“I was sat there thinking, ‘This is a real turning point’” says Dani Hazell as she reflects on the events of a year ago when 86,174 fans were packed into Melbourne’s MCG on International Women’s Day to watch the World T20 final between Australia and India.
There have been a number of ‘Wow’ moments in the women’s game in recent times, as Northern Diamonds and Superchargers coach Hazell can testify.
For English fans, the 2017 one-day World Cup win on home soil in front of a packed Lord’s is the biggest.
It certainly is for Hazell. She was still playing then and was part of the triumphant England squad. She classes it as her career highlight to date.
But, make no mistake, last year in Melbourne was a major moment for the women’s game in general.
“We’d had our 2017 final at Lord’s, which was a sellout. That final at the MCG was almost the next step forwards from that really,” said the former off-spinner.
“It wasn’t just a big moment for Australian cricket, it was significant for women’s cricket all around the world.
“It would have obviously been better if it was England in that final. But it was definitely a marker to show women’s cricket is taken very seriously and that there are genuine fans out there who love watching cricket, whether it’s men’s or women’s.”
Hazell played 141 times for England across all formats between 2009 and 2018, captaining them briefly along the way.
“From the years when I was playing in front of one man and his dog, the women’s game has come so far,” she continued.
“And it’s going even further with the introduction of the Hundred. You can only imagine that crowds are going to continue to grow. There’s also a huge audience watching from home.
“Ten years ago, nobody ever thought you’d be able to sell out Lord’s. And next minute, they are selling out the MCG.
“That shows how far it has progressed in a short space of time.
“Who knows how far it could go now. I guess the next step would be filling out that one in India (Ahmedabad). That’s a pretty big stadium isn’t it!”
Despite the speed bump named Coronavirus, women’s cricket is in rude health, not least in England and certainly not least in Yorkshire and the North East.
Having previously captained England, Durham-born Hazell now has more responsibility on her shoulders as coach of the Northern Diamonds regional team and also the Northern Superchargers in the new Hundred competition.
“Having been through a lot with Covid and stuff, I think now is the time to push the Hundred forward. That’s a massive thing for us, being on terrestrial TV,” she said, when asked about future goals.
“At the minute, making sure that grows will help more internationals to come over, which will then push forwards the standard of the English game.”
The Superchargers have announced two of their three allocated overseas players for this summer, with Australians Alyssa Healy and Nicola Carey coming over.
Healy is a superstar of the game as an explosive wicketkeeper-bat, while all-rounder Carey is much earlier on her journey to the same status.
“I probably just about played against her (Carey) towards the end of my career,” Hazell said.
“To have someone who can bat, bowl and field as well as she does is going to be invaluable in the Hundred. We’ve got a few spots to fill, but I’m confident with the squad we have.”
A major step forwards in England has come within the last 12 months in the form of 40 newly awarded professional contracts across eight Regional Centres of Excellence.
The Emerald Headingley based Northern Diamonds have employed Hazell’s fellow 2017 World Cup winners Jenny Gunn and Beth Langston along with Hollie Armitage, Phoebe Graham and Linsey Smith.
Gunn, now retired from internationals, will obviously not get to experience crowds of 86,000 at the MCG again as a player, but the other four can.
“Absolutely they can, definitely,” said Hazell, confidently. “And “Jen’s experience can help them meet their expectations and achieve their goals.
“We offer them all the time and facilities we can. Then it comes down to how much they want it, which I know they do.”
Steeton-born Graham’s case is particularly interesting having given up a full-time, 9-5 job working in marketing for Sky to progress her talents as a fast bowler.
Aged 29, she is about to embark on a second season of Northern Diamonds cricket having impressed in last season’s run to the final of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy.
“It’s going to be exciting to see where Phoebe can get to,” said Hazell.
“She comes in every day with a smile on her face, and sometimes you have got to say to her, ‘Right, that’s enough’. She would keep going and going if she could. She absolutely loves it and wants to learn all the time.”
Hazell also confirmed that Netherlands international batter Sterre Kalis will be back in Northern Diamonds colours this summer following her trio of RHF Trophy half-centuries in 2020.
“Sterre was brilliant for us, and we can’t wait to see her again,” she said, before going on to set out what a successful summer would include.
“We had a good 50-over comp last year with the Diamonds, and it would be great if we could get another crack at the final. That will be one of our goals.
“T20 is going to be a bit more of an open book because that’s a new competition.
“The Superchargers stuff, I don’t think anyone really knows what to expect. That will be a case of, ‘Get out there, have a crack and roll with punches’.”
When discussing her own career highlight to date – that 2017 World Cup – Hazell said: “Nobody can take your World Cup medal away from you, can they.”
She’s 100 percent correct. But one thing that can happen is that medal can be added to. This summer, with the Diamonds and the Superchargers, may well be the start of some more silverware to follow.