Dani Hazell says rewards have come in different ways for the Northern Diamonds this summer as she assesses their progress as a senior squad throughout 2023.
The Diamonds were unable to back up last season’s Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy triumph, narrowly missing out on the knockout stages for both the 50-over and T20 competitions.
This summer, personal progression has been more evident than team success.
Lauren Winfield-Hill was again exceptional. She is head and shoulders above the rest of the run-scorers in the RHF Trophy, amassing 663 runs in 14 innings.
Katie Levick’s 36 wickets across both competitions is more than any other bowler in regional cricket.
Arguably, more importantly, a host of homegrown young players have been given chances and have advanced their games.
Seamer Grace Hall debuted, for example, and claimed 10 wickets in the Charlotte Edwards Cup. She was amongst the top eight most successful bowlers.
Captain Hollie Armitage made her England A debut, and Bess Heath made her senior international bow, the latter only just last week.
“It’s been a different year. It’s a been year of little moments of seeing players – young and old – get better. They’re still so rewarding,” said coach Hazell.
“It’s been more of a rewarding coach year if that makes sense without the rewards of winning a trophy.
“If you look at it with the view of, ‘You’ve not qualified for anything or won something, so it’s a failure’, for me that’s a very tunnel vision way of looking at it.
“Last year, if you asked me whether we should win a trophy with the players and experience we had, the answer was, ‘Yes’.
“This year, we had some really good moments and some low ones. But we got to the last day of each competition with a chance of qualifying.
“Our over-arching job is to produce cricketers to play for England, and we’ve had that this year. Bess hadn’t played for England before. The question now is can we keep doing that with other players?
“It’s frustrating we didn’t win something, but there’s a bigger picture to everything.”
In terms of performances, the Diamonds finished sixth in the RHFT, winning six of 14 matches. Southern Vipers, the Blaze and South East Stars will all challenge for the trophy later this week. In the Charlotte Edwards Cup, they finished fourth in the table with four wins from seven matches. The Vipers were champions.
“We had opportunities throughout the season to not get into the situation we were in on Saturday, when we had to win against the Sunrisers and rely on other results going our way,” continued Hazell.
“There were a few key moments. You think back to Sparks at Headingley before the Hundred, you think back to South Northumberland against the Vipers a couple of weeks ago.
“They were games we could have won to avoid Saturday.
“We’ve got a young group and we’ve exposed them this year. It just gives us a picture of where we’re going and things we need to change, add or just develop more of.
“We can’t expect to make finals every single year. It just won’t happen. There will always be a time when it doesn’t.
“You look at the amount of homegrown players in our squad, and it’s fantastic.
“I’ve got four seamers under the age of 20 who are all learning.
“From a coach’s point of view, there’s a lot of exciting things to go into the winter with. There will be a deserved break for everybody now, and then we’ll look forward to get going again.
“We’ve given opportunity this year to Gracie Hall, Jess Woolston, Lizzie Scott, Phoebe Turner, Emma Marlow. They have excelled at stages, and they will be better. They will come back next season better versions of what you’ve seen this year.”
While the Diamonds and Vipers dominated the first three years of regional cricket, including a T20 title for the Stars in that time, this year has seen more widespread competition across the regions.
For example, the Blaze have performed strongly in their first season, Sunrisers have improved, as have Thunder.
“If you take my Diamonds hat off, it’s great to see other regions progress, and it become more competitive,” said Hazell.
“There’s more teams who have challenged this year, and there are more players involved with the England teams like Bess and Hollie have been. There are also more standout performances – hundreds and five-fors.
“But, with my Diamonds hat on, I would have loved for us still to be out front leading the way.
“Every team is moving forwards. We just have to move a touch faster than the rest.”
So what does progression look like for the Diamonds this winter? Does that include recruitment?
Hazell added: “It’s a tricky year next year with us now being in multi-year contracts, and I’d imagine there won’t be too much movement between teams.
“The way you can add experience is through overseas players.
“I thought Chloe (Tryon) with the bat maybe didn’t get quite as many runs as we wanted to. But, with the ball, she was exceptional. With the group, she was exceptional as well. That might be a route we go down again next year. We’ll have to wait and see.
“There’s so much change that’s happening with things like funding, we’ll see how things progress this winter.
“But we’ll continue to give youth a chance, and we’ll continue to support girls from our region.”