'There's an awful lot of fight left in me' - Lauren Winfield-Hill rediscovers her England ambition

Crohn's disease made batter consider giving up on World Cup dream but now she has illness under control

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Lauren Winfield-Hill has been battling Crohn's disease  •  Getty Images

Lauren Winfield-Hill has been battling Crohn's disease  •  Getty Images

After a long battle with ill-health, World Cup winner Lauren Winfield-Hill has set her sights on opening the batting for England again when they defend their title next year.
Winfield-Hill was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in October 2019 but it was only four months ago that she found herself in one place long enough to establish a course of life-long medication that she has found to be, quite literally, a game changer.
"You have to have regular doctor's checks, regular bloods, you have to be able to have a chance to see if it's working," Winfield-Hill tells ESPNcricinfo. "So basically I just had to go on steroids for a year to tide me over, until it came to a point where you can't really stay on steroids any longer. [But now] we've got a really nice window of three months at home.
"It was just finding the window to get set up on the meds and then within six weeks I'm like, 'holy Hell, I feel so much better'. I didn't realise how naff I was feeling."
"We've got a really exciting 12 months coming up that I don't want to be carrying drinks for"
Lauren Winfield-Hill
She had become so used to fatigue, vomiting episodes and "feeling sub-par" that Winfield-Hill recalls thinking she would never feel any different. It became so bad that she considered giving up on her England aspirations.
"I had a really rough time in one of the bubbles during the West Indies' [tour]," she says. "I had a real bad flare-up and I was just like, 'You know what? I don't think I can keep playing international sport, I'm not well enough, my body just can't tolerate the workload'.
"I remember saying to the specialist, 'I don't know about playing sport like this, it's getting really hard'. He said: 'Trust me, once we get you on these meds, you will be fine, you'll be great, you'll feel good; don't throw the towel in.'"
Not only did she begin to feel better, but her pre-season numbers are proof that she is doing better also.
"We did some testing and I punched out some really great scores," she says. "I've always really prided myself on being a good trainer and a good professional and for a long time I was like, 'why am I plateauing physically?' I was pretty jaded.
"For three years I went nowhere physically. Now all of a sudden I'm up at the front of the pack and it's like, 'thank God that's what was going on, rather than trying really hard and working as hard as I've ever worked and getting nothing back'."
Winfield-Hill was England's leading run-scorer for the T20 leg of the 2019 Ashes series, some distance behind Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry, batting in the middle-order. She travelled to Malaysia for England's white-ball series against Pakistan but didn't get to bat in the one T20 she played.
She made 1 and 4 not out in her two innings at the Women's T20 World Cup at the start of last year, batting at No.8, and was part of England's squad for their home T20 series against West Indies last summer without playing a match.
"You spend a lot of time training for not a lot of output at times in terms of game-time," she says. "And it's difficult being a senior player and carrying drinks and not getting an opportunity.
"There's an awful lot of fight left in me. I don't see myself as a real senior player because I have been out of the team a lot. I'm fairly experienced, but my game-time has not always been that consistent so, in cricket years, I still feel young. Physically I feel better than I've ever felt.
"We've got a really exciting 12 months coming up that I don't want to be carrying drinks for. I want to be playing in the World Cup. In the 2017 World Cup that we won, I was at the top of the order and I'd like to be there to defend it."
Winfield-Hill scored an unbeaten 140 opening for England Women A in a pre-season warm-up against England Women at the start of May. Now she is preparing for Northern Diamonds' first match of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy against Central Sparks at Headingley on Saturday. Beyond that, she has the Hundred to look forward to in July, where she will represent Northern Superchargers.
"I'm a lot more relaxed in knowing that there's going to be lots of opportunities," Winfield-Hill says. "Sometimes it can be quite difficult when you don't have a lot of cricket lined up, to put a lot of pressure on: 'I've got to do it in this next game, I have to perform, it's not that many games to come'. That mindset can be really crippling.
"I've just really tried to focus on what I need to do to be a really good solid opening batter that also has versatility to bat in other spots, but knowing what my goals are and being quite focused on that."
But she remains wary of putting too much pressure on herself.
"It's just a big trap, isn't it, with anything where you set your sights too high and you put a lot of pressure on yourself and you miss the steps along the way," she says.
"So I'm just trying to keep everything really simple. I'm just trying to play as well as I can in the next game I play, or the next time I train.
"We've got a few domestic games now in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy. If I manage to continue some nice form in that, then I've every chance of being able to achieve those goals in an England shirt.
"In that first England internal game... it wasn't like I was setting out some big stall and this big goal to have a great day out. It was just, 'play as well as you can, next ball, play as well as you can, try and win the game for the team and keep it really simple'. I'm just trying to strip it all back."
Winfield-Hill played three matches last year in the competition's first season, when the Diamonds finished runners-up, beaten in the final by Southern Vipers. For the early part of this season, the Diamonds have England stars Katherine Brunt and Nat Sciver in their ranks too.
"It's going to be a dogfight the first few games because it's not glorious sunshine, rock-hard wickets," Winfield-Hill says. "It's not a batter's paradise just yet but I'm really excited.
"It's amazing to see how, with a proper winter under their belts, how much girls have improved, having never really had the opportunity to train much before."
Five Diamonds players - Hollie Armitage, Beth Langston, Linsey Smith, Phoebe Graham and Jenny Gunn - hold full-time professional contracts under the ECB's new women's domestic structure. A number of teams have reported positive knock-on effects whereby players not on full-time contracts are benefiting from working within a professional set-up.
"No doubt about it, you're looking to go one better than last year," Winfield-Hill says. "We've got the talent in the group to be able to do it - you don't get to the final by accident.
"A lot of those competitions - you had the Super League, the Heyhoe Flint Trophy - it's been dominated a lot by teams from the south and it's just having the exposure of being in those big finals. The more you do that, the more you learn from those situations, one of these days you'll get over the line in those big games."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo