Loughborough Lightning are very much the wildcard in the Kia Super League pack. Of the five other teams, there are three – Lancashire Thunder, Yorkshire Diamonds and Surrey Stars – that are based around existing counties; and two – Western Storm and Southern Vipers – that are conglomerates of universities and multiple counties.
Lightning, though, chose to go it alone as a university – something that was realistic because, as the home of both the contracted England Women’s Performance squad and the England Women’s Academy, what they did have was an in-place women’s cricket programme that was second-to-none, and an unrivaled set of facilities which New Zealand’s Sophie Devine believes is what gives Loughborough the edge.
“I’ve been here just over a week now,” she says, “[and] what I’ve seen so far has been absolutely incredible – the facilities available literally right on the doorstep – it makes a massive difference.”
Devine admits though that it is a challenge, jetting in from the other side of the world.
“It’s a bit of a shock for me, coming from the middle of winter where it’s not getting above 5 degrees – we had an open wicket training the other day and my feet were really sore from wearing the spikes; but we’re just trying to take it all on board and learn as quick as we can, because the competition’s coming round really quick.”
Of course, facilities are nothing if you haven’t got the players, and Georgia Elwiss tells us they picked their overseas stars very carefully.
“In terms of our international players we’ve got all all-rounders, so they’re all world-class at batting and bowling, which is obviously a massive help – they are all likely to bat in the top 5 and bowl 4 overs each, so for me [as captain] that’s a dream.”
In terms of preparation, Loughborough have had a warm-up double-header versus the Surrey Stars, winning both games, and scoring over 200 in the second match; but Elwiss is characteristically not getting carried away.
“It’s always good to get a run out and see some of the younger girls really perform and stand up. We had small boundaries [but] power hitting has been a thing that we’ve really focused on over the last 18 months, and it’s nice that it’s coming out in the game now.”
As well as work on the field and in the gym, the girls have taken some time-out at Laser Tag, with New South African skipper Dane van Niekerk leading the winning team: “She had all the game plans and she bossed it!” says Elwiss. (“Don’t talk any more about it!” retorts Devine, who we suspect might have been on the losing side!)
Although she is only here for a month, Devine is keen to emphasise that while she is here, she is a Lightning player and not a New Zealand one.
“I don’t care that Georgia plays for England and I play for New Zealand – for me that goes out the window and it’s just about playing cricket. And if we can help each other get better and if we can help the county players get better, then surely that’s going to be better for the women’s game in general.”
Reflecting on the overall state of the women’s game here, Devine thinks we are in good shape going into KSL:
“Women’s cricket over here in England, from what we see from abroad, is massively popular – the crowds you guys get [and] the following of the English girls is huge. So if KSL gets at least a little bit of the following that the England girls get here I think it will be a really successful tournament.”
“It’s only going to be for the better of the women’s game”, she concludes. “It’s a really awesome experience.”