Emma Marlow’s route through this summer has been a vastly different one to last year, but the Northern Diamonds star is hoping the destination remains exactly the same come the end of this month – the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy final.
Last September, Marlow took a key catch late in the final victory over Southern Vipers at Lord’s. At that stage, she had performed superbly with her off-spinners.
This season, the personal results haven’t quite been there with ball in hand, but the England Under 19 still remains a key figure in the region’s push for silverware.
The 19-year-old from Harrogate – a product of the Beckwithshaw club to be precise – has now come more to the fore with the bat.
Marlow has played seven regional fixtures this summer – all in the RHF Trophy, which resumes on Tuesday after the six-and-a-half-week break because of the Hundred.
The Diamonds face a crunch clash with old foes the Vipers at South Northumberland Cricket Club in Gosforth (10.30am). It is the first of four remaining group fixtures.
Marlow had some early season struggles with her off-spin and fell out of the side in late April. When she returned to action at the start of July, she did so batting in the top order. That came firstly at three with captain Hollie Armitage on England A duty and then at four when the latter returned.
Without stamping her authority on proceedings, Marlow has encouraged with 20, 22 and 25 not out in five innings in the top order and is confident that extensive work in the nets in recent weeks can help her push on just when it matters most.
“If you’d have asked me at the start of the season what I thought would happen and what I wanted to happen, it probably wouldn’t be this,” she admitted.
“The bowling has been tricky, but I now feel I’ve got something else to work with, and I have enjoyed it.
“I’m sure Dani (Hazell, coach) wasn’t planning for me to bat at number four at the start of the season, but with the England A absentees for Hollie and Bess (Heath) that opened up.
“I did enough to get a good run of games, and it has been exciting.
“Time in the nets is obviously not the same as being in a game. But, because there’s only been five or six of us who haven’t been at the Hundred, I’ve had so much volume and have been able to work on things you wouldn’t do with games coming back-to-back.
“Hopefully I can go in and try some new stuff out and get a few more runs in this back end.
“The next step is kicking on, but I’m sure that will come with time in the middle.”
For the Diamonds and the Vipers, regional cricket certainly returns to the summer schedule with a bang. This is a huge fixture in terms of both teams’ hopes of silverware.
The top three in the eight-team table qualify for the knockout stages.
Runaway leaders the Blaze sit on 34 points after 10 games and are on course to finish top and earn direct qualification for the September 24 final at Northampton.
Second and third then play off against each other in an effective semi-final (September 21).
Central Sparks are second on 27 points and South East Stars third on 26.
The Diamonds, the defending champions, are fourth on 21 points, with the Vipers two points further back. There are a total of 20 points to play for across the next four rounds.
The winner of Tuesday’s clash will be confident of qualifying, while the losers will be very much on the back foot.
It’s not mathematically a must win fixture, but it kind of has that feel.
“We know going into this next month that we’ve probably got to win pretty much every game,” continued Marlow. “But we’ve definitely got the unit to go and do it.
“We’ll back ourselves against the Vipers and everyone else. We’ve done it before, and there’s no reason why we can’t again.”
The chances are Bess Heath will be unavailable because of England senior duty, though it is not completely out of the question that she could be released should she not make the team to face Sri Lanka.
All-rounder Chloe Tryon, meanwhile, has ended her season’s overseas commitments with the region. No replacement has been signed, but the Diamonds continue to assess their options.
And returning to Marlow’s development as a cricketer, she admits to recent struggles but definitely takes the view that every cloud has a silver lining.
She added: “It’s not been great with the bowling, and it’s probably been more a mental block thing than anything else.
“But we’ve sort of parked that a bit for the season. Then, once we get back in November, we’ll have a good crack at it and hopefully be ready for next season.
“I’m not sure whether it’s as straightforward as I’ll not bowl again this season, but I’m more concentrating on my batting at this back end.
“When I get my bowling back to where it was, I can hopefully look at myself as a genuine all-rounder. Yes, it’s been a bit of a struggle this season at times, but maybe it will be a blessing in disguise given what’s happened on the batting front.”