Paul Shaw previews Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy
Thunder kick off their campaign against Lightning tomorrow at Trent Bridge
Paul Shaw’s new role leading the North West Thunder is almost a case of ‘Back to the Future’ for the former England coach.
Shaw has agreed to lead the Thunder into the forthcoming six-game Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, starting this weekend.
The new one-off 50-over competition will be played between the eight new Women’s Regional Centres of Excellence.
Though this year’s event has been formed by the ECB purely in order to get women’s cricket going again following the Coronavirus pandemic and is likely to look different next year, this certainly does represent the beginning of a new era for the women’s game in this country.
And Shaw - whisper it quietly, a Yorkshireman who was England women’s head of performance between 2013 and 2015 and worked within the England structure for seven years in all - is delighted to be involved on the right side of the Pennines.
“It’s a great opportunity to lay a really good foundation for the North West for the next few years,” he said.
“What I’ve agreed to do is work with the Thunder until the end of September/early October, helping to integrate the three newly contracted players.
“It’s a little bit like helping to manage the professionalisation of the women’s game, which I did with England when they introduced central contracts a number of years ago.
“It’s about helping to facilitate their return to training and playing, whilst also integrating the broader squad we will take into this competition over the next few weeks.
“I’ll be taking the team through the games we’ve got this summer and, as I say, helping to lay the foundations for the next few years.”
The Thunder play six group games - two at home and four away - in a competition split into two groups of four. The winners of each group will then contest the final on September 26.
Their first game is against the Lightning at Trent Bridge on Saturday (10.30am), while the originally scheduled home game against the Central Sparks on Monday 31st has been switched from Liverpool to Edgbaston.
“It’s fantastic that we’re back playing, and the ECB have been brilliant in coming up with this highly-competitive format in a condensed timeframe,” said Shaw.
“This is a really important summer for the girls, both playing and training wise, because we can start to look at some new girls and raise the standard of the cricket.
“Looking across Lancashire, Cheshire and Cumbria, we have a lot of young players who we want to try and accelerate their development. So playing and training this summer is vitally important.
“What excites me is that this structure - the Regional Centres of Excellence - is taking the women’s game to a whole new level.
“My background at England level was about developing young players, and that’s what we need to do here.
“Someone like Nat Sciver, who we brought into the 2013 Ashes squad, some people would think she came from nowhere, but we’d been watching Nat for some time beforehand.
“It’s a new era in the women’s game, and to be given the chance to use any experience and insight I’ve got is exciting.
“There’s a lot of hard work ahead, but there are some great people involved in our structure here - the likes of David Thorley, with his experience at the ICC and England Boxing, and Bobby Cross as well. It bodes extremely well.”
Shaw will lead a squad of 15 into the tournament, including Georgie Boyce, Alex Hartley and Ellie Threlkeld, all of whom hold regional retainer contracts. Added to that are a host of up and comers who will be desperate to shine between now and the end of September.
Emma Lamb, Kate Cross and Sophie Ecclestone have been released from England’s ‘bubble’ and are available for selection for the opening two fixtures.
Shaw said: “We have got one or two experienced players, who will be very important. But we have plenty of young talent.
“This competition is a balancing act. It’s competitive and we want to win.
“That said, it is also a chance to give youngsters opportunities in a high-performance environment. That means next year, and the year after that, they will be playing a much bigger role.
“It’s not easy balancing the win today and create tomorrow.
“You look in the men’s county games at the moment. Lancashire aren’t the only team giving younger players chances, and we will be doing similar.”
Aside from his long-standing involvement in women’s cricket, Shaw also undertakes specialist wicketkeeping coaching, and has worked extensively with Yorkshire men’s keeper Jonny Tattersall. Away from the game, he also works in leadership training in business and sport.
Given his Barnsley roots and his links to Yorkshire, it is no surprise that he has one eye on the two clashes between the Thunder and the Northern Diamonds, the team representing the White Rose county, Durham and Northumberland.
They take place at Liverpool on September 10 and at Headingley on September 19.
“They will be a really interesting couple of games,” he added. “And I’ve done some work within the Diamonds set-up with the Regional Development Centres.
“There will be a number of players I’ve worked with who we will be playing against.”
Despite the obvious rivalry, Shaw believes English cricket needs both centres to be strong moving forwards - and even feels they can work together in terms of developing players, similar to the men’s Academies have done in recent years with competitive training sessions.
“Look, I’d love to see both set-ups thrive because it’s important that women’s cricket is strong in the North,” he added.
“In recent years, it’s been strong in the South. But we need to push it forwards in the North.
“I see no reason why, from a developmental perspective, we can’t both come together and create something special to move these players forwards.
“It’s ultimately about producing cricketers for England. If something like that could do it, why not? Sometimes you have to part with tradition and convention.”