Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy: team-by-team guide
- Credit: PA
The 2021 Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy begins on Saturday, with eight women's teams battling it out for honours in the coming months.
Defending champions Southern Vipers host Lightning at the Ageas Bowl, while Western Storm welcome Thunder to Bristol, Northern Diamonds entertain Central Sparks at Headingley and Sunrisers meet South East Stars at Chelmsford.
Here's a guide to the teams taking part this year:
Coach: Lloyd Tennant; captain: Evelyn Jones
Last Year's Performance: Second (North Group)
2020 Leading Runscorer: Eve Jones (334 runs, 55.7 average); Wicket Takers: Anisha Patel (8 wickets, 25.2 average), Clare Boycott (8, 20.0)
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Key player: Marie Kelly – One of the most reliable batters in the country, Kelly was Sparks’ second highest run scorer last season and has earned a reputation for her consistency.
Flies under the radar: Georgia Davis – An off-spinner, who can provide runs lower down the order is a clear asset to this team. After taking three for 29 against North West Thunder last season on debut, her performances will be watched with excitement this season.
Rising star: Milly Home – After moving to Worcestershire ahead of the 2021 season her batting form has excelled, in particular scoring an unbeaten 88 already this season, and with more time at the crease she is a real talent in the making.
Season Ahead: After narrowly missing out on the final last year, Sparks will view progression to the three-team knockout stages as well within their grasp. There is no doubt they have the talent, with a batting line up including Eve Jones and Marie Kelly, and reliable bowlers of Anisha Patel, Liz Russell and Emily Arlott they also have the skill. However, after losing their first and last game last season they may need to work on their consistency to get them over the line in those crucial must-win games. The side will have confidence after a number of both good team and individual performances last season and will relish the new opportunity to build on a successful inaugural year.
Coach: Rob Taylor; captain: Kathryn Bryce
Last Year’s Performance: Fourth (North Group)
2020 Leading Runscorer: Sarah Bryce (395, 79.00); Leading Wicket Taker: Kathryn Bryce (14, 15.42)
Key player: Sarah Bryce – The opener passed 50 in all but one of her six innings in last year’s Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and is already in good form in 2021.
Flies under the radar: Abbey Freeborn – The experienced wicketkeeper-batter had her best season in Lightning colours in 2020, scoring useful runs in every match to average 33.40, and showing off her nifty glovework.
Rising Star: Bethan Ellis – The 21-year-old all-rounder shared opening stands of 51, 148 and 61 with Sarah Bryce in last year’s RHFT as well as taking six wickets with her right-arm medium pace.
Season Ahead: East Midlands-based Lightning finished bottom of the North Group last season but three of their four defeats were tight affairs that could easily have gone their way. Sarah Bryce and big sister Kathryn, the captain, are likely to be the mainstays again, England opener Tammy Beaumont is set to play their first three fixtures and left-arm spinner Kirstie Gordon, part of the England team that reached the World T20 Final in 2018 but currently out of favour, is available all season. The return of experienced all-rounder Sonia Odedra and the recruitment of South Africa-born but UK-qualified batter and off-spinner Michaela Kirk will bolster the middle order, while the likes of Bethan Ellis, Alicia Presland, Sophie Munro, Nancy Harman, Lucy Higham and twins Teresa and Yvonne Graves offer plenty of bowling options, giving coach Rob Taylor reasons to anticipate a more prominent showing.
Coach: Danielle Hazell; captain: Hollie Armitage
Last Year’s Performance: Finalists
2020 Leading Runscorer: Sterre Kalis (197, 39.4); Wicket Taker: Beth Langston (12, 19.41)
Overseas player: Sterre Kalis (Netherlands – full summer) was overseas last summer, but she now qualifies as a local player via a pre-settled status visa.
Key player: Hollie Armitage - Contracted all-rounder who wintered in Tasmania. Scored 101 in the final as Clarence women won 50-over silverware. Followed that with early season runs and wickets (leg-spin) for Yorkshire.
Flies under the radar: Bess Heath - Rapidly improving wicketkeeper batter, aged 19. Has ability to bat in top five and possesses plenty of power. Could have taken her sporting career down the rugby union route.
Rising Star: Sterre Kalis - Dutch batter, 21, started last summer’s RHF Trophy with three ducks and finished with three half-centuries. Recently nominated for ICC’s Women’s Associate Cricketer of the Decade and oozes class.
