RHF TROPHY: Stars v Storm – Alice Davidson-Richards: From Rookie To Regionals

Just over three years ago, in March 2018, Alice Davidson-Richards was plucked out of county obscurity and handed an England “Rookie” contract by then coach Mark Robinson.

At that point, ADR was 23 years old, had represented Kent as a pure amateur for 8 years, and was working as a personal trainer. Suddenly she had an international career dangled before her eyes. It was all a bit of a shock: “I definitely thought my time had passed me by,” she said in the accompanying press conference.

As it turned out, a glittering future for England did not lie ahead. ADR played in 5 T20s and an ODI on that first tour, before being dropped ahead of England’s 2018 World T20 campaign in the Caribbean. She has not played an international since April 2018.

She is also no longer in possession of a Rookie contract. These were abolished by the ECB last year, with all the “Rookies” upgraded to full time professional contracts, attached to the 8 new regions. In practice, that means that ADR no longer trains with the England players; she is no longer considered an “England contracted player”.

And yet she is batting with more confidence than at any point in her career.

At The Kia Oval on Saturday, against Western Storm, ADR hit her highest ever List A score – 92. (Her previous highest was 78 for Otago v Wellington in November 2018.) Despite the fact that Stars were chasing the relatively modest target of 246, and needed to score at less than 5 an over, ADR (alongside opening partner Bryony Smith) came out and batted with an aggression and intent that I’ve rarely seen from her before. 

“That’s just the way we play,” Smith said at the close. “We want to play a really positive brand of cricket. We both play in quite a similar way, we give it a go, and luckily it’s paid off.”

The opener role is something of a new role for a seasoned county player who is better known for her metronomic medium-pace bowling than her batting. For Kent, ADR is more generally found lurking somewhere in the middle order. (This season she batted at 4.) So why the promotion?

“We didn’t really have a settled opening partnership last season, we went through quite a few combinations,” Smith said. “This winter, she’s batted really well and we thought, ‘let’s see what happened’. We batted a lot together in the winter and we know each other well, so it felt really natural.”

After yesterday’s chase, it looks to have been a masterstroke from Richard Bedbrook and Johann Myburgh. The pair added 32 together for the first wicket; their positive approach meant that the game was effectively won in the first 15 overs of the chase. ADR may not have reached that magical three-figure milestone, but she is batting with a swagger that makes you feel it will come. I don’t think I would have written that 3 years ago.

What has changed? It seems counter-intuitive, but it looks to me like transitioning from being an England Rookie to being a regional professional is the best thing that could have happened to Alice Davidson-Richards. As a Rookie, she was schlepping up to Loughborough four days a week to train with the England squad. She was also fighting with a raft of England star batters for the attention of coaches in the nets. Not anymore.

“Being a Rookie is fantastic, but we’re not the top priority,” reflected Smith – who has been through the same transition as ADR. “Whereas here, we’ve got coaches on hand if we need them, we can just message someone if we’re free to have another hit. I think it’s been really beneficial.”

Credit, then, to Bedbrook and Myburgh for creating the kind of environment in which Davidson-Richards can finally fulfil the potential which Robinson identified three years ago. Maybe there will be more England matches in her future; maybe not. But for someone who has given so much to English domestic cricket, who rocked up for Kent for years simply because she loved representing her county, with no hope that it might one day lead to a professional future, it’s fitting that the domestic system is finally giving something back.

PREVIEW: Dumfries and Galloway Raring To Go Against Table-Toppers Royal High Corstorphine

Jake Perry looks ahead to Week Three of the Cricket Scotland Women’s Premier League

After two rounds affected by the Level 3 restrictions in Glasgow, Week Three of the Cricket Scotland Women’s Premier League will see six teams in action for the first time this year. Dumfries and Galloway play their first match after an opening-day postponement and a rest day last Sunday – that the next team on that rota happens to be Glasgow-based West of Scotland, this week of all weeks, is ironic in the extreme.

But after a long-drawn-out diet of training and intra-club cricket, Galloway CC’s Natalie Hamblin is looking forward to her side breaking their drought, at least, on Sunday. 

“Everyone is really excited to get to play an actual match where there’s a purpose!” she laughed. “We’ve had training sessions and practice games and so on, but we’ve not had a competitive match for so long now. We’re just looking forward to playing together in the one team instead of against each other, as it’s been for a while.” 

