By Courtney Winfield-Hill, Northern Diamonds head Academy coach
To think we have been behind the eight-ball with Covid and didn’t establish our Diamonds Academy squad until about mid-April, I’m pretty happy with how the kids have gone through this summer.
We didn’t get any winter training, and it was a case of, ‘Hit the ground running and let’s go and play some games’.
Our squad is made up of 14 girls aged from aged 14 through to 19, though there’s no specific age limit for us to work to.
Our first game was a washout. We then played the North West Thunder and won, and we’re trying to reschedule another game with them.
We also had a two-day game with Scotland, which was rain-affected.
On top of that, we’ve had a few internal games mixed in with the seniors, which has been really, really beneficial on a number of levels.
Last week, we were down in Shrewsbury for a festival with the other Academies, playing a mixture of 50-over, T20 and 100-ball cricket. We won three of our four games.
I can't even begin to explain how much the girls (and staff) enjoyed it.
The trip away to Shrewsbury is always a highlight on the calendar and on the back of the last year we’ve had through Covid, it was just what was needed to lift the spirits of all involved.
We have a number of home matches coming up over the next couple of months as well as a trip to a Hundred game and supporting the Superchargers.
The girls have attended most of the Diamonds home matches, which have provided some real insights and learning experiences to the next level.
It has been great to see through our internal games with the Diamonds seniors our young Academy players stepping up to the challenge of playing against, in some cases, their childhood heroes.
To see the girls’ idols turn into opponents or team-mates has been terrific to witness.
To have Jenny Gunn beside them at mid-off chatting plans as they bowl, Lauren Winfield-Hill batting at the other end or Sarah Taylor spending time during training sessions to mentor our keepers, now that's special!
These matches have certainly provided a space for the girls to showcase what they are about and perform under the eyes of our coaching staff.
During a Covid year, you never know when an opportunity may arise.
I’d like to think should that happen, there will be a good handful of our girls who could do the job for the seniors.
Having said that, I hope it doesn’t come on them too quickly because the last thing we want to do is throw them in at the deep end too early, particularly on the back of such a disjointed last 12 months.
I think we underestimate how important pre-season training is, and the girls have really missed that. Hopefully another winter will get them much closer.
Whilst the Hundred is on, we have a small group of senior girls not involved in that competition.
There will be a mixture of training sessions for just those players, and they will also slot in with the Academy at times as well to keep themselves ticking over.
It is crucial through this next month that we support and develop those girls to make sure they’re ready once the Charlotte Edwards Cup resumes next month.
We are trying to arrange a couple of matchplay opportunities for them because nothing beats that.
On the international front, of course I was pleased to see Lauren back in that England team in the Tests and one-dayers against India recently having been running drinks for quite some time.
The way she approaches her training - whether that be skill, physical, mental - she’s worked incredibly hard, particularly over the past year or so.
We all train hard to play. And when you’re training hard and not playing, it can be disheartening. But she rode the wave and got a few good starts against India.
Hopefully she can get a good crack again in the New Zealand series at the end of the summer.
First and foremost, we want to see some big runs for the Superchargers in the Hundred, don’t we. Up the Chargers!
She’s been really looking forward to that starting. She enjoys leading the group. It’s going to be a big month for her and the girls.
Obviously I love watching Lauren, but I’m also happy to have another good Aussie voice and a fellow Queenslander around in Laura Harris.
I have to admit I can’t get used to calling her by her married name, Laura Kimmince. She will always be Laura Harris to me.
Laura will be fun to watch in a Superchargers shirt.
She strikes a ball like no one else really. Her sister, Grace, is perhaps the only comparison to her.
I was surprised on the back of the last Big Bash that Australia didn’t take her to New Zealand on the tour which followed. Form is form, and she’s been building that over the last few seasons.
It’s probably played in our favour that we get to have her with the Superchargers.
She will bring an exciting element to the team - someone who can come in in that middle order and keep the run-rate up.
She used to just be a stand and deliver kind of batter, but she’s certainly evolved her game and offers more creativity now. She’s a vibrant character and will bring a lot to the group.
I’m not involved in the Hundred, but hopefully I’ll get to spend some time with her in their down time.
From coaching cricket to playing rugby, things are going well at the moment with the Leeds Rhinos.
Losing in the Challenge Cup semi-finals was disappointing, but we are sitting on top of the Super League ladder at the minute. We have some big games coming up over the next few weeks, and hopefully we can cement that spot.