With the start of the Kia T20 Women’s Super league getting underway for its second season, women’s cricket will undoubtedly be looking for a substantial gain in interest following England’s victory in the World Cup. For local side, Western Storm, there is also the added attraction of the team being captained by England skipper Heather Knight and with World Cup match winner Anya Shrubsole also in the squad.
But what does women’s cricket look like from the inside. XtraTime recently spoke to Western Storm team member Sophie Luff about her cricketing background and her aspirations to play for England.
“Apart from the World Cup, women’s cricket, particularly internationally has changed a lot in recent years. For example, just in terms of the number of matches played, last winter the England team were in the West Indies followed by Sri Lanka and then straight over to Australia for the Women’s Big Bash.
“It’s great that the women’s game at an England level has progressed so much with professional contracts but there is now a massive difference between an England team training every week and the ones below, in say, academies. They are getting much less training, maybe a couple of times a month so the gap is widening. The ones below need support to go forward. I guess that is what the Super League is trying to bridge so that non-England players get to play above County level and alongside internationals.
"However,she is clear that the real change in the sport is that it’s now possible for girls to have a career in cricket rather than it just being a part time hobby. On that basis the future for the women’s game looks exceptionally bright.
“I was undoubtedly lucky in being brought up in a cricketing family, with both my dad and brother playing, but we are a very competitive, always looking at weekends to see who has scored the most runs, etc. Not surprisingly, we don’t play many board games at home as a family. It never ends well. One of us will always throw our toys out of the pram if we are losing.
“My Dad used to play locally for Brent Knoll so I was taken to cricket as a toddler. Sometimes, I would try and run on the pitch to see him and I was always playing at moving the boundary rope.
“I was always keen on sport at school, for example even at primary I would have been the one out in the playground playing football with the boys. But it was at school that cricket became much more for me First, at Sexy Middle School in Bruton and then at Kings Wessex I captained the boys team. When I was old enough I played for Weston and at age twelve was invited to a district game from which I was picked for the Somerset County team.
“It was always a boys’ team because there were not many girls’ teams around then. I guess I was a bit of a tomboy. But I enjoyed the challenge because the boys would always bowl that bit faster and hit the ball harder at me and I thrived on that. Sometimes there would be comments from other sides but the boys I played with were very supportive and I think quite liked having a girl in their team.
“I played my first county match at age 12 for the under 13’s. We travelled to Hampshire and I can remember it like it was yesterday I hit 96 not out and took 13-4 with the ball. I was really buzzing. From there I played through all the county age groups until at age 15 or 16 I was picked for the Somerset senior women’s team.
“When at University,” where Luff gained a first in Sport and Physical Education “I was on the MCC youth programme which helped to develop my ability both as a cricketer and as an athlete with lots of strength and conditioning. I have also been in the senior academy programme for the last four years.
In 2015 she was named as the most promising young female cricketer of the year by the Cricket Society. but then struggled for perhaps the first time in 2016. “I didn’t have a good season last year but my aspirations are still to play for England, although the pressure even at 23 is there, particularly if you have a bad run of form. It also gets harder year on year as there are a lot more girls playing now.
It potentially also gets harder after England’s World Cup victory as the battle for international honours hots up, and although Luff confesses to preferring the longer format to the 20 over game, a good Kia Season for her may just have got even more important.