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Lauren Winfield-Hill: Tier 1 relocation is 'unsettling' for Diamonds players

England batter criticises ECB decision to defer Yorkshire's place in new women's competition

Lauren Winfield led from the front with 44, Yorkshire Diamonds v Lancashire Thunder, Kia Super League, Headingley, August 11, 2017

Lauren Winfield has been a stalwart of Northern Diamonds in the women's regional competitions  •  Getty Images

Lauren Winfield-Hill, the England batter and stalwart of the Headingley-based Northern Diamonds regional set-up, has warned that the ECB's decision to defer Yorkshire's entry to Tier 1 of the new women's domestic competition could have damaging ramifications for English cricket's largest county.
Winfield-Hill, 33, was the leading run-scorer in last season's Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, with 663 at 51.00, and has launched this year's campaign with two further half-centuries for Diamonds, including a match-winning 69 not out in last month's opening fixture, against Thunder at Chester-le-Street.
That contest, however, took place just two days after it had been confirmed that Durham had been preferred as the northern-most host county for the initial staging of the new competition from 2025 onwards. Speaking at the time, Richard Gould, the ECB chief executive, insisted that Yorkshire were not being "punished for past sins", in the wake of their long-running racism scandal, but their entry to Tier 1 - alongside Glamorgan's - was nonetheless put back until 2027.
That news, Winfield-Hill told Wisden's Women's Cricket Weekly podcast, had been greeted with "shock" by the Diamonds' players, most of whom are based in and around Leeds, and now face the prospect of either a relocation to Chester-le-Street, or more than three hours of daily commutes, should they choose to remain affiliated to their existing regional set-up.
"The general feeling was just unsettled," Winfield-Hill said. "Northern Diamonds is Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire, but in terms of our host, 80 percent of our cricket has been Yorkshire, in terms of where we've trained, and where we've played the majority of our games.
"All the players commute to Headingley, and live around the Yorkshire region, and though we've been aware of the turbulence at Yorkshire over the last few years, I think in terms of the strength of women's cricket, we were quite shocked really. There was a weird vibe, thinking that the team that you're part of now is not going to exist in a year's time."
In general terms, Winfield-Hill said she was supportive of the move to make women's cricket more closely aligned to the men's county structure.
"It just makes it a bit cleaner," she said. "I think the overarching feeling is that it's going to drive the game forward because, if you're striving for that equality piece, getting the teams aligned with counties is a good thing. At Northern Diamonds, it's a little bit grey and a little bit clunky as to who has that allegiance."
In the short term, however, she feared the upheaval could be damaging for the women's professional game - if not for established players such as herself, then certainly for younger players who don't yet have much "skin in the game".
"I'm not necessarily concerned cricket-wise, because I've probably done enough, at that level, to be valued in most teams," she said. "But if you look at some of the youngsters, like Katherine Fraser, who moved to Leeds University because she wanted to get her education as well as pursue cricket, the landscape changes, doesn't it?
"A lot of the youngsters haven't got a lot of skin in the game yet. We see the day-to-day stuff that goes behind the scenes, how people train, and that might not be coming to fruition yet in performances. If you haven't punched out 500-600 runs in a season yet, will Durham still want you?
"It's the whole life piece isn't it, whether it's the girls at uni, or the girls who have got friends and family nearby, or partners. I think everyone's unsettled in different ways."
On a practical level as well, Winfield-Hill believes that Yorkshire's two-year delay will prove problematic for the new competition.
"Using Katherine Fraser as an example, do you forego a professional contract for the next couple of years and wait for Yorkshire to be a Tier 1 county? Or if you're looking at a relocation, do you go for three or four years, or do you want to come back? You don't know what the make-up of those teams will be in two years' time.
"And if you're a director of cricket, trying to build your team and build a legacy, you've then got to lock people in for a long term. How does that leave Yorkshire and Glamorgan? Have you got the availability of enough good players to then make up the other two teams? The last thing you want is two teams that are hampered because they're late to the party."