Northern Diamonds star Lauren Winfield-Hill is ready and raring to go, confident of making her mark on what could be a landmark year for England’s women.
Winfield-Hill has flown to Australia to contest the multi-format Ashes series, beginning on January 20.
That is followed by the one-day World Cup in New Zealand through March and into April before a summer assault on Commonwealth Games gold in Birmingham when T20 cricket is introduced into that event for first time.
Squads for the latter two events are yet to be announced, but Winfield-Hill is set to be a part of the one-day World Cup at the very least.
She has been a recent fixture at the top of the order in both England’s one-day and Test teams, making valuable contributions.
One of her goals over the next couple of months is to turn good starts into “seventies, eighties and hundreds”.
The Ashes, which England are aiming to reclaim having not held the Urn since early 2014, will be played across three T20s, one Test and three ODIs.
The schedule has been brought forward a week to start on January 20 due to Coronavirus issues, with three T20s in Adelaide now the starting point instead of the one-off four-day Test.
Winfield-Hill, aged 31, is not too concerned about the schedule re-jig, admitting: “At the end of the day, at the moment, nothing is perfect.
“It’s not going to be perfect for the Australians either because they have all the problems which come with travelling interstate. It does disrupt preparation, but the main thing is that it hasn’t disrupted the format and the series going ahead.”
There is a theory that starting with the T20s is an advantage to England having won 12 games and lost only twice since the last World Cup in Australia in early 2020.
“I don’t think there’s any real preference in order of formats, but in T20 cricket you do just get out there and get amongst it,” said Winfield-Hill.
“You don’t overthink in that format as much as you maybe would in the others.
“It has been a format that has suited us quite well in recent years.
“The other thing, which is significant, is that it gives bowlers the opportunity to build up some overs and not have to go straight into a Test Match.
“Had we had the Test first, you’re asking people to go straight into bowling 20 overs with limited prep and there’s a World Cup coming up straight afterwards. How many seamers are going to ‘man down’ in the first couple of weeks?
“It’s natural progression rather than an early spike.”
Last year, England claimed limited overs series wins over New Zealand at home and away and India at home, also drawing a one-off home Test with the latter.
In the disrupted summer of 2020, they also beat the West Indies in a home T20 series.
“We have built nicely. And the most encouraging thing is that we’ve played good teams,” said the York-born star.
“In a cycle up to an Ashes and World Cup, you want to make sure that every series is a proper contest. That’s been the really good thing about it. We have played some strong teams and put on a decent show.
“There have also been a lot of close games, which is beneficial.”
In nine 2021 summer internationals - a Test and eight ODIs - Winfield-Hill posted 269 runs with scores of 35, 42, 36, 21, 39, 33 and 43.
She said: “I’ve been pleased with how I’ve got the team off to good starts and have been involved in some decent partnerships at the top. In the context of the series we’ve played, those partnerships have been key. Individually, it’s about taking that next step and making a big score.
“But I feel like my game is in a good place to be able to do that.
“It’s no different to the start of the last domestic summer. I said that I wanted big scores. I know I can do it, and I did it with a century in the first game (Diamonds v Central Sparks).
“It’s now about doing the same thing, but in international cricket.
“I have a formula and a template, and I’ve played some good cricket since.”
With the added carrot of helping the Northern Diamonds to domestic silverware, this promises to be a huge year for home-grown Winfield-Hill.
Maybe the biggest of her decorated career so far?
“I think so,” she said. “But it’s just a massive year for women’s cricket full stop. To have an Ashes, a World Cup and a Commonwealth Games all in one is unheard of.
“I felt like at the start of last year I’d been moaning about being sat on the sidelines and not playing any cricket. Now it’s the opposite. This is definitely the side of the coin you want to be on.”
However, three months away from home at the moment, in the thick of a global pandemic, will present challenges even if some family members were allowed to travel to Australia on Friday’s chartered flight into Sydney.
“Yes, it’s going to be three, big challenging months. These bubbles aren’t easy at all,” said Winfield-Hill.
“But the one thing we can take out of it is that we’ve actually done the bubble thing really well - in terms of not getting Covid, looking after each other and actually performing pretty well in these conditions.
“The bubbles we’ve been in in England have been very strict. You’re eating in the hotel with all the meals put on for you, only allowed out for walks and runs and rounds of golf.
“We got through it and played some good cricket. And we shouldn’t come across anything as strict as that.
“We’ve been on calls about the Ashes where things are changing all the time. Even the isolation period before flying was stressful because every lateral flow test you’re like, ‘Come on, come on, please be negative - yes, I’m through’.”
Winfield-Hill mentions a pre-travel isolation period, which her and her team-mates had to undertake. While there were challenges, there were also moments on humour as players had to train alone and only with the help of family members.
For Lauren, that worked out ideally as wife Courtney, the head of the Diamonds Academy, was able to pitch in with some gusto.
“I’ve landed lucky with the wife being a coach who can bowl a few overs at me. She reckons she could make a bit of a comeback!” she laughed.
“We’ve been using Headingley and going in when nobody else is there to make sure we don’t come into contact with anybody.
“We have actually taken little Wilson, our dog, in to sit in his basket on the side to watch us train because we’re away for a good few weeks. The cricket prep has been good.”
It hasn’t been as simple for others though, with some training videos being shared amongst the squad’s group chat.
“Sarah Glenn’s dad batting left handed is up there as one of my favs,” continued Winfield-Hill.
“Sophia Dunkley’s mum, who is tiny, was feeding the bowling machine. And you can just see her head above the top of the bowling machine. That was entertaining.
“Heather Knight’s boyfriend, Tim, has been batting left-handed. For someone who plays cricket, I don’t know how his left-handed batting looks so bad. He’s right-handed, but left-handed it’s terrible.”
A unique build-up to the biggest series, but Winfield-Hill insists the squad is relishing the chance of get one over on the Aussies.
“The Ashes is a massive carrot,” she added.
“One thing that became so apparent through all the calls of changing restrictions, is it going ahead - is it not, is that all the girls are so keen, so ready and in such a good place to go and give a strong account of ourselves.
“When the Ashes were in England (2019), we didn’t play anywhere near to the level that we can. And this is a massive opportunity to make amends.”