“We’ll enjoy Sunday’s game and look to learn from it first and foremost, but we’ll also be looking to see where we are as a team after that long wait for competitive cricket.” 

Although Natalie is quick to downplay her side’s long-term ambitions, Dumfries and Galloway have a good deal of talent on which to draw, led by one of Scotland’s brightest prospects. 

“Orla Montgomery is looking very strong,” she said. “She’s a young player with a great future ahead of her. She’s taken a lead as our captain this year as well, and her leadership skills have been shining through already.” 

The team from the south-west face a Royal High Corstorphine eleven that moved to the top of the table after their victory over Watsonians/Grange last weekend. It was RHC captain Megan Taylor who grabbed the headlines with 6 for 10 as Watsonians/Grange slumped from 55 without loss to 98 all out, Taylor rounding off the innings with a hat-trick. RHC debutant Caitlin Ormiston took 2 for 18, including the wickets of Scotland pair Becky Glen and Priyanaz Chatterji in successive balls, while Matilda Coke (1 for 14) and Beth Mitchell (1 for 4) both bowled tidily to help keep their opponents in double figures. The experienced pair of Kitty Levenson and Riti Patel then put on 90 for the first wicket, Levenson completing both the chase and her own half-century with a full ten overs to spare. With a tricky trip to Hamilton Crescent to come in Week Four, the leaders will be keen to consolidate their position at Nunholm. 

As RHC reinforced their league credentials, reigning champions Stewart’s Melville were opening their account at Grange Loan against a Carlton team that has made no secret of its own title ambitions. A fine partnership of 91 between Catherine Holland and Emma Walsingham formed the backbone of their total of 176 for 8, Walsingham ending with a well-crafted half-century made all the more impressive by Carlton’s accurate bowling and the slow-and-low Grange Loan pitch. Their performance was then backed up in the field, Katherine Fraser taking 2 for 21 and Iona Lowry 2 for 27 as the home team pushed hard, but ultimately in vain. 

While Stew-Mel move on to play a Watsonians/Grange side keen to build on the improvement they have shown, Carlton will be looking to bounce back against Edinburgh rivals George Watson’s College. The Scottish Cup holders, who welcome back Annette Aitken-Drummond, had so nearly turned their afternoon around thanks to a wonderful innings from Samantha Haggo, whose unbeaten 53 completely changed the momentum of a chase that at one stage appeared to be grinding to a halt. The late loss of Charis Scott saw Stew-Mel recover the advantage on this occasion, but with Carlton’s Scotland contingent fit and firing in the future – including Hannah Rainey, who had an excellent day on Sunday both with the ball and in the field – it is the Arrows who may still turn out to be the ones to beat come the end of the season. 

Women’s Premier League – 6 June 2021 

Dumfries and Galloway v Royal High Corstorphine (at Nunholm) 

Carlton v George Watson’s College (at Grange Loan) 

Stewart’s Melville v Watsonians/Grange (at Inverleith)

——

Jake Perry is the author of The Secret Game

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket

The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the women’s (and men’s) league action from across the country every Tuesday, with player interviews from featured games. Follow @ScotlandPod on Twitter for all the latest information.

NEWS: ECB “In Discussion With Counties” Over Future Of Women’s County Cricket After 2021

The ECB have confirmed to CRICKETher that they are “in discussion with the counties” over the future of women’s county cricket after the 2021 season.

The ECB had previously implied that the 2021 County T20 Cup would be the last of its kind, having granted the competition a stay of execution back in 2019 for the next two seasons.

However, many of the new Regional Directors of Women’s Cricket, as well as many of the regional coaches and players, see county cricket as playing a crucial role in the domestic set-up going forwards – putting pressure on the ECB to rethink their initial decision.

“It fills a step in the pathway,” Richard Bedbrook, South East Stars Regional Director, told CRICKETher. “It adds value for players of all levels – for players coming through the age group pathways who might aspire to reach a regional level, they can do that knowing that they’ve got a platform to do that at county level.”

“When you’ve got two counties like Kent and Surrey, who are proud of what they’ve done in women’s cricket, the ‘recreational’ tag is a bit of a misnomer. Every [regional] player that has represented those two counties turns up with a mindset that is no different to a Stars game.”

Tash Farrant, who captained Kent in their successful bid to top the South East group in the regional County T20 competition, said that lifting another trophy for her county had been a great start to the season, and added that county cricket had played a crucial role in her personal development as a player.

“Being part of a Kent team that has been so strong for a very long time, I’ve been very lucky in terms of the standard being really good – it’s always pushed me,” she said.

Several younger players have this season used county cricket as a springboard to claim spots in regional squads – notably Hampshire 18-year-olds Gemma Lane and Finty Trussler, who were both late additions to the Southern Vipers side.

Farrant recognised the importance of this, telling CRICKETher: “Another great thing about [county cricket] is the mix – seeing some of the younger Kent girls coming through and then coming into our women’s side and performing. For example Kalea Moore has now been given a South East Stars summer contract. It’s really important to get more experienced players playing with younger girls coming through.”

“It’s all about getting in as much cricket as possible. Before, we haven’t really had a proper long season, whereas this season we’re playing from April all the way through to October, which is exactly what we want – a proper season where a lot of girls are going to get opportunities.”

The ECB themselves discussed the role of county cricket in their review of the inaugural Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, carried out in October 2020, and concluded that it still had a useful role to play. While no concrete decisions have yet been made about its longer-term future, it seems unlikely that the ECB’s ongoing conversations with the counties will do much to change this sentiment.

RHF TROPHY: Sparks v Storm – The Day Amy Jones Arrived

By Richard Clark

We’re less than fifteen overs into the game and Central Sparks are going along quite nicely. Already 75 on the board for the loss of just two wickets, with Amy Jones on 26 and just getting going, whilst Gwenan Davies is equally set at the other end. There’s time to spare and a big score on the cards.

The wily Katie Levick is on, but not causing too many issues until, with the final ball of her second over, she entices Jones down the pitch for a lofted on drive. Whether the ball isn’t really there for the shot, or whether Jones doesn’t quite get the connection she wants, it doesn’t come off. Alex MacDonald pouches the catch at mid-on and Jones is gone for 26. Sparks subside for 144, leaving almost twelve overs unused, and Northern Diamonds canter to a nine-wicket win.

It’s harsh to blame the defeat on Jones, but equally Sparks most experienced batter has got herself out with the proverbial “all day” to bat, and left her side in a precarious position, from which they don’t emerge well.

That was last August – the opening day of the inaugural Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy.

Fast forward to the new season.  Jones has already taken a century off the same Diamonds attack as her side pulled off an audacious opening day win at Headingley, and now she’s back on home turf for the first time since that costly misjudgement.

Sparks are not so well set now.  31 for two, and already into the eleventh over, the innings has started sluggishly, added a tinge of respectability only by Western Storm’s generosity with their ‘wides tally’.  Almost immediately she loses another partner in the cruellest of circumstances, slamming a straight drive back at Dani Gibson, which the bowler manages to divert onto the stumps to run out Davies.  41 for three.

For too long, perhaps, there was a tendency to think that England were lucky to have such a capable deputy to Sarah Taylor, when what we should have been thinking was that we were lucky to have such a capable Amy Jones.  Jones is too good, too talented, to be thought of as anybody’s deputy.  One wonders whether this mindset seeped into her own thinking – she’s always seemed to lack the ‘swagger’ of a player who knows she belongs on the international stage.

We are about to see Amy Jones swagger.

After 18 overs, at 60 for three, there’s still more splutter than spark about the home side’s innings, and with the inexperienced Milly Home for company much rests on Jones’s shoulders.  As if to emphasise the point, Gibson puts down a difficult caught and bowled chance when she is on 14, and the next ball sails over mid-on for four.  It’s not the start of the onslaught, not yet, but it is a turning point.

Two overs later Jones lofts Gibson for the first six of the match, then adds a boundary to rub it in.  Mollie Robbins replaces Gibson, and Jones puts her into the Hollies Stand for another six.  Before much longer she has her fifty, at exactly a run a ball, unperturbed by the loss of Home along the way.

