Lauren Winfield-Hill says she was blown away by the development displayed by the Northern Diamonds up and comers during their pre-season tour of Spain.
The England wicketkeeper batter made a whistle-stop return to domestic duty to travel to Desert Springs, a six-day trip sandwiched in between overseas commitments in Pakistan and Hong Kong.
Winfield-Hill has spent the vast majority of her winter away from Headingley’s East Stand indoor nets, with domestic and international trips to Australia, the West Indies and South Africa also thrown in.
However, seeing players such as Phoebe Turner, Lizzie Scott, Emma Marlow, Grace Hall and Jess Woolston play and train in the Spanish sunshine has given the York-born star significant confidence that the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy champions can go “back-to-back”.
“Lord’s feels like an awful long time ago now,” said Winfield-Hill.
“It’s fantastic what we achieved last year, but it’s a different group this.
“We’ve brought through a lot of youngsters this winter, looking ahead to the summer. But they deserve the chances they’ll get, and they absolutely belong.
“We saw in Spain how they contributed really nicely. It’s really exciting.
“At the start of the winter, I thought, ‘We’ve lost Linsey Smith, we’ve lost Jenny Gunn, how do we replace those senior players?’ But one week in Spain and you’re going, ‘We’re right in the mix here’.
“I spoke to Hollie (Armitage) about this. If you can’t recruit better than what you’ve got, why recruit. That’s the whole purpose of an Academy, bringing players on.
“We haven’t really gone elsewhere because we don’t think we’ve needed to.
“We’re a different group, but we’re stronger than we’ve ever been. That younger group mixed with the experienced players galvanises the team and drives the energy and culture of the team.
“After you’ve seen a Phoebe Turner coming through the Academy, and even this winter she’s kicked on after getting her first contract. The improvement’s mind-blowing.
“I haven’t been around much this winter, but then you come back into things in Spain and see them taking wickets and scoring runs. Girls like her belong.
“The rise has been rapid for them, and it’s no surprise because they get to train full-time now.
“We can definitely go back-to-back.”
Winfield-Hill is currently in Hong Kong for the 11-day Fairbreak Global T20 event, alongside fellow Diamond Sterre Kalis. It runs from tomorrow through to April 16.
Six teams are competing. Lauren is playing for the Barmy Army team, while Sterre is representing the Tornadoes, with whom she won the inaugural edition in Dubai last year.
“It’s been a good winter,” continued Winfield-Hill.
“I feel like I continued where I left last season. I had a good time out in Pakistan just now, and getting the opportunity to go to Fairbreak is great so I can keep playing and stay in that competitive mindset.”
Winfield-Hill scored 953 runs from 20 matches in all cricket last summer, including the Hundred. She averaged 63.53 and claimed 25 dismissals behind the stumps.
It was form which helped her win two trophies with the Diamonds and the Oval Invincibles and earned her an England recall ahead of February’s T20 World Cup in South Africa, where she was named in the squad but didn’t play.
After a similar experience at the 50-over World Cup in New Zealand 12 months earlier, Winfield-Hill had spoken about her mental struggles: “I could barely function as a human being,” she had said.
However, the changing landscape of the women’s game enabled her to deal with the South African disappointment differently.
She explained: “It was difficult not playing in the World Cup. I feel like I had a lot to offer and was chomping at the bit on the sidelines. But it’s just one of those things.
“The best thing about women’s cricket now is that you can move on quickly because there’s so many games coming thick and fast. Before, if you didn’t play for England, you’d be sat on your heels for three or four months.
“I’m getting some real cool opportunities in the franchise space. That would never have been a thing before. I’ve been out to the Big Bash this winter, to Pakistan and now to Fairbreak.
“You have three or four competitions that quickly take your focus away because you have another team to do well for.”
And, as for her drive to match or even better last year’s personal form, she added: “Nothing really changes. I’m not going to approach any game any differently.
“As long as I stick to the things that served me well last year, I can have another good year. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”