Lauren Winfield-Hill is confident the Northern Diamonds can bring down the curtain on the region’s five-year existence in style this summer with another trophy.

Winfield-Hill described 2023 as a “teething year” for the side. 

They had to settle for group stage finishes in both 50-over and T20 cricket, though blooded a number of young players in senior cricket.

This is the last year of regional women’s cricket in England, with the eight regions to be replaced by as many Tier One teams who will be owned by county clubs.

Yorkshire and Durham are amongst 16 counties who have put their names in the frame and should learn their fate in the next week or so.

Rewind to the start of the regional era in 2020, and the Diamonds started with a side full of experience. 

Winfield-Hill was part of it, Jenny Gunn was, Linsey Smith, the Sciver-Brunts, Katherine and Nat. 

Lauren Winfield-Hill

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com. Lauren Winfield-Hill.

Coach Dani Hazell guided her side to three successive Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy finals as well as the final of the inaugural Charlotte Edwards Cup in 2021. 

Three successive final defeats came and went before the glorious RHFT triumph in 2022 when the Diamonds beat reigning champions Southern Vipers at Lord’s.

Immediately after that win, Gunn, Smith and the Sciver-Brunts all departed for either pastures new or retirement, and it was time for the Diamonds to look to youth.

“It wasn’t a free pass last year, but it was a teething year,” said Winfield-Hill.

“We put a lot of energy and effort into our youngsters and blooded them. This year, it’s only right that our expectations are higher in terms of challenging for trophies.

“Everybody’s a year experience wise, especially the youngsters, so I would say that this year is a great opportunity for us to compete for top honours again.

“The core of senior players have been around for a little bit now. Bess Heath was still coming through back then, but now she’s a fully fledged international cricketer. 

Diamonds

Picture by Will Palmer/SWpix.com. Northern Diamonds celebrate winning the 2022 Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy Final against the Southern Vipers.

“Hollie’s a good bit more experienced now, and a lot of our youngsters have come through and done really well. 

“I definitely see us being able to produce what we did a couple of years ago.”

Leah Dobson, Rebecca Duckworth, Katherine Fraser, Grace Hall, Emma Marlow, Lizzie Scott, Phoebe Turner and Jess Woolston are amongst those youngsters who played a decent amount of cricket last summer. 

“We had to be patient with them last year,” continued the England wicketkeeper-batter. 

“For a number of them, it was their first year of pro cricket when the pressures are different. You are playing for a spot. It’s not like age-group cricket where you will play every game. That’s a big transition.

“This year, they’ve had a taste of it, and hopefully we’ll kick on.”

Reflecting on the Diamonds journey, Winfield-Hill said: “We’ve won a trophy as the Northern Diamonds, and hopefully we can win another.

Dani Hazell and Lauren Winfield-Hill

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com. Coach Dani Hazell (c) and Lauren Winfield-Hill (r) talk to MC Tanya Arnold at Yorkshire’s opening season lunch at Headingley last week. Hazell will look to mastermind her second success as coach.

“That would be a really nice way to round off the last four and a bit years.

“It’s not been long enough to call it a legacy, but it’s definitely been a good time for the Northern Diamonds.

“We’ve had a great time; a trophy, lots of great individual performances and players progressing through to play for England across the various levels. 

“This year, the Northern Diamonds will not go forwards as the Northern Diamonds, and it would be good to round it off with a trophy.”

The Diamonds finished sixth in last season’s Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and fourth in the Charlotte Edwards Cup. The latter, in particular, stung given they had won the first four games and missed out on Finals Day having lost the last three.

The final game, effectively a qualification decider, saw them lose heavily to local rivals Thunder at Blackpool in June.

And Winfield-Hill and co are desperate to right that wrong when that competition kicks off towards the end of May.

Lauren Winfield-Hill

Picture by Albert Perez/Getty Images. Lauren Winfield-Hill during her spell with the Queensland Fire this winter.

“I definitely think so,” she said. “T20 has been something we’ve all been working hard on this winter, a lot of the girls at home and some of us abroad.

“Hollie’s game will kick on after the winter, Bess as well – she’s going to come back in. Leah Dobson is another who has started to show signs of aggression and development. 

“Another big one is the return of Beth Langston. She’s been a massive loss. She’s a world-class player who brings balance because she bats and bowls.

“There’s a lot of T20 cricket around now, and everyone is trying to evolve their skills. It’s a huge focus for us.”

Winfield-Hill has returned home from a winter in Australia, where she played Big Bash cricket for Perth Scorchers, state cricket for Queensland and spent some important time away from the game with Aussie wife Courtney’s family. They are Queensland based.

“It’s been a really nice time,” she added.  

“The state block, they don’t play nearly as many games as we do. It was a nice way for me to keep playing but not day in, day out. It gave me a good opportunity to work on my game and stay fit.

Jess Woolston

Picture by Will Palmer/SWpix.com. Jess Woolston is one of the youngsters who the Diamonds have hope hopes for in 2024.

“I also got home to see Courtney’s family. We spend most of the year over here, so it was great. It’s a home away from home there – it doesn’t feel like you’re living out of a suitcase.

“But it’s been good to be back and get around the girls here. It’s just a shame the weather’s miserable.”

The Diamonds begin their summer with a RHF Trophy clash against Thunder at Durham’s Riverside ground on Saturday April 20.

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