This is the sort of innings Amy Jones has played more than once for England, the sort where she looks so good… and then gets herself out.  She nearly does exactly that here too, driving Hennessy into the hands of the diving Lauren Filer at mid-off.  But Filer spills what was, in fairness, an awkward chance.  Two balls later Jones does it again, this time finding the leaping Heather Knight at cover.  This one is not a difficultcatch but the England skipper can’t hold on, nor can she at the second grab as the balls falls to the ground.  There’s a third drop soon after, but this one is by a gentleman in the Hollies Stand, and he’s excused by an understandable preoccupation with the pint in his other hand.  There won’t be any more chances.

The hundred comes off 83 balls – perfect acceleration – and Storm have no answers.  The next fifty runs take just twenty deliveries, including three more sixes, ramps, scoops, drives, and a baffling – to us mere mortals – reverse sort-of-pull off Shrubsole, if you don’t mind, to bring up the 150.

Only now does she tire a little.  I kid you not that at one point I was seriously doing the maths to work out whether a double-hundred was within range, but in the end she ‘makes do’ with 163 not out.  A record for the competition, and one that somebody will need to bat very well to beat.  The ovation from the 250-strong crowd is warm and genuine, and to a man, woman and child it’s a standing one.

Sparks total of 295 for seven proves beyond Storm’s reach, although Knight does her best to atone with 59 in a century opening stand, and her opening partner Lauren Parfitt is unfortunate to fall for 91 – by some margin the highest score by a non-professional so far in this season’s competition – just as she and Sophie Luff are positioning their side well for the closing stages.

From 183 for one, Storm lose wickets regularly as Ria Fackrell in particular puts the squeeze on.  Fackrell was the sixth bowler used, having taken none for 50 off seven overs against Diamonds two days previously.  Here she picks up four for 34 at a time when Eve Jones might have been wondering who to turn to.

But this was Amy Jones’s day, one that she should remember every time she goes out to bat, because Jones is as naturally gifted a batter as England have in their ranks. If she needed proof of that herself, she has it now.

RHF TROPHY: Stars v Vipers – Are Two Half-Centuries In The Hand Worth One Century In The Bush?

After South East Stars’ mammoth showing against Sunrisers on Saturday, their Bank Holiday outing against reigning champions Southern Vipers promised to be one of the matches of the tournament.

Instead, Stars found themselves 24-3 at the hands of Charlotte Taylor, whose arm balls still seem to have the knack of fooling some of the best players in England.

From there, they were able to set only a very modest target of 137, a target which Vipers overhauled with 20 overs to spare. After a slow start, in which she successfully “saw off” Stars strike bowlers Freya Davies and Tash Farrant, Danni Wyatt finished unbeaten on 64 from 88 balls, including nine boundaries.

It was her second half-century in as many matches, and from our perspective – having watched both innings live – this was the much less scratchy of the two, heavily featuring her favoured inside-out drive over cover. Interestingly, Wyatt herself disagreed with this assessment – showing the chasm that can exist at times between journalist perceptions and player realities!

“The [Beckenham] pitch was very very difficult to bat on,” Wyatt told us at the close. “It got slower and slower. I kept saying to myself, ‘don’t give it away’, but I had to work really hard to not get out!”

“We spoke about it, last night in the team meeting, that it’s really important that one of the top 4 gets a big score and sees us home and that’s what we did today.”

Wyatt was supported brilliantly by Georgia Elwiss (45 off 43), who only fell in the penultimate over because she was attempting to hit the six necessary to achieve her half-century, before they ran out of runs to play with.

The question on everyone’s minds this weekend, with the full contingent of England players participating in the opening two rounds of the RHF, is who might have advanced their case in Lisa Keightley’s eyes enough to win one of those precious spots in the Test squad against India (which is likely to be announced in the next week or so).

Of the England “definites” and “probables”, only one was consistently superb with the bat across both matches – Amy Jones, who hit 114 against Diamonds on Saturday, and followed it up by thumping 163 from 114 balls against Storm on Monday. If she isn’t now nailed on to open the batting in the Test, then I’ll be very surprised.

But that still leaves a spot or two in the middle order up for grabs. And with big-hitter Wyatt not necessarily an automatic pick for the Test, it also begs the intriguing question of whether two half-centuries in two matches (Wyatt) is equal to, better than, or not quite as good as, one century in one match and a single-figure score in the second (Lauren Winfield-Hill [110 + 2], Sophia Dunkley [104* + 0]) in the eyes of Lisa Keightley?

