An aspiring Olympian is set to claim a piece of Ashes history over the next fortnight.
Jasmine Nicholls missed out on her opportunity to compete at last year’s Commonwealth Games due to Covid, with the national race walker now setting her sights on the Paris Olympics next year.
But before then her focus is fully on this summer’s men’s and women’s Ashes when she is set to be part of a breakthrough moment.
Nicholls, who was recently appointed to the groundstaff at Headingley, will join an all-women team that will prepare the pitch for the first Vitality Women’s Ashes T20 at Edgbaston on Saturday, 1 July.
The 27-year-old will work alongside an eight-member team in Birmingham, headed up by Gloucestershire’s Meg Lay, in a first for cricket in this country.
And Nicholls admits to being blown away by the opportunity as she gets ready for a busy couple of weeks in which she will also help prepare the Headingley pitch for the third Investec Men’s Ashes Test.
“I got a message from Meg and I thought, ‘hang on, I’ve only been in the job for a couple of weeks, you want me at the Ashes?’” said Nicholls, who joined Yorkshire ahead of this summer to work alongside new head of grounds Richard Robinson.
“That was very surreal, but it’s so exciting. It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks.
“To experience both the women’s and the men’s Ashes within a couple of weeks, it’s going to be a long couple of weeks but amazing to be a part of and very special.
“To form an all-women’s team for a women’s game, hopefully there will be women and girls who will be watching and can see it’s something they could be doing.”
Meg, who was one the first female grounds person in professional cricket, hopes the initiative will encourage more women to follow in her footsteps.
She added: “The sports turf industry is 98 per cent men; getting women involved isn’t an exercise in box ticking, it is absolutely necessary for women’s sport to continue to thrive.
“I love the job and the industry is incredibly welcoming. Being outside all day, and having world class athletes play on pitches I have prepared is a real buzz. I could never go back to a ‘normal’ job.
“I’ve helped prepare every match wicket at Gloucestershire since the day I started and under the tutelage of Sean Williams, head of sports turf at Gloucestershire, have developed my skills and knowledge immensely.
“An Ashes pitch will be the highlight of my career so far. We’ve brought together an experienced, talented team of women ground staff and I’m confident we can put on a wicket deserving of such a great occasion.
“To any women and girls looking for an exciting, rewarding career in grounds management I would say ‘go for it’.”
Leicester-born Nicholls joined Yorkshire from just up the road at Sports Park Weetwood, run by the University of Leeds. Yorkshire’s Second XI play a number of matches there.
That is also where Robinson has come from to replace Andy Fogarty, who stepped down from his long-standing role as head of grounds in March.
“I was one of the managers helping look after the facilities at Weetwood,” Nicholls said.
“During Covid, the buildings would be shut, so I’d be taking Robbo a cup of tea and stuff like that because I only live around the corner.
“We got talking quite a bit during Covid, and he’d be pulling sheets on at night on his own. So I helped out with that. It started off as little bits, but it progressed from there.
“I enjoyed doing that casual-hours stuff in between my day job and training as well. Then, the opportunity came up to join the staff here, and I was like, ‘why not’.
“I’ve absolutely loved it. I’m an outdoors person, so this is almost the perfect job for me.”
Following Nicholls ‘international call up’ – Robinson last month supported a six woman team to prepare the pitch for the community themed T20 double header match, when Yorkshire Vikings took on Derbyshire Falcons followed by the Northern Diamonds against the Southern Vipers, on Sunday, 4 June.
Around her day job, Nicholls is a national race walker who, if all goes well, could be the centre of attention at another major sporting event next summer.
“We had the Commonwealth Games last year, which was a big aim for me. But I had Covid, and it ruled out pretty much the whole of last year,” he said.
So, what about the Olympics in Paris next year?
“I’d like to say ‘yes’ to that. But we’ll see how everything pans out. It’s difficult to know what that discipline would be because things keep changing,” she said.
“They’ve recently introduced a race-walking relay. I think the female does 10km, the male does 10km, the female does another 10 and then the male does another 12 after that. It makes up a similar distance to a marathon.
“The event is definitely changing. We’ll wait to see how it pans out.”
With that in mind, it should be quite easy to spot Nicholls at Edgbaston or Headingley this summer. She will be the one ahead of everyone else if the covers need to come on or off.
The full team on duty at Edgbaston ahead of the July 1 Women’s Ashes T20, will be as follows:
Emily Geach, sports turf volunteer, Boconnoc Cricket Club
Rachel Hunter-Worrall, sports turf operative, Queen Ethelburga’s College
Carlie Lambert, apprentice sports turf operative, Worcestershire CCC
Meg Lay, sports turf operative, Gloucestershire CCC.
Jasmine Nicholls, sports turf operative, Yorkshire CCC
Elizabeth Parker, match day ground-staff, Essex CCC
Zoe Parker, match day ground-staff, Hampshire CCC
Tara Sandford, sports turf operative, Arsenal Football Club