Season Ahead: The Diamonds were outstanding last season, building on the early momentum created by back-to-back victories with England players Katherine Brunt, Nat Sciver and Lauren Winfield-Hill available. The North Group winners were beaten by the Vipers in the Edgbaston final, having had chances to win that game. The challenge now is to back that up following a winter when all eight regions have had ample time to prepare instead of just a three-week build-up to 2020 as a result of Covid-19. They have contracted all-rounders Hollie Armitage and Jenny Gunn plus bowlers Phoebe Graham, Beth Langston and Linsey Smith. England legend Gunn is the perfect role model for the younger players. They look a well-balanced squad with strength in all departments and, in skipper Armitage, have a player in the form of her life. Hopefully that continues over the next few months.
NORTH WEST THUNDER
Coach: Paul Shaw; captain: Alex Hartley
Last Year’s Performance: Third (North Group)
2020 Leading Runscorer: Natalie Brown (189, 31.5); Wicket Taker: Alex Hartley (11, 15.45)
Overseas players: Piepa Cleary (Australia - full summer)
Key player: Emma Lamb - Contracted batting all-rounder in England’s senior bubble last summer. Top-order batter who bowls extremely useful off-spin. Aged 23, this is a key summer in her development.
Flies under the radar: Georgie Boyce - Opening batter who is also a full-time professional. If she can transfer early season runs for Lancashire into Thunder colours, they will have a solid base to build from.
Rising star: Ellie Threlkeld - Legend Sarah Taylor believes her ex-Lancashire Super League team-mate and fellow wicketkeeper has “phenomenal hands - one of the best in the country”. Threlkeld, 22, can also contribute important runs.
Season Ahead: The Thunder believe their time for trophies may be a couple of years away given the young squad assembled. “I think the average age is 21 or 21.5,” said coach Paul Shaw. “If we can push on in the next couple of years and keep building on those foundations, I see no reason why we can’t challenge strongly. Our aim for this season is to be as competitive as we possibly can be. Let’s be in the fight and see where we get to.” They have contracted spinners Alex Hartley and Hannah Jones, wicketkeeper Ellie Threlkeld, batter Georgie Boyce and all-rounder Emma Lamb. A spin dominant side whose seam stocks are bolstered by Aussie all-rounder Cleary, they will hope to get off to a good start with their England duo Kate Cross and Sophie Ecclestone available and build on that momentum.
SOUTH EAST STARS
Coach: Johann Myburgh; captain: Tash Farrant
Last Year’s Performance: Third (South Group)
2020 Leading Runscorer: Alice Capsey (141, 28.20); Wicket Taker: Tash Farrant (9, 19.67)
Key player: Sophia Dunkley – Made 97 in one of two Stars innings in 2020. The catch-22 is the better Dunkley performs the greater the chance an England call-up will deprive Stars of her services.
Flies under the radar: Hannah Jones – Off-spinner Jones’ seven wickets at a miserly economy rate placed her second behind skipper Farrant in 2020. The Surrey captain will be key to putting opposition batters under pressure.
Rising Star: Alice Capsey – Not 17 until August, Capsey was the Stars’ leading runscorer in 2020 with a blistering 73 not out in 75 balls against Sunrisers hinting at her massive potential.
Season Ahead: The Stars are a young squad under the captaincy of Tash Farrant, especially after adding three more burgeoning talents, Emma Jones, Kira Chathli and Kalea Moore to their ranks. Their biggest challenge this season will be producing a greater weight of runs, especially when batting first, in order to build scoreboard pressure on their opponents. Their tally of 1191 runs across their six matches last year placed them sixth of the eight regional teams and leading batter Alice Capsey was only 18th in the run-scoring charts. If Dunkley is regularly available those stats should improve. If not, greater responsibility will fall on Capsey and fellow teenager Chloe Brewer whose two innings of 79 and 40 at the back end of the last campaign showed big promise. There’s work to be done with ball in hand too as last year the team relied too heavily on Farrant and the frugal Hannah Jones.
Coach: Charlotte Edwards; captain: Georgia Adams
Last Year’s Performance: Winners
2020 Leading Run Scorer: Georgia Adams (500, 83.33); Wicket Taker: Charlotte Taylor (15, 10.13)
Key player: Georgia Adams – Enjoyed the season of her life in 2020 - can she possibly top it this year? As opener and skipper, Vipers’ overall showing will rest largely on her shoulders.
