Southern Vipers begin Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy defence – team-by-team guide to the 2021 tournament

The Southern Vipers begin their defence of The Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy this weekend.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 10:42 am
Southern Vipers celebrate their victory over Northern Diamonds in last year's Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy final. Picture: Dave Vokes.

The Ageas Bowl-based women’s team won last year’s month-long 50-over competition, named after England’s captain at the 1973 World Cup, in a campaign shortened and restricted by the pandemic.

Now, in an expanded tournament, Georgia Adams will again lead a Vipers squad containing four other full-time professionals - Lauren Bell, Maia Bouchier, Tara Norris and Paige Scholfield.

England duo Danni Wyatt and Georgia Elwiss are also back alongside nine other players who featured as part of the squad in 2020, including RHF Trophy final player of the match Charlotte Taylor, former Portsmouth Grammar School pupil Charlie Dean and Portsmouth-born Emily Windsor.

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Emily Windsor in Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy action at The Ageas Bowl last year. Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images.

Right arm seamer Gemma Lane and leg spin bowler Finty Trussler - from Hampshire clubs Alton and St Cross respectively - are the two new additions to this year’s set-up.

Vipers begin their RHF Trophy title defence this Saturday with a home fixture against Lightning at The Ageas Bowl.

Matches against South East Stars (Monday, May 31, Beckenham), Central Sparks (Saturday, June 5, Hove) and Western Storm (Saturday, June 12, Taunton) round out the first block of 50-over fixtures.

Following a period of T20 action, Vipers return to complete the RHF league stage against Thunder (Friday, September 10, Sale) and Sunrisers (Sunday, September 12, Chelmsford) and Northern Diamonds (Sunday, September 18, Ageas Bowl).

Charlie Dean batting for Vipers in last summer's Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy match against South East Stars at Hove. Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images.

The competition’s final is scheduled for Sunday, September 25.

Here, The News takes a closer look at the Vipers and their seven Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy rivals.

SOUTHERN VIPERS

Coach: Charlotte Edwards

Southern Vipers skipper Georgia Adams in action during the 2020 Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy final at Edgbaston. Picture: David Davies/PA Wire.

Captain: Georgia Adams

Last Year’s Performance: Winners

2020 Leading Run Scorer: Georgia Adams (500, 83.33)

2020 Leading 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.

The 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, who first played for Hampshire in 2019 after joining from Middlesex. 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 hit a half-century at first drop in their warm-up against South East Stars last Sunday.

Vipers squad: Georgia Adams, Lauren Bell, Maia Bouchier, Ella Chandler, Charlie Dean, Ariana Dowse, Georgia Elwiss, Gemma Lane, Cassidy McCarthy, Ella McCaughan, Alice Monaghan, Tara Norris, Carla Rudd, Paige Scholfield, Charlotte Taylor, Finty Trussler, Emily Windsor, Danni Wyatt.

CENTRAL SPARKS

Coach: Lloyd Tennant

Captain: Evelyn Jones

Last Year’s Performance: Second (North Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Eve Jones (334 runs, 55.7 average)

2020 Leading Wicket Takers: Anisha Patel (8 wickets, 25.2 average), Clare Boycott (8, 20.0)

Key player: Marie Kelly – One of the most reliable batters in the country, Kelly was Sparks’ second highest run scorer last season.

Flies under the radar: Georgia Davis – An off-spinner who can provide runs lower down the order is a clear asset to this team. Took 3-29 against North West Thunder last season on debut.

Rising star: Milly Home – After moving to Worcestershire ahead of the 2021 season her batting form has excelled, scoring an unbeaten 88 already this seaso. Is a real talent in the making.

The 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. They have the talent, with a batting line up featuring Eve Jones and Marie Kelly and bowlers such as Anisha Patel, Liz Russell and Emily Arlott.

LIGHTNING

Coach: Rob Taylor

Captain: Kathryn Bryce

Last Year’s Performance: Fourth (North Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Sarah Bryce (395, 79.00)

2020 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 RHF 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, averaging 33.40.

Rising Star: Bethan Ellis – The 21-year-old all-rounder shared opening stands of 51, 148 and 61 with Bryce in last year’s RHFT as well as taking six wickets with her right-arm medium pace.

The 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 team captain, are likely to be 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.

NORTHERN DIAMONDS

Coach: Danielle Hazell

Captain: Hollie Armitage

Last Year’s Performance: Finalists

2020 Leading Runscorer: Sterre Kalis (197, 39.4)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: Beth Langston (12, 19.41)

Overseas player: Sterre Kalis (Netherlands – full summer) was overseas last summer, but 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.

The 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. 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.

NORTH WEST THUNDER

Coach: Paul Shaw

Captain: Alex Hartley

Last Year’s Performance: Third (North Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Natalie Brown (189, 31.5)

2020 Leading 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 - The legendary 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.

The Season Ahead: Thunder believe their time for trophies may be a couple of years away given the young squad assembled. 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)

2020 Leading 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 potential.

The 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 1,191 runs across their six matches last year placed them sixth of the eight regional teams and leading batter 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.

SUNRISERS

Coach: Trevor Griffin

Captain: Amara Carr

Last Year’s Performance: Fourth (South Group)

2020 Leading Runscorer: Jo Gardner (193, 32.16)

2020 Leading Wicket Taker: 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.

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 v 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.

The 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.

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.

WESTERN STORM

Head coach: Mark O’Leary

Captain: Sophie Luff

Last season: Second (South Group)

2020 leading run-scorer: Sophie Luff (339 at 67.80)

2020 leading 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 both bat and ball in 2020 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.

The Season Ahead: Of all the teams in this season’s 50-over domestic competition, Storm are perhaps best-placed to challenge reigning 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, 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 and Storm also have impressive bowling depth.