Tom Cant, the interim head of the Northern Diamonds Academy, has reported back positively from the recent weather-affected Regional Festival at Millfield School in Taunton.
The Diamonds fledglings only played one outdoor game during their four days in the West Country, and even that was a reduced overs affair against South East Stars.
If you want an idea of the weather-disruption, it was the same week Yorkshire’s men were just up the road in Bristol for the County Championship match against Gloucestershire that was abandoned without a ball bowled.
The Diamonds got more cricket in than that. In fact, even though they weren’t able to get out on grass as much as they wanted, they were able to play a couple of indoor matches against arch-rivals Lancashire Thunder, winning one and losing one.
Cant, who has stepped into the role which Courtney Winfield-Hill vacated in December, has also been speaking about the introduction of second-team cricket into the regional structure, which begins this week. He believes “it can only be a positive”.
Firstly, looking back on the first of two summer Regional Festivals, he said: “We made the most of the 12-over game we had outdoors against the Stars. We tried to make sure the batters had a bat and that everyone bowled two overs.
“In the end, it turned out to be a really good game. We scored 72 and were 38 at halfway. We probably felt we were 10-15 short, but Layla Tipton batted well for 37.
“The Stars then batted really well. Jemima Spence, who has been in and around the seniors, got them off to a flyer with 39. But the girls fought hard and took it to the last over.
“The main success was that we were just able to get out on grass for the first time after the cancellation of an internal game we were supposed to have.
“The weather, it was what it was. But, in terms of the four days, with the squad and a few new players, it was good. They bonded really well. They did karaoke, WiiFit dancing – that type of thing. It will only leave us in good stead going forwards.
“Indoors, we played Thunder twice, and both went to the last over. We each won one.
“That competitive element was great. We had a couple of formats to challenge the girls in different ways – pairs and then the other was more when you’re out, you’re out.
“We also had access to the gym and pool down there and chatted a lot about our preparation.
“With the addition of second-team cricket, a lot of our girls will get chances to play. It’s a development space and about preparing them for the step up.
“However many festivals we’ve been to at Regional Academy level or in the old Regional Development Centre, this was the first one either pre-season or summer that we’ve had affected by rain. Fingers crossed, we go back to Millfield in July and we can play unaffected.
“If we’d played a full festival, we’d have aimed to give everyone a chance in this.
“In the summer, on the back of the Under 19s World Cup being introduced, I believe there’s going to be a more competitive element to it. I’m not sure, but that might be win and you go through rather than a series of scheduled fixtures.
“Yes, it is a development space. But, ultimately, the senior environment is competitive and we have to prepare the girls as best we can.”
The value of the Diamonds Academy was shown last year when four graduates – Emma Marlow, Lizzie Scott, Phoebe Turner and Jess Woolston – all played their part in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy triumph.
Marlow and Scott played in the Lord’s final in September before travelling to South Africa with England’s Under 19s for the inaugural T20 World Cup in January.
We could very well see similar this year. Grace Hall has graduated up to the senior squad now, while Academy players Harriet Robson and Emily Whiting both played in a first-team friendly against Blaze at Weetwood last week.
They could well be in action when a Diamonds second team play their first ever fixture against the Blaze at Lady Bay in Nottingham on Wednesday – 50-over fixture.
There are six scheduled summer fixtures for the seconds, and they will be a mixture of 50-over cricket and T20.
As Cant said, its introduction to the stricture “can only be a positive”.
“Firstly, to challenge the Academy girls and have them playing with and against some senior players,” he said. “Secondly, it provides senior players fighting for first-team places the chance to play some more cricket and prove their point.
“We had a couple of examples of players last year who weren’t in the first team and were like, ‘Where does my cricket come from?’
“I think it will only grow. With women’s county cricket being at the start of the season and being so short, the addition of more second-team cricket is as close as you can get to the (Diamonds) first team.”
Just as the first team triumphed last year, things are looking rosy underneath as well. Below the Academy, the Diamonds have two Emerging Player Programme squads split between Yorkshire and Durham and Northumberland.
“It’s fantastic the EPP girls are pushing the Academy girls, just like the Academy are with the seniors,” added Cant, who is loving his new role at present.
“It’s been fantastic for me.
“I loved my year full-time with Courtney and learnt plenty from her.
“Having the chance to lead the Academy now and spend a bit more time around the seniors, it’s been great.
“We’ve created a really productive alignment between programmes, with players and coaches moving up and down. Hopefully we can continue that throughout the season.”
Meanwhile, the Yorkshire women’s team were frustrated by the weather for the second week running yesterday when their County T20 Cup double header with Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire was rained off at York. The previous Sunday they had a double header at South Northumberland washed out as well.
Diamonds Second XI fixtures, 2023
April 26 – Blaze, Lady Bay
May 3 – Sparks, Edgbaston Foundation Ground
May 22 – Blaze, Weetwood
June 8 – Thunder, Blackpool
July 12 – Thunder, Weetwood
Aug 24 – Sparks, Abbeydale
Diamonds Academy fixtures, 2023
April 11-14 – Pre-season festival, Millfield School
April 30 – Sparks, Edgbaston Foundation Ground)
May 31 – Blaze, Lady Bay
June 18 – Sparks, Edgbaston Foundation Ground
June 23 – Diamonds Seniors/Academy Internal, TBC
June 25 – Storm, Thornbury
July 4 – Sunrisers, Overstone
July 9 – North-East Warriors Seniors, TBC
July 24-27 – Summer festival, Millfield School
August 1-2 – Thunder, Weetwood
August 8-9 – Vipers, Richmondshire
August 11 – National Asian Cricket Council, TBC
August 22 – Stars, Hartlepool