Ffion Wynne talks to Claire Nicholas.
Claire Nicholas was quite a remarkable and unique find of the second edition of the KSL – at 30 years old, a professional contract at such a late stage of her career came completely out of the blue, but the opportunity was one that she simply could not turn down. Nicholas, who has played all of her county cricket for Wales, comments upon the instrumental role of Western Storm’s Head Coach Trevor Griffin in her experience, due to his understanding of her different lifestyle to the other members of the squad. ‘I found fitting in training, conditioning and gym work all very challenging,’ she explains, ‘mainly due to the fact that I was holding down a full time job and bringing up a young family.’ This challenge did not restrict Nicholas, however, as she was trusted with the new ball by captain Heather Knight and finished with 5 wickets at an impressive economy of 5.92.
This responsibility of opening the bowling was described by Nicholas as her biggest challenge during the competition, due to the calibre of the players to whom she bowled (Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine and Hayley Matthews, to name a few!) and the fact that it was a very new role for her to fulfil. Nicholas names Devine (Yorkshire Diamonds) as the most difficult batsman she came up against during the competition, as she was dispatched for two consecutive sixes during her early spell, but the leadership of Knight allowed her to demonstrate resilience, change her plans and control the situation much more effectively.
The influence of the international stars, combined with the support of the coaching staff, also had a vital impact upon Nicholas’ performances, demonstrating the significance of the KSL in developing county players and providing them with an incredible opportunity to play with and against the world’s leading cricketers. ‘They brought so much experience, professionalism and character to the squad,’ Nicholas describes, ‘and I had to pinch myself during my first training session when I bowled at the likes of Heather Knight, Stafanie Taylor and Rachel Priest. They really inspired us non-international players to raise our own games to compete with them, and I have learnt so much that I hope to pass on to players in Wales.’
The inclusion of two Welsh players in the Storm squad (batsman Lauren Parfitt was also involved in their winning campaign) gives Nicholas great hope for the future of the county as she aims to inspire the younger generation to follow in their footsteps. ‘Cricket Wales is fantastic in its setup and the level of coaching that we receive as players is second to none. Now that Lauren and I have made that vital step into KSL cricket, it paves the way for others to do the same and I have no doubt we will see plenty more Welsh players involved in the future.’
The whole experience was surreal from start to finish for Nicholas, having been initially astonished to be given the opportunity to play professional cricket to finishing eventual winners, and playing a vital part in that success nonetheless. After their initial thrashing at the hands of 2016 winners Southern Vipers (having been bowled out for just 70), very few would have predicted that Storm would eventually win the competition, claiming revenge against Vipers in the process. Nicholas commends Knight’s strong leadership for the turnaround, highlighting her decision-making and the faith that she showed in all her players in difficult situations as the deciding factor in their victory, alongside monumental performances from Rachel Priest and Stafanie Taylor,
Storm’s county players also played a significant role in the team’s victory. ‘We all had to raise our game to contribute to the team’s success. From Sophie Luff’s countless dives on the boundary to save valuable runs, to Georgia Hennessy’s crowd-pleasing sixes, we all chipped in at some point to get us over the line,’ Nicholas states. ‘Away from cricket, we all got on so well as a team, which I also think was instrumental in our success. We grew as a team, and this allowed Trevor and the coaching staff to get the best out of us as a unit.’
After such a successful first taste of professional cricket, Nicholas is already looking forward to the challenges that next season will bring. Let’s hope that the next edition of the KSL will draw attention to plenty more county players aiming to make their mark in the competition.