Courtney Hill Delighted With Diamonds Development

If you think Lauren Winfield-Hill is doing big things in Yorkshire and English cricket, it is worth reading the tale of her wife Courtney.

Yorkshire’s power couple? Well, Katherine Brunt and her wife Nat Sciver may be rivals for that tag. But it is without doubt a close run thing.

Whilst Winfield is in the middle of a T20 international series between England and the West Indies at Derby, Australian Hill is helping the Northern Diamonds prepare for Sunday’s Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy final in her role as Talent Manager.

The Diamonds have won five of six group games and face Southern Vipers at Edgbaston.

In their coaching team, alongside head coach Danielle Hazell and director of cricket James Carr, they have a Queenslander with one heck of a sporting pedigree and someone who knows exactly what it takes to win.

A former Big Bash fast bowler with Brisbane Heat – that’s where her relationship with overseas star Lauren was sparked in 2016 – she has also played Australian rules Football and Rugby League.

The latter is at the forefront of her current playing career given she is the captain of Leeds Rhinos and won the Woman of Steel award in 2019 – her first campaign in a sport she hadn’t played for “nearly two decades”.

We shall return to Hill’s playing career later, but first let’s deal with her coaching duties.

She has been working within the Yorkshire women’s set-up for the last couple of years and has an integral role with the Diamonds and the new Regional Centre of Excellence for Yorkshire and the North East.

During Heyhoe Flint Trophy games, she has been there helping players warm-up with a mitt and will be again this weekend.

“Rewind a couple of months and you’re questioning whether cricket is actually going to be or not,” she said. “So to get it on in the first place is a massive positive. It has been wonderful.

“One of the biggest things we want is to feed England, whether that’s developing players or providing opportunities for players already at that level to come back and play some games when needed, as they did a couple of weeks ago.

“Unless we have solid, competitive games, that doesn’t happen.

“Getting to the final is what the girls deserve.

“We haven’t rolled over the top of teams, we’ve fought pretty hard in matches and someone different has generally stood up. It’s been quite evenly spread, which is a positive going into a final.

“The loss last weekend against the Sparks did us the world of good if I’m honest. The girls were absolutely on it at training all week.

“I’m sure that will be the case this week as well.”

The Vipers will surely say the same – they have won all six games – but the Diamonds squad and the backroom staff look to have gelled very quickly and impressively.

After all, the eight-team competition was only confirmed by the ECB on July 24 ahead of its start on August 29.

Hill continued: “We keep saying that as a coaching staff, but it’s also been very nice to hear it from the players as well.

“The playing squad is a really brilliant mix of experience and youth, of crazy ones and quiet ones, of learners and mentors such as a Jenny Gunn.

“It’s been really nice to see the younger girls sitting in her pocket at training and soaking things up.

“From the girls’ point of view, they’re talking about it regularly that they’re all really happy.

“When you see Jenny really enjoying her time with the baby of the group, Layla Tipton, it says a lot.

“Sometimes a youngster will come in and be in complete awe of someone like that. But, to be fair, they are all mixing so well with each other. We also have an ‘overseas’ player in that sense in Sterre Kalis, who also has settled so well.

“As a coaching staff as well, we have all gelled together.

“Don’t get me wrong, we have plenty of creases to iron out both on and off the pitch. This competition was thrust upon us a bit, so that’s natural that we can see things to improve upon for next year when we’ll provide the girls with better tools for training and things like that.”

The creation of the eight Regional Centres of Excellence around the country is certainly a long-term plan. But there is a lot to be said about immediate success giving people confidence that the correct things are in place.

There are some winter contracts to sort.

Hollie Armitage, who will captain the Diamonds on Sunday, opening bowler Beth Langston and left-arm spinner Linsey Smith have all been awarded professional contracts with the region and will be supplemented by two further full-time deals during the off-season.

Given the shortened summer due to Coronavirus, this competition was announced as a one-off event. So it is unclear how the schedule will look next season.

One thing is clear though. In an ideal world, this group of Diamonds would be kept together as much as possible, believes Hill.

She said: “We will have to work through those last few contracts, but we have a good squad who are winning games. When that happens you don’t make many changes. So it would be lovely to keep as many of these girls together as possible.

“Long-term success for us as a region, and for England as well, is built around keeping a core nucleus of players together.

“We also have a lot of the Regional Development Centre girls coming through, who will hopefully push into this squad. That then creates a whole new cycle of talent. That is super exciting.”

So, back to Courtney the player. Upon arriving in England, she originally hoped to continue a cricket career which had seen her represent the Heat and Queensland Fire, only for strict visa laws standing in the way.

“I’ve only been allowed to play since the end of last year. That was when they said I was right to play,” she said. “And I still itch now.

“I just felt there was more to do for me in my rugby space, playing wise.

“Had I known rugby was going to be cancelled this year, I would have looked to play a bit of cricket and put my hand up to maybe play in this competition.

“But I get a real buzz out of being on this side of the boundary and coaching.”

So could we see her pull on Diamonds shirt in the future?

“Oh, I’ll never retire,” she laughed. “I want to be that old bird still playing at 50, filling in for the young kids when they’re short. I’ll be there, don’t worry about that!”

She hopes the Rhinos will be back in some sort of pre-season training towards the end of October, but there is no certainty. It is the same situation with winter training schedules for women’s cricket.

“Honestly, it’s so difficult not knowing what you can and can’t do with all this Covid stuff,” Hill added. “We are trying to do some planning, but it’s hard.

“But we perhaps all need to be a bit more adaptable with things like that – players and coaches.

“There will definitely be an interesting winter, that’s for sure.”

For now, though, there is only one thing on the agenda – seeing the Diamonds sparkle against the Vipers this weekend.