harbhajan about spin bowling, for example. It’s a learning opportunity for me to see if I can bring back any extra info to the Diamonds.”

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