Former Yorkshire County Championship title winner and England international Linda Burnley has described the progression of the women’s game as “phenomenal”.

Burnley will be at Headingley this Sunday to watch England take on Pakistan in the third and final match of the ongoing series.

A number of former county players have been invited as part of a Celebration of Women’s Sport.

Wicketkeeper-batter Burnley was a key part of the dominant and legendary Yorkshire team of the 1990s, the county winning seven successive titles between 1992 and 1998. 

Yorkshire’s success in that era was quite incredible. In 1990 and ’91, they were Area Championship runners-up before winning that competition from 1992-96, inclusive. 

When the County Championship was introduced in 1997 as a replacement, Yorkshire won it again in ’97 and ’98. They were runners-up in ’99 and then won it again three years in a row between 2000-02.

Dewsbury-born Burnley’s own county career spanned 56 games wearing the white rose between 1986 and 1997. She was also a Championship winner in 1988 as a forerunner to the dominant nineties and a one-time England international.

“We thought we were pretty good at the time, but the standard has gone through the roof,” she said.  

Linda Burnley

Picture courtesy of Linda Burnley. Yorkshire women. Captain Sue Metcalfe running at the camera. Burnley is seated on Sue’s right. Back row: Janet Tedstone, Kathryn Leng, Helen Plimmer, Sally Stevenson, Claire Taylor, Karen Jobling. Front row: Bev Nicholson, Debra Maybury, Linda Burnley, Sue Metcalfe, Mary Pat Moore, Melissa Reynard.

“When I watch women’s cricket now, it’s tremendous. It just shows what investment and backing can do. Playing on better pitches and grounds helps, as does the fact they don’t have to play it alongside a Monday-Friday job. 

“It’s incredible where women’s sport has come over the last 10-20 years. It’s fantastic.

“Maybe we were trailblazers in our own way, but what they are achieving is phenomenal.”

Given Burnley’s position as a wicketkeeper-batter, it would be particularly apt if current Northern Diamonds star Bess Heath was given a chance to play for England on Sunday: “Definitely, it would be great if Bess played,” she said. 

It is no surprise to hear Burnley say of her career with Yorkshire, “they were great days”.

“We were a young and talented team with no weak links – we had match winners all over the place with bat and ball,” she continued. 

“Sue Metcalfe took over the captaincy at the time, and she was the fiercest competitor of the lot. We just went on a run, and it was a settled team over the majority of those years.

“We had a few players coming in from time to time, but they had to be star quality to fit in.”

Bess Heath

Picture by Michael Bradley. ECB via Getty Images. Current Northern Diamonds and Yorkshire star Bess Heath could play for England at Headingley on Sunday. 

The competition was fierce. In the days of the Area Championship, the East Midlands side were Yorkshire’s main rivals. Between 1990 and 1995, the two sides were either winners or runners-up. Middlesex were also a strong side in the early stages of Burnley’s career. 

“I remember us beating Middlesex down at Cambridge in the County Championship (1992),” she continued. “Because we’d worked so hard for it, it was tremendous.

“Then the East Midlands were our bogey team for a while, with players like Jo Chamberlain, Karen Smithies and Enid Bakewell, who would always get the better of me. 

“We were so desperate to win it and get the better of them, that when it did happen it was all the more sweet.”

During that time the Championship was usually played across a week on the college grounds in Cambridge. 

“That was the highlight of our summer, playing a week of County Championship matches on the college grounds. It was very special,” reflected Burnley. 

“We were still paying our own way. We’d stay in caravans to play the county tournament in Cambridge. We then upgraded to a Travelodge.

“We were buying our own tracksuits, and they were magnificent blue, pale blue and gold. All the Yorkshire squads had them, including the seniors and age-groups. 

Heather Knight

Picture by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images. Heather Knight at the crease for England in an ODI victory against New Zealand at Headingley in 2018. That was the last time England women played at Headingley. They were due to play against South Africa in September 2020, only for the match to be cancelled because of the Covid pandemic. Knight should captain England again this weekend. 

“For a few years, it felt like wherever you went around the country to any cricket, these Yorkshire tops just stood out. We were so strong.

“You try to compare how things were to how it is now, and we did everything as professionally as we could. We tried to raise the bar.”

Clearly, to be strong at first-team level, there had to be depth, which there was.

“For a number of years, Yorkshire put a second team in the County Championship, and one year they got very close to winning their league,” said Burnley. “Even the second team was a match for many counties.”

That strength in depth extended to the club scene too. 

“We all know that club cricket is really strong in Yorkshire. It was then, it is now,” she said. 

“When I first started playing both (club and county), I was playing at Wakefield, and the competition we really wanted to win was the National Club Knockout competition.

“At the time, we didn’t have a lot of superstars in the team. We had some good players, a couple who had been in the England ranks – Joan Lee and Janet Tedstone. 

Linda Burnley

Picture courtesy of Linda Burnley. Linda (l) and former Yorkshire and England all-rounder Janet Tedstone in their more recent golfing days.

“We got to a couple of semi-finals, and it always seemed to be the southern clubs who were there and thereabouts with us – the Middlesex clubs and so on. They always seemed to pip us.

“We did eventually win the knockout. I can’t remember what year it was, but I remember playing in a final over in Cheshire. That set us on a bit of a run. 

“The club at North Riding were one of our main rivals locally – they were strong – and we pushed each other. Then we came together as team-mates at Yorkshire.

“The Yorkshire clubs at that time, Wakefield, North Riding and Leeds, who were an upcoming club at the time, I think all the stars lined up to help the county.

“At Wakefield, we were playing against and beating many of the players who we would face at county level. That gave us the confidence to know we could do it.” 

A couple of personal highlights for Burnley include her only career century – 101 against the West Women in 1993, a title-winning summer – and her solitary England cap in 1990 when she played in an ODI against Ireland at Dublin.

“At the time, the scores in 50-over cricket weren’t what they are now. Fifties were to be celebrated, and hundreds were quite rare,” she said. “I do remember that being very special.

“I was in and around the England squad for a number of years, and I loved that, despite the fact we had to set off down to Eastbourne on a Friday night after work and train for the weekend before heading back up on Sunday night to work on the Monday morning.

Kathryn Leng

Picture by John Gichigi/Getty Images. Kathryn Leng is one of a host of former Yorkshire players who will be in attendance at Headingley on Sunday as part of the county’s Celebration of Women’s Sport. 

“It was a great environment, and I was chuffed to be a part of it.

“Being honest, I was never quite good enough to be in the first eleven given the players who were around at the time.

“We went on this tour to Ireland, and they rung the changes to give a couple of us an opportunity. And I loved it. I wanted to make the best of every second. 

“The chance to say, ‘Yes, I played for England’ is something to be immensely proud of.”

Burnley worked in IT project management during her Yorkshire career. Instead of staying involved in cricket, she has “graduated to the golf course”, playing at Willow Valley in Brighouse.

But she is relishing the prospect of Sunday’s trip to Headingley. 

“There are some team-mates I keep in touch with,” she added. 

“I see some on the golfing circuit or send Christmas cards to, but there are others who I won’t have seen for a number of years. I haven’t seen Jane Powell for a long time, for example. It will be lovely to catch up. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Picture by Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com. Yorkshire president Jane Powell, a former Yorkshire and England captain.

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