One thing that might go in Wyatt’s favour is her ability to turn her arm over. England may no longer see her as a serious bowling option – “I know I’m probably not going to bowl for England”, she said at the close – but if India bat for two days straight at Bristol, might it be an advantage for Heather Knight to have a few bonus overs of spin up her sleeve?

Wyatt says that she has been working hard on her bowling, with the likelihood of playing a key role with the ball in The Hundred at the back of her mind: “I’ve tried to change a few things in my action, tried to keep my hands close in, as I’ve been working on the last few months with England in the nets. I want to have the confidence to bowl well if Heather chucks me the ball. Whenever I get the chance to bowl I want to bowl really well and put my case forward.”

With Vipers missing key strike bowler Lauren Bell, who pulled up with a groin strain right before the start of play, as well as Paige Scholfield, who is still fighting her way back to full fitness after a back operation, Wyatt’s hard work in the nets came good. She was called on to bowl 7 overs by captain Georgia Adams against Stars, and she finished with figures of 3-19, including the crucial scalps of Grace Gibbs (29) and Aylish Cranstone (31), who looked to be beginning to claw Stars back into a competitive position.

All in all, it was a decent day’s work for Danni Wyatt. As to whether two half-centuries in the hand really are worth one century in the bush? We’ll have to wait for the announcement of the England squad to find out the answer to that one.

RHF TROPHY: Vipers v Lightning – Paige Scholfield… And How Blocking Out A Maiden Won The Game

It’s the 45th over of the Vipers’ innings, and they are 202-5 – needing just 13 runs to overhaul Lightning’s total of 214-9.

In perhaps a last throw of the dice, Lightning captain Kathryn Bryce takes the ball herself. It means she won’t bowl the final over; but unless she can produce a bit of magic, she knows the game won’t go that far anyway. And if anyone can produce that bit of something special, it’s her – last season’s top-ranked bowler in the competition.

At the other end of the pitch waits Vipers pro Paige Scholfield, playing her first List A match after having undergone back surgery over the winter. Scholfield is 32*, and although the Vipers’ claim to “bat all the way down” has a degree of plausibility, if you are the opposition, the next wicket gets you into the tail.

In her heart, Scholfield probably knows this too – though she won’t admit it to the likes of us! But it is very much on her – the Vipers have never lost in the RHF… and it is her responsibility to ensure that streak lives to die another day.

Kathryn Bryce has had a week she’d surely rather forget, with Scotland crushed 3-1 by Ireland in Belfast; but every over is a new over, and the first ball is a good one – a yorker on Scholfield’s toes, played to short mid on. No run. The second ball is similar – a low full toss. Again, no run. The third gives Scholfield an inch of width on the off side, but she can’t take advantage, and it’s another dot. The fourth is another good length delivery, which Scholfield can only play straight back to Bryce; while the fifth give Scholfield something to play at, but she hits it straight to the fielder at midwicket.

Five balls; five dots.

And now, the Sliding Doors moment…

In another world, very like the one we live in, Scholfield – who has had the reputation since breaking into the Sussex team as a teenager as a bit of a “See ball; hit ball” kind of player – looks up at the scoreboard, which hasn’t moved in 7 deliveries going back into the previous over, and starts to feel the pressure. She sees a gap in the field over mid on, and decides then and there, that’s where it’s going. As Bryce bowls, she takes a big step down the pitch, but Bryce sees her coming and holds it back just a bit – Scholfield’s huge swing of the bat takes a leading edge, and the ball balloons up into the air, with Bryce taking the catch herself – the first of 5 wickets to fall in the space of two overs, as Vipers collapse and Lightning go on to record what turns out to be only the third most unlikely victory of the day in the RHF.

But this is, of course, not that world. The Paige Scholfield of today is no longer that “See ball; hit ball” teenager – she does the maths, and calmly blocks Bryce’s final delivery. Bryce will have the maiden; but ultimately the Vipers will have the game, taking 9 off the following over to make Bryce’s next over a formality. And though the wicket of Emily Windsor gives a hint of what might have occurred, Vipers close out the win with 3 overs to spare.

