Hollie Armitage has had plenty of deserved praise this winter following her rise to senior international cricket with England, and on the eve of the new regional summer she has gained even more from a fellow Northern Diamonds star.

Captain Armitage will lead her side into battle with arch-rivals Lancashire Thunder in Saturday’s blockbuster Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy opener at Durham’s Seat Unique Riverside (10.30am).

And one of her key weapons in search of victory will no doubt be Katie Levick, a leg-spinner whose own numbers – 344 senior career wickets – make you wonder how she has never gained recognition from the England selectors.

Levick and Armitage go way back, so the former is ideally placed to assess the latter’s progression through to the top table of world cricket.

“I’ve been around for pretty much all of Hollie’s career,” said Levick.

“And I was so proud when she sent me the text to say that she was involved with England. 

“No one works harder on the domestic scene, and she’s one of the smartest cricketers, if not the smartest, that I’ve ever played with.”

Katie Levick

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com. Katie Levick has praised Hollie Armitage and will herself be a key weapon for the skipper with the ball this summer.

“As a captain, she’s wonderful and has impacted my career so much. To see those just rewards is fantastic. 

“She’s the perfect example of putting the hard yards in. 

“It might not have always come naturally to her, but she’s chipped away for years. This winter, it’s really paid off for her getting on these overseas tours and playing in the Super Smash.”

The Diamonds will be boosted by the availability on Saturday of Armitage’s England team-mate Bess Heath, who also played in last month’s New Zealand T20 series alongside her regional skipper and is one of the most dynamic young players on the circuit.

“What they’ve both done has been amazing,” continued Levick. 

“Bess plays the game in such an exciting way. It’s to great to watch and to play alongside. 

“Hopefully they can both have long and successful careers with England.”

Bess Heath

Picture by Michael Bradley – ECB via Getty Images. England’s Bess Heath will be back in Diamonds colours in tomorrow’s summer opener.

Asked to expand on why she believes Armitage is one of the smartest cricketers she’s ever played with Levick said: “She just reads the game so incredibly well.

“Whether that’s through years of playing or it comes naturally to her, I don’t know. But she’s just really switched on.

“For someone who is so laid back and jokey off the field, on it she’s very clued in. 

“She’s a great tactician, and it’s sort of taken the pressure off me bowling for the last few years knowing that she’s already one step ahead. As much as I’m always thinking about it, she’s there to just re-affirm things so quickly.”

Wicketkeeper-batter Heath’s inclusion for the Diamonds comes after a quartet of T20I appearances over the winter, both in India and New Zealand. 

She was with England’s squad up until April 7, whereas Armitage returned home a week or so earlier.

The Diamonds will, however, be without fast bowling all-rounder Beth Langston. She is in the latter stages of her recovery from ACL knee surgery.

Pictured Erin Burns playing for New South Wales batting during the WNCL match between New South Wales and South Australia at Cricket Central, on February 15, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Picture by Matt King/Getty Images. New South Wales all-rounder Erin Burns is set to debut for the Diamonds.

Katherine Fraser and Rachel Slater are also on international duty with Scotland.

Neither side reached the knockout stages of the RHF Trophy last year but head into 2024 with renewed optimism.

Thunder have a new head coach in former England men’s wicketkeeper Chris Read, who has replaced Paul Shaw this winter. 

Captained by Ellie Threlkeld, they will have England duo Mahika Gaur and Emma Lamb available this weekend. Kate Cross and Sophie Ecclestone could follow in the next week or two.

They have signed Australian batter Katie Mack as an overseas player to start the summer. She will line up against her compatriot Erin Burns, the all-rounder who has signed as overseas with the Diamonds. Both Burns and Mack have played alongside each other in the past for the Australian Capital Territory team. 

“We’ll be focusing on what we do well and how we perform best as a unit,” said Armitage when asked if preparing to face a side with a new coach poses a different challenge. 

“Playing against every opposition there’s new challenges, whether they’ve got a new coach or an old coach.

Hollie Armitage

Picture by Evan Barnes/Getty Images. Hollie Armitage, here on England debut last month, will begin her fourth season as the captain of the Northern Diamonds.

“We’ll just focus on ourselves and the success we’ve had, and hopefully we’ll start on the right path.

“Whenever you’re playing against Thunder, there’s always a bit more on those kind of games. It’s nice to be able to set off with this fixture first up.”

And on her England debut, which came as a concussion substitute for Sarah Glenn in the third T20I against New Zealand at Nelson last month, she added: “It was an interesting debut!

“I wasn’t expecting it to happen, and then someone goes down in the seventh over. Then I was getting congratulated on the field. 

“As I say, it wasn’t the way I was expecting it to happen. But I’m very happy to have got my first cap.

“I can take a little bit of confidence from it, but like every game of cricket you have to start fresh. You’re coming into different conditions, and I’m back with my home team now.

“There will be different pressures involved with that. But, hopefully I can take the success I’ve had in the winter into the season with the Diamonds.”

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