Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
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Lauren Winfield-Hill has said that making her relationship with her wife Courtney public last year felt like "a weight lifted off my shoulders" and that she is hoping to act as "a role model" for young fans both on and off the field.
The Winfield-Hills were married in Australia shortly before the pandemic struck in March 2020, with both Courtney - a former Brisbane Heat player in the WBBL and now a Leeds Rhinos rugby league player - and Lauren opting to take a double-barrelled surname, rather than keeping their respective maiden names.
And with cricket supporting the Stonewall foundation's rainbow laces campaign - which will see both men's and women's players wearing the laces across this weekend's Hundred and Royal London Cup fixtures - Winfield-Hill said that the decision to go public with their relationship has been a driving force in her uptick in form over the last few months.
"It was pretty significant, and pretty scary as well," she said. "It's a strange one: I never really felt fully comfortable being open publicly about my relationship until I got married. Then, I felt a sense of 'I'm here, my people are here, everyone is happy, and we're happy.'
"I'm not afraid to be who I am and be authentic any more, but up until getting married, I'd probably never felt like that. It was quite frightening initially - even silly things, like posting a wedding photo on Instagram. People assume things when someone features a lot in your posts, but nobody actually knows.
Cricketers in England and Wales will wear rainbow laces across this weekend's fixtures•Getty Images for Surrey CCC
"It might seem silly, but it was quite a big deal. It feels like a weight lifted off my shoulders for sure. I honestly think that's why I'm playing some of my best cricket as well, because I just feel comfortable, confident and more open about everything.
"The Hundred is the perfect platform to support and showcase our support for the Stonewall foundation. I genuinely believe cricket is a sport for all. If people can be true to themselves then it's making massive strides moving forwards - it means the pond that you're fishing from for players to come and enjoy the game is wider and wider."
Winfield-Hill is one of several openly gay players in the England dressing room, and said that she was beginning to embrace the idea of being a role model for younger fans - not only as a cricketer, but as a person more generally.
"It's about being more open and confident in who you are as a person," she said. "You can't just be a role model as a cricketer with a cover drive. It has to be about who you are - you want to be considered as more than just a cricketer. You want people to like you as a person.
"Fans want to know that Lauren Winfield-Hill likes to play golf, she likes to go for coffee, and she's married to Courtney. That helps build who you actually are. I've never really seen myself as being a role model beyond being a cricketer because I've put a lot of value on just being a cricketer, but I've put a lot more value on the whole package now, and who I am as a person."
While a number of cricketers in the women's game are openly gay, the situation is very different in the men's game. Steven Davies, the former England wicketkeeper, was the last high-profile male player to come out back in 2011, and Winfield-Hill said that she hoped players would feel comfortable if they were to follow suit.
"It's individual preference," she said. "You can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink. You can just make the environment good and open, and the culture supportive. I think the ECB are doing a lot of good work to ensure that is definitely the case.
"Hopefully, in time, if that was the situation that would arise, they would feel comfortable enough to be who they are. I certainly think that's something that the ECB have put a lot of value on and been very supportive in pushing. Hopefully, moving forwards, cricketers do feel that they can just be themselves."