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Summer 2023 - a season like no other


On the eve of the women's domestic season, Jamie Ramage ponders the prospects of what we have in store for us in a blockbuster summer of women's cricket.


It can sometimes be too easy to say that this summer will be the most important for women's cricket in England, but it feels like we are on the cusp of big things. The recent T20 World Cup, Women's Premier League, second edition of the FairBreak Invitational and the continual growth of women's cricket in Australia are all indicators of big things to come. Increased exposure, funding and coverage across the globe means more players are given the opportunity to make a living from the game and the spotlight on the English domestic and international scene is growing brighter. With a wealth of international talent now opting to join the sides across England, the proof that the game is growing here is undeniable.


An exciting season is ahead of us, and with the start of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy this weekend, we can finally see the ball rolling. The announcement since the end of the 2022 season that the ECB would fund more full-time professional contracts at each region felt like a pivotal moment. With an Ashes series taking place with a five-day Test match at Trent Bridge, there is anticipation of how big this season can be and there is so much to be excited about.


Each of the regional teams will be hoping to get off to a quick start in the opening weekend. There is a lot of optimism around the circuit as new signings settle in and new goals are established.


So which teams have the most reason to feel optimistic about the season ahead? Are any teams that can challenge Southern Vipers and Northern Diamonds for the silverware? Who will shine? Who will surprise? Will the blockbuster overseas players sparkle in the English sunshine?


So, let's have a look at how all the teams fare.



Southern Vipers

2022 Charlotte Edwards Cup winners

2022 Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy runners up

As has been the case since the inauguration of the Rachel Heyhoe Flint trophy in 2022, the side to beat will be Southern Vipers.


The team from the South, who are coached by England legend Charlotte Edwards, will be looking to add more silverware to their trophy cabinet. Last year, they won the Charlotte Edwards Cup and reached the final of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy at Lord's, only to be denied a third successive title when they were beaten by two runs by the Northern Diamonds. Coach Edwards has recently enjoyed success in the inaugural Women's Premier League, guiding the Mumbai Indians to victory in March and will be keen to continue her golden run.



While they have a strong group of stalwart players, Vipers are also producing young players capable of playing for England, and 2022 was a breakthrough year for both Charlie Dean and Freya Kemp at international level. Added to other England stars including Danni Wyatt and Maia Bouchier, plus the class of captain Georgia Adams, there is undeniable quality and depth throughout the side. They also recently awarded five extra professional contracts to players, meaning they boast a record 16. Spinners Charlotte Taylor and Nancy Harman, all-rounder Alice Monaghan, plus wicket-keepers Chloe Hill and Rhianna Southby, have all been awarded six-month elite domestic professional contracts for the first time as the Vipers look to continue their growth.



Northern Diamonds

2022 Rachael Heyhoe Flint trophy winners


Northern Diamonds have lost both Sciver-Brunts after Katherine retired from domestic cricket and Nat made the move to The Blaze. However, the pair were rarely available in previous years so, despite their obvious class and talent, their absence will perhaps not be as catastrophic as it may initially sound. The defending Rachael Heyhoe Flint trophy champions were a force to be reckoned with in 2022. Class batting from Lauren Winfield-Hill propelled her side to the title as she led from the front throughout the summer scoring 470 runs in the tournament and being named player of the series. She recently showed scintillating form and captaincy at the helm of the Barmy Army team at the FairBreak Invitational in Hong Kong and comes into the English summer riding high.


Diamonds were backed up with reliable players such as Katie Levick, the leg-spinner who has consistently taken buckets of wickets plus exciting young players such as Bess Heath, who will be looking to kick on a level and be one to watch this year. Throw in South Africa's big hitting Chloe Tyron who has signed for the summer, and you've got a recipe for a successful summer.




Sunrisers


After two seasons without much to celebrate (winning only one game across both tournaments), positive vibes are coming from a young team. They may have pulled off the signing of the season with former South Africa captain Dané van Niekerk set to join as their overseas player. Combine this experience with the addition of Eva Gray from South East Stars and the Sunrisers may be in for turning fortunes.

Grace Scrivens is one of the talking points of English cricket at the moment. The young all-rounder had an outstanding Under-9 World Cup as England captain. She was named player of the tournament and has been in fine form in the preseason with two hundreds as Sunrisers have gone unbeaten in five games. It will be interesting to see if they can turn close games into victories that eluded them last season.


Since the end of the 2022 season, Sunrisers have appointed Andy Tennant their new head coach. The former Scotland international spinner has a wealth of coaching talent under his belt including a stint at Cricket Scotland as acting head coach. He brings a fresh dynamic and could be the injection of difference that the side needs to starting clocking those wins.



The Blaze


The Blaze, the new East Midlands side, has taken the place of Lightning, and, in their new base at Trent Bridge, everything emanating from the Nottinghamshire venue is one of optimism. There is a palpable new drive and purpose and the signings of Nat Sciver-Brunt from Diamonds and Sarah Glenn from Central Sparks give the squad some depth and added quality. However, with a congested summer for England's players, it will be interesting to see how often Sciver-Brunt, Glenn and Tammy Beaumont are available for selection.


