Match Preview: Northern Diamonds v Thunder
It isn’t a bad time to be a teenager in women’s sport at the moment, as Thunder’s Seren Smale knows all too well given her love and aptitude for the game of tennis.
Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy
Sunday September 12, 2021, 10.30am
Emirates Riverside, Durham
Eighteen-year-old Emma Raducanu has bulldozed her way through qualifying to reach tonight’s US Open final, becoming the youngest British grand slam finalist in 62 years.
It is form which has caught the eye of many a British sports fan, including wicketkeeper batter Smale, who made her Thunder debut yesterday having turned to cricket following junior national representation in Welsh tennis.
In fact, the 16-year-old has previously “hit” with Raducanu’s former coach Matt James, who hails from close to Smale’s childhood home in the Flintshire town of Mold.
“Tennis has been such a big part of my life,” she said.
“Watching Emma at the moment, it’s been brilliant. She’s only a teen, a bit older than me. But it just shows what you can do at such a young age. It’s inspirational.”
Smale made her Thunder debut in yesterday’s Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy defeat against Southern Vipers at Sale.
It wasn’t the type of fairytale story which Raducanu has enjoyed, bowled for a golden duck. But it was a superb yorker from new ball seamer Lauren Bell that got her, and the good times will surely come for a player the Thunder hierarchy rate highly.
“Lovely, nice little yorker! That’s just cricket isn’t it,” she smiled, having batted at number three in the order. “But I really enjoyed the day, it was really special.”
Smale will hope better is to come if she retains her place to face Northern Diamonds (10.30am) in tomorrow’s penultimate group game at Durham’s Emirates Riverside.
And there is no reason why not having scored more than 900 runs across the various Lancashire teams this summer, including back-to-back fifties in the mid-summer Regional Academy festival at Shrewsbury School.
“I’ve had an ok summer, it’s been good,” she continued. “I quite like being pushed to do things like this, playing at this level at my age - I enjoy it.
“I’ve been pushing myself this year. I knew I had to kick on with the bat, which is what I have done.”
Smale played cricket for Wales Under 12s, 14s and 15s before moving to Lancashire in 2019: “I’ve only been playing for four or five years,” she said. “It’s been a quick rise, but I’ve loved it.”
Thunder head to Durham tomorrow knowing their hopes of a top three finish and knockout cricket are all but over after suffering a third defeat in five 50-over group games against Vipers yesterday on the back of being bowled out for 110.
They are nine points behind third-placed Central Sparks with two games remaining and 10 points to play for.
But if they can throw a spanner in the works of the Diamonds bid for silverware, exacting revenge for last month’s heavy T20 defeat at Chester in the process, it would be a very successful trip to the North East.
“Even if we can’t qualify, it’s still a game we desperately want to win,” said Smale.
“It would top off what has been a good season. I realise I haven’t been in it, but Thunder as a team have done really well.
“It’s been a nice team to come into. They all back each other and have fun. There’s a great atmosphere.”
Before then, however, there is the small matter of tuning into Amazon Prime at 9pm tonight for Raducanu’s historic final against 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez.
“I didn’t get chance to watch her semi-final because I had to get to bed ahead of my debut,” added Smale. “But I will definitely be watching the final.
“She better win!”
Of course, Thunder fans will be saying exactly the same thing about tomorrow’s Diamonds game.
Kate Cross, meanwhile, who scored 57 and took two wickets against the Vipers, will be unavailable tomorrow having been selected in England’s ODI squad for the forthcoming New Zealand series.
Lauren Winfield-Hill is in the same boat for the Diamonds.
This is the first 50-over meeting of the season between the Roses rivals, but they have claimed a Charlotte Edwards Cup T20 win apiece.
Thunder won a low-scoring game at Emerald Headingley in late June when they defended a target of 119 to win by 12 runs, with Emma Lamb starring with bat and ball.
Unfortunately, less than a fortnight ago - on August Bank Holiday Monday, Diamonds got their own back with a big win at Chester Boughton Hall to secure qualification for Finals Day.
They were ultimately beaten in the final by South East Stars at the Ageas Bowl on Sunday.
Former England all-rounder Jenny Gunn claimed four wickets to restrict Thunder to only 90-9 before Bess Heath’s 58 not out reeled in the target for the loss of two wickets in 12.2 overs.
One to watch:
Emma Lamb. The last time Lamb played against the Diamonds, she had one heck of a day out!
Unavailable at Chester a couple of weeks back due to England T20 duty, Lamb had gotten to that point with some standout form.
That included 58 off 43 balls at the top of the order against the Diamonds in the CE Cup at Headingley in late June before she returned 4-13 with her off-spinners in defence of 119.
She also took a catch and affected a run out.
Another day like that tomorrow would give Thunder a great chance of claiming another win.