Flies under the radar: Tara Norris - The left-arm seamer has been opening the bowling for Sussex since 2018, but after training as one of Vipers’ five new professionals over the winter, she is now fitter and faster than ever before.
Rising Star: The only thing likely to get in the way of 20-year-old Lauren Bell’s domestic season is an England call-up. Opposition batters will cower from her deadly inswinging yorkers.
Season Ahead: Vipers barely put a foot wrong in last year’s Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, winning every game; the question is whether they can repeat that this time around. It looks promising. After Charlotte Taylor bamboozled everyone in last year’s Edgbaston final, this year Vipers have another mystery spinner on their books: 17-year-old newcomer Finty Trussler, who forced her way into the squad after taking 16 wickets in the County T20s across April and May. The dominance of Adams with the bat meant that their middle order didn’t get much of a look in last year, but watch out for Maia Bouchier this season. After a setback over the winter, when she was suspended from bowling after her action was ruled illegal, she’s been focusing on her batting; and she hit a half-century at first drop in their warm-up against South East Stars last Sunday.
Coach: Trevor Griffin; captain: Amara Carr
Last Year’s Performance: Fourth (South Group)
2020 Leading Runscorer: Jo Gardner (193, 32.16); Wicket Takers: Katie Wolfe (7, 30.4), Sonali Patel (7, 23.6), Jo Gardner (7, 29.7)
Key player: Amara Carr – The wicketkeeper and captain provided one of the innings of the 2020 tournament with 99 against SE Stars. In that form, she is among the best in the country.
Flies under the radar: Katie Wolfe – Sets the tone opening the bowling with her hard to hit seamers. If she can add consistent wicket-taking she’ll cause big problems.
Rising Star: Grace Scrivens – Ended last season with 72 vs Storm and has already crashed a 62-ball 94 for Kent along with some decent knocks captaining and opening for the England Academy this year.
Season Ahead: Sunrisers were soundly beaten in all six of their matches last season, after an extremely inexperienced squad had been hastily formed. However, it was clear the side improved significantly as the competition progressed - a full winter programme will only have pushed the bar higher. In Trevor Griffin, they have one of the best coaches in women’s cricket - with his winter success in the WBBL with Sydney Thunder the latest winner’s medal in his cabinet at home. In Australia, his work with teenagers Phoebe Litchfield and Hannah Darlington proved his knack of fulfilling young players’ talent through confidence and responsibility. That template will be vital for a squad where 27 is seen as ancient. The Women’s Regional T20 may well suit them more than the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, with the likes of Grace Scrivens and Jo Gardner’s big-hitting more, along with a skilful bowling attack. Expect them to continue to improve and nick a few wins this time around.
Head coach: Mark O'Leary; captain: Sophie Luff
Last season: Second (South Group)
2020 leading run-scorer: Sophie Luff (339 at 67.80); Wicket Taker: Fi Morris (11 at 21.82)
Key player: Heather Knight - Vastly experienced and a talismanic figure, the England captain guarantees big runs at the top of the order and boasts a handy knack of taking key wickets with her off breaks.
Below the radar: Alex Griffiths - Often cast in the shadow of more illustrious team-mates, the teenager's contribution with bat and ball in 2020 nevertheless represented a breakthrough season at this level. Provides crucial balance.
Rising star: Danielle Gibson - One of 41 female cricketers with a full-time domestic contract and now free of injury, she can realise her potential as part of a formidable pace spearhead with Anya Shrubsole.
Season Ahead: Of all the teams in this season's 50-over domestic competition, Storm are perhaps best-placed to challenge reigning Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy champions Southern Vipers. Comfortably beaten on two occasions by the all-conquering Vipers a year ago, Storm boast sufficient star quality, experience and strength in depth to suggest they can close the gap in 2021. Free from the pressures of captaincy, Heather Knight can play a lead role at the top of the order and provide a crucial spin option in the absence of Claire Nicholas, who is on maternity leave. Providing inspirational skipper Sophie Luff reproduces last season's form and Georgia Hennessy adds consistency to her game, Storm will post big totals. There are few better exponents of new-ball and death bowling in the world than Anya Shrubsole, while the supporting cast of Katie George, Fi Morris, Danielle Gibson, Alex Griffiths, Emma Corney, Steph Hutchins and Niamh Holland represent impressive depth.