Kirstie Gordon will take over the captaincy duties, with Scotland captain Kathryn Bryce re-joining the ranks. It may allow the Scottish international to concentrate on her all-rounder role and may also pre-empt a busy international summer for her country. Bryce was another player in form at the FairBreak Invitational and will bring this confidence into the summer.


The side are also coached by Chris Guest, who guided the England side to the final at the Under-19 World Cup. Guest's credentials speak for themselves and he is an experienced campaigner in the purple of Lightning so will be ready to take on the challenge in charge of the newly established side.



North West Thunder


Despite the players at their disposal, Thunder is a side that has lacked consistency - a feat they will look to improve on that this season. All-rounder Naomi Dattani joins from Sunrisers while USA international, and star of the WPL, Southern Vipers' Tara Norris join the ranks.


Kate Cross might have to ply her trade across the Pennines in The Hundred, having moved from Manchester Originals to Northern Superchargers but she is Thunder through and through and will be eager to be back in red again. Her ability to break partnerships and stem run-rates will be key, although again she is a key part of the England set-up and may be missed at times across the summer.


The big news for Thunder is that the World Boss, Deandra Dottin is back in the ranks. The former West Indian international can hit sixes like very few others in the women's game and is a huge weapon to have in their armoury. Partner this batting dominance with the best spinner in the world, Sophie Ecclestone and Thunder really are looking strong. Plus, it is impossible to look past what Ecclestone can do further down the order with the bat too. Take cover in the crowd at Old Trafford this season!



South East Stars


The London-based team are one of only three sides to have won a trophy since the inception of the regional setup in 2020. They are made up primarily of players from Surrey and Kent and represent the London and South East region. They reached the semi-finals of both competitions last season and won the first Charlotte Edwards Cup the season before.


If they can field both Alice Capsey and Sophia Dunkley, they should be able to post decent scores with the help of Bryony Smith, the all-rounder, who may feel she has a point to prove with the England setup, having part of the England squad for last summer's Commonwealth Games, but


The bowling stocks look good with a fit Tash Farrant and youngsters Alexa Stonehouse and Ryana MacDonald-Gay fresh from their successes at the Under-19 World Cup in January. Alice Davidson-Richards will add depth to the middle order as well as a change with the ball, and Paige Scholfield, who joins from Southern Vipers, has a knack of taking important wickets.



Western Storm


It could be a difficult season for Western Storm, who have yet to add to their squad and have seen essential players leave, such as Fi Morris who has joined Thunder while Katie George has gone Central Sparks.


That doesn't mean that they are short of talent. Sophia Smale had an outstanding season last year and was one of the breakout players to emerge from The Hundred the previous year. She carried on that form in the Under-19 World Cup alongside Niamh Holland and, with this extra experience and exposure, will be riding high on confidence as she dons the green of Storm. Dani Gibson, who has proved herself explosive with the bat, will be hoping to push her case for England honours. She was part of the extended England squad for the T20 World Cup February and a strong season at Storm could help elevate her case for selection while England look to enhance their top-order batting.


Lauren Filer is another young bowler on their side. The right-arm medium pacer took 3-46 in her last outing for Storm in September and, at just 22, could be a key spearhead for the Storm bowling attach. We've spoken at length about the availability of England players and this is something that is a huge talking point when it comes to Heather Knight. Should she be available for Storm, their batting line-up is significantly improved, but, having undergone surgery in the winter followed by a T20 World Cup and a WPL campaign, England will be keeping a keen eye on their captain in order to manage her workload so Storm may have less access to her than they may have hoped.



Central Sparks

2022 Charlotte Edwards Cup third place


When it coms to last-minute top signings look no further than Erin Burns, who was only announced as an addition to the Sparks' line-up this week. The Australian all-rounder comes fresh off the back of the FairBreak Invitational and brings a wealth of experience as well as some top-notch fielding to the side.


The squad also added Chloe Brewer and Katie George to their ranks meaning they bring in firepower both with the bat and with the ball. Brewer has the ability to power hit while George, who has been plagued by injury, is a wily left-armer who holds the ability to break seemingly set partnerships and take worldie catches in the field. The real battle will be for top fielder between her and Burns.


While they are yet to pick up any silverware, they have always been a strong looking squad and, with the pace and talent of Issy Wong opening with the ball, they will be ready to change their fortunes. Eve Jones returns as captain again this year and has been a stalwart for the Sparks side while knowing every blade of the Edgbaston grass as her home ground for Warwickshire and Birmingham Phoenix.


One to watch will be youngster Davina Perrin who was impressive as part of England's campaign to the final at the Under-19 World Cup in January. The 16-year-old all-rounder is a product of the ACE Programme and is a name for the future of England cricket. She made history in 2022 as the youngest player to sign for a Hundred side when she joined Birmingham Phoenix aged 15 and will be ready to make more history in 2023.


Whatever happens throughout the season, we cannot wait for the action to get underway, and it should be a season to remember. The growth of the domestic game has been undeniable in recent years and this season is another step in the development of the game. We can't wait!

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