By Raf Nicholson & Syd Egan
The regional T20 competition is structured similarly, although it begins slightly later (in June), with the top 3 teams progressing to a Finals Day on 5 September. (The full regional fixture list can be downloaded here.)
The schedule means that each region’s England players are likely to only be available for the opening four rounds of the RHF, missing out on the later rounds and the grand final. They will also be absent for the entirety of the T20 competition.
That will add to both the opportunities and the pressures faced by the 41 new domestic professionals who were handed contracts last December. This Saturday, that group will be facing the exciting yet daunting prospect of their first competitive cricket as professional cricketers. Some will flourish in the new system… but some may find it a difficult adjustment to make, just as the England players did back in 2014.
It’s also worth remembering that for the T20 competition, the 8 teams have been divided into two groups: Group A, containing reigning champions Southern Vipers, as well as South East Stars, Central Sparks and Lightning; and Group B, which consists of last year’s runners-up Northern Diamonds, plus Western Storm, Sunrisers and Thunder. In theory the groups should be evenly matched – the allocations are based on seedings from performances in last year’s RHF Trophy – but things might go differently in practice.
(Scroll down to the bottom to see each team’s full squads for this season.)
WHO’S GOING TO WIN IT?
Raf: Western Storm were unlucky to miss out on the final last year, falling foul of the North / South group system which meant that only one of the southern-based teams could progress. This time around, the seeding system means that they have every chance of getting there. I’d argue that with 6 professionals (instead of the 5 which all other regions have), they have a built-in advantage. I’m especially keen to see what a winter of proper training has done for all-rounder Georgia Hennessy, who when I spoke to her in March described the whole process as “mental but amazing”.
Syd: Southern Vipers’ 44-run warm-up victory last weekend against South East Stars shows why they will be the team to beat again this season. Despite losing openers Georgia Adams (retired hurt) and Danni Wyatt cheaply, they recovered to 231-7 off a reduced 45 overs, thanks to Maia Bouchier (79) and Georgia Elwiss (51) and then Emily Windsor closing out with a run-a-ball 31 having come in at 6. Of course they will lose Wyatt and Elwiss to England duty, but they’ve got the likes of Ella Chandler, who has shown some good early-season form for Hampshire, plus Paige Scholfield making her return from back surgery, to come in to the batting line-up. In the bowling department, they may miss Lauren Bell if she is selected for England, but they will still have Tara Norris, who has put on a yard of pace over the winter, and new mystery spinner Finty Trussler, alongside last year’s leading wicket-taker, Charlotte Taylor. No one could stop Vipers last year, and it will take a very good team to change that this year.
WHO WILL GET THE WOODEN SPOON?
Syd: This is a tough call, because from what we’ve seen at county, everyone has improved over the winter – the players, even the “non-pros”, are fitter than they’ve ever been, and they are savvier too. They are hitting the ball harder, and they are hitting the ball smarter; and I think we’ll see this in the results, so the table at the end of the season will look a bit more like last year’s North Group, where top and bottom were separated by just 15 points, than the South Group, where the equivalent gap was a whopping 27 points. If I have to chose one, I’ll plump for Thunder to take home the wooden spoon, but I think it will be much closer at the bottom than it will be at the top.
Raf: I reckon that Trevor Griffin has got his work cut out with Sunrisers. He may be the man who coached Western Storm to two KSL titles in four years, but his side looked to be the weakest of the bunch last year. Essex have again struggled in this season’s county matches, finishing bottom of the South East Group in the County T20s (admittedly it was a tough group to be drawn in). It’ll be interesting to see whether his young side can rise to the challenge this time around.
Raf: With no England players available for the T20s, and the possibility of some younger players also being included in this summer’s England squad, there’s a real chance for Northern Diamonds to take advantage. More than any other side, it feels like they have a core of experienced players who know how to go about their business in domestic cricket (waves at Katie Levick). Plus, if this season really is to be Jenny Gunn’s last hurrah (we wouldn’t want to speculate about that…) she’ll be keen for it to be a good one.
Syd: I think the South East Stars could come good in the T20s. With big hitters like Bryony Smith, Alice Capsey and Susie Rowe in the line-up there will be runs aplenty; plus look out for newcomer Emma Jones adding to the young talent in their bowling attack – a product of Felsted School (where Vipers wicket keeper Carla Rudd is Head of Girls’ Cricket), she is currently studying to be a vet at Cambridge University.
Syd: For years, England have been looking for a hard-hitting left-handed batter – could Sunrisers’ 17-year-old Grace Scrivens be the answer to their prayers? Having announced herself with a run-a-ball 72 against Western Storm last year, she comes into this season as Kent’s leading run-scorer in the County T20s, with 227 runs including 94 off 62 balls against Surrey. If she hasn’t played for England by the end of 2021, it might only be because exciting young batters seem to be like London buses right now – you wait ages for one, and then two come along at once…
Raf: The live streams in the inaugural RHF Trophy meant that Alice Capsey’s name suddenly became more widely known, and for good reason too. Maybe it’s because she’s only 16, but there is a fearlessness about her batting that I can’t help but admire. This year, she’s already finished the County T20 competition as Surrey’s leading run-scorer (134 runs) AND leading wicket-taker (8 wickets in total), plus scored 74 in the Stars’ warm-up against Vipers. I raved about her last year and I’ll likely be doing the exact same thing this season!
Raf: Ex-England batter Susie Rowe seemed doubtful that she would even be selected by Stars a few weeks ago, but maybe she was just being modest. As we discussed in our Vodcast after seeing her top-score on a tricky pitch for Kent against Essex in the London Championship, her natural talent means she is still oodles above most other county players, despite a five-year absence from top-level cricket to focus on hockey. I love the fact that regionals (and The Hundred) are giving us an opportunity to see her bossing the middle order once again.
Syd: Is Sophie Luff a “Golden Oldie”? She is only 27; but having started young, making her Somerset debut at 15, she is very much a survivor from the amateur era. The best player of her generation (possibly ever?) never to have played for England, Luff has been one of the most consistent batters in the county game for the past decade; and although she was forced to play a supporting role to the Western Storm’s international stars during the KSL, she rarely disappointed when she did get her chance – most significantly holding her nerve in the 2017 final, making 30 not out off 24 balls to help the Storm over the line. In short, she always comes to the party – usually bringing a nice bottle of something too – and there’s no reason to think 2021 will be any exception.
Syd: For me, there is only one candidate: Lightning and Scotland’s Ms Bryce. After her performances last year, which saw her top our player rankings, Bryce has spent her first winter as a professional cricketer training at Loughborough, and although she will miss some of the domestic season due to her international commitments, she looks set to be a dominant force again for Lightning again this summer. [Don’t think I don’t know what you’ve done here! Ed.]
Raf: Of course the England players will be the stars of the first few rounds, but an MVP is someone who won’t disappear mid-season, yet still has experience of high-pressure cricket. It’s a bit left field but I’m going to go for Thunder captain Alex Hartley – she’s been there and got the England t-shirt, and now she has the chance to share some of her acquired wisdom with a young Thunder team which will heavily rely on her to show them the ropes. She’ll certainly be Thunder’s MVP!
Southern Vipers: Georgia Adams (captain), Lauren Bell, Maia Bouchier, Ella Chandler, Charlie Dean, Ariana Dowse, Georgia Elwiss, Gemma Lane, Cassidy McCarthy, Ella McCaughan, Alice Monaghan, Tara Norris, Carla Rudd, Paige Scholfield, Charlotte Taylor, Finty Trussler, Emily Windsor, Danni Wyatt.
South East Stars: Tash Farrant (captain), Bryony Smith (vice-captain), Chloe Brewer, Alice Capsey, Kira Chathli, Aylish Cranstone, Alice Davidson-Richards, Freya Davies, Sophia Dunkley, Eva Gray, Dani Gregory, Grace Gibbs, Emma Jones, Hannah Jones, Phoebe Franklin, Kalea Moore, Rhianna Southby, Susie Rowe, Kirstie White.
Western Storm: Sophie Luff (captain), Fi Morris, Georgia Hennessy, Danielle Gibson, Nat Wraith, Alex Griffiths, Heather Knight, Anya Shrubsole, Katie George, Nicole Harvey, Lauren Parfitt, Lauren Filer, Mollie Robbins, Emma Corney, Steph Hutchins, Emily Edgcombe, Niamh Holland, Bethan Gammon.
Thunder: Alex Hartley (captain), Georgie Boyce, Nat Brown, Alice Clarke, Piepa Cleary, Danielle Collins, Kate Cross, Rebecca Duckworth, Alice Dyson, Sophie Ecclestone, Liberty Heap, Laura Jackson, Hannah Jones, Emma Lamb, Laura Marshall, Daisy Mullan, Ellie Threlkeld, Sophia Turner.
Lightning: Kathryn Bryce (captain), Sarah Bryce, Lucy Higham, Bethan Ellis, Abigail Freeborn, Leah Kellogg, Grace Ballinger, Alicia Presland, Nancy Harman, Shachi Pai, Sophie Munro, Teresa Graves, Kirstie Gordon, Tammy Beaumont, Yvonne Graves, Sonia Odedra, Michaela Kirk, Beth Harmer.
Northern Diamonds: Hollie Armitage, Katherine Brunt, Ami Campbell, Leah Dobson, Helen Fenby, Phoebe Graham, Jenny Gunn, Bess Heath, Rachel Hopkins, Sterre Kalis, Beth Langston, Katie Levick, Alex Macdonald, Natalie Sciver, Rachel Slater, Linsey Smith, Ella Telford, Lauren Winfield-Hill.
Sunrisers: Amara Carr (captain), Naomi Dattani (vice-captain), Kelly Castle, Kate Coppack, Jo Gardner, Gayatri Gole, Cordelia Griffith, Lissy Macleod, Katie Midwood, Sonali Patel, Mia Rogers, Grace Scrivens, Katherine Speed, Emily Thorpe, Mady Villiers, Katie Wolfe, Emily Woodhouse, Fran Wilson.
Central Sparks: Eve Jones (captain), Amy Jones, Sarah Glenn, Emily Arlott, Issy Wong, Marie Kelly, Gwenan Davies, Anisha Patel, Poppy Davies, Chloe Hill, Calre Boycott, Liz Russell, Thea Brookes, Georgia Davis, Milly Home, Hannah Baker, Grace Potts, Steph Butler, Ria Fackrell.
A pity Megan Belt was dropped from the South East Stars, a proven match winner with 144 wickets for Kent.