Virus will not prevent growth of women’s game, says Northern Diamonds’ Danielle Hazell

DANIELLE HAZELL believes that the momentum generated by women’s cricket will not be derailed by the coronavirus pandemic and that the sport will go from strength to strength.

Danielle Hazell.

The former England World Cup winner today takes her Northern Diamonds side to Edgbaston to face Central Sparks in their opening match in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy.

The 50-over competition, played between the eight new regional centres of excellence, at least ensures some competitive women’s cricket this year.

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Hazell, who is confident that her Diamonds can live up to their name by sparkling accordingly, insists that the big strides taken by women’s cricket in recent times will continue despite this summer’s disruptions.

“This was going to be a big year for women’s cricket, what with The Hundred and so on, but I think this is a blip, if you like, and that we can hopefully carry into next year and pick up where we left off,” she said.

“As exciting a year as this was going to be, and although it has taken a little bit of a dint out of it, we’ll be ready to go again next year with The Hundred and the extension of the centre of excellence programme.

“The England and Wales Cricket Board have been really supportive of women’s cricket, bouncing off the World Cup success of 2017.

“It’s just exciting to really see the backing of that, and hopefully we can take it forward and build on it now.”

The Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, named after the former England captain and pioneer of the women’s sport, sees the eight sides split into two regional groups of four, with each team playing six fixtures.

The winners of each group contest a final at Edgbaston on September 27.

The 24 England players who have been preparing for next month’s T20 series against West Indies will be available for the first two rounds of matches, which means Katherine Brunt, Nat Sciver, Lauren Winfield and Linsey Smith are available for today’s Northern Diamonds’ game and Monday’s match against Lightning at Chester-le-Street.

Northern Diamonds, who represent Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland, would also have any England players not chosen for the final T20 squad available for their last group game and any final.

“Any cricket that we’re playing this year is a bonus really, and it’s just exciting to get going again,” said Hazell, the former spinner.

“At one point we weren’t expecting to have any cricket at all, so it’s good now to be able to say that we’re playing again.

“I think we’ve got a good squad together and we’re really looking forward to this competition.

“As a squad we’ve been together for a couple of weeks now, getting as much training in as we can, and I think we’ve got a good blend of youth and experience and hopefully we can have a really good tournament.”

After their Bank Holiday double-header, Northern Diamonds continue their group campaign against Lightning at Grace Road on September 5, Thunder at Liverpool on September 10, Central Sparks at Headingley on September 13, and Thunder at Headingley on September 19.

The tournament helps fill the gap vacated by The Hundred, with Hazell, the head coach of the Northern Superchargers women’s team in that competition, happy that its launch was postponed until next year.

“I think it’s good that we didn’t do a half-hearted competition this year,” she added.

“It will be a proper competition next year and just as good.

“The women’s game is evolving all the time – you’re seeing the ball getting smashed out of the ground more and more, so I think I retired at the right time, to be honest.”

She continued: “It’s moving forward real fast and The Hundred will only help, and it’s great to be involved in a coaching capacity.

“The main thing this year is that we’re finally back playing cricket again and it only makes you appreciate the game even more.

“As much as I don’t play any more myself, it’s just nice to get out there and see people enjoying the game and wanting to get going again, and everyone’s itching to get started.”

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James Mitchinson