Yesterday morning, Central Sparks Director of Cricket, Laura MacLeod expressed her hope on Twitter that this season we would “move the game forwards with skill & power with the bat, control and guise with the ball, agility and anticipation in the field”. Others saw those hopes played out in spades that afternoon, with remarkable come-back wins for Western Storm, and for MacLeod’s own Sparks. We weren’t at those games, but it didn’t mean we couldn’t witness, nevertheless, a little of that same skill, control, and guise… albeit carefully disguised as a determined block, in one ball faced by Paige Scholfield.

PREVIEW: Scotland Stars Return As WPL Continues

Jake Perry looks ahead to Week Two of the Cricket Scotland Women’s Premier League

Week Two of the Cricket Scotland Women’s Premier League features the biggest match of the competition so far as two-in-a-row champions Stewart’s Melville travel to Grange Loan to face early pacesetters Carlton. Both will be looking for a strong performance after Carlton’s blistering start to the season last weekend.

A dominant innings with the bat backed up by some ruthless work with the ball saw Annette Aitken-Drummond’s side complete a mammoth 308-run victory over Watsonians/Grange at Myreside. The Carlton captain’s quickfire 65 set the tone as she put on 117 for the first wicket with Sarah Beith (37), but the standout performance of the day came from Charis Scott, whose unbeaten 97 included sixteen fours and a six. The young Scotland player then took 4 for 12 to complete an outstanding all-round display, and with Carlton likely to be strengthened further by their returning international contingent, Stewart’s Melville are sure to face a stern test as they play their first competitive match of the season.

The title holders have plenty of firepower of their own, of course, and will be focusing on their own strengths as they make the short journey across the capital.

“Carlton are a very strong team so it will be a tough game for us, but we’re definitely up for the challenge,” said SMCC captain Catherine Holland. “There’s a vibrant women and girl’s scene at SMCC thanks to David Gibson, Mark Burgess and others, and we’ve been able to train quite a lot over the last few weeks.”

“It’s really great to have the experience of players like Katie McGill at the club,” she went on, “but we’re also lucky to have a great group of younger players, including girls who are part of the Cricket Scotland player pathway. And then we’ve got Scotland star Katherine Fraser and ‘A’ cap Emma Walsingham in the side, who are also available for the weekend.”

“We’re looking forward to the game.”

Royal High Corstorphine will look to build on their winning start when they take on Watsonians/Grange at Barnton. A solid batting performance backed by some excellent bowling from Matilda Coke (3 for 18), Phoebe Beal (3 for 28) and skipper Megan Taylor (2 for 7) was enough to see off George Watson’s College at Craiglockhart, and with the fit-again Kitty Levenson back at the top of the order alongside Riti Patel, who scored 157 runs at 52.33 in the 2019 edition of the competition, RHC are again likely to be in contention come the end of the season. 

While thoughts of the title are probably a little premature for their opponents, there were at least some signs of encouragement that could be extracted from the performance of Watsonians/Grange last time out. The talented Catherine Edwards played well as she continued her return from injury, while Sarah Lowe followed her smart caught-and-bowled dismissal of Annette Aitken-Drummond with a couple of well-struck boundaries in her side’s eventful but ultimately short-lived run-chase. The future development of the division’s newest team is a long-term project for both clubs – the two are intending to play separately when the Beyond Boundaries Scottish Cup gets underway in August – but while last weekend’s result was a tough one to take, better days will surely come for both halves of the side which bears the names of two of Scotland’s foremost cricketing powers. 

The remaining match in the second round of fixtures, between George Watson’s College and McCrea West of Scotland, has been postponed due to the ongoing Level 3 restrictions in Glasgow. 

Women’s Premier League – 30 May 2021 

George Watson’s College v West of Scotland (at Craiglockhart) – Match Postponed 

Royal High Corstorphine v Watsonians/Grange (at Barnton) 

Carlton v Stewart’s Melville (at Grange Loan)

——

Jake Perry is the author of The Secret Game

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket

The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the women’s (and men’s) league action from across the country every Tuesday, with player interviews from featured games. Follow @ScotlandPod on Twitter for all the latest information.

2021 Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy Preview

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.

T20 WINNERS?

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.

BREAKTHROUGH KID?

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!

GOLDEN OLDIE?

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. 

OVERALL MVP?

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!

FULL SQUADS:

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.