By Evie Ashton, ECB Reporters Network
“I never thought I would be a professional cricketer.”
Before the setup of the regional competitions the idea of playing cricket professionally was unthinkable for Kelly Castle, captain of Sunrisers.
“I was really sad that if you weren’t playing for England by the time you were 18 years old, you would just fall out of the game.”
Now this is much less the case. Whilst results have not been found for the Sunrisers, opportunities created by the Charlotte Edwards Cup and Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy are helping to build a future for the players.
Castle, as a holder of one of the 51 regional contracts, is now able to do something that she has “always wanted”.
Benefits of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy run deeper than contracts though. The captain speaks warmly of her teammates who have become a family away from home.
“There's probably not a day where all of us don't speak,” Castle said. “They are some of my closest friends, I'd probably trust them with my life to be honest. And I've only known some of them two years.”
Castle also believes the shared experiences of this close-knit group has kept the Sunrisers enthusiastic on their quest for their first win.
“In the two-and-a-half years that we've been a team we've probably been through every single emotion that there could be. If we can get through all of that, then for us going forwards it’s so positive. It's all life experience.”
This bond manifests itself in the Sunrisers’ style of cricket too.
“In our squad, we don't rely on one single person,” Castle added. “Every single one of us contributes every week. It is a real team effort and that’s why we want to win so badly.”
As the women’s regional competitions have helped foster resilience and kinship for the Sunrisers, tangible benefits have been felt at county level where standards are rising.
“When you look at the girls coming through, there's quite a few from those minor counties,” she said. “Now, because of the way that the regional structure's going, people stay at their county. It’s definitely lifting up the standards.”
County players have been thrilled to play alongside the Sunrisers as it gives them something to aspire to.
“Girls have been like, ‘Oh my God, we get to play against girls who are in the Sunrisers senior squad,’ and they see the standard and how [they] need to compete.”
Echoing the need ‘to see it to believe it’, Castle speaks passionately about the variety of role models the team has created. Whether you aspire to play at the regional level like Castle or for England like Mady Villiers, young girls are looking up to the Sunrisers.
“I'd like to think we're collective role models and we're all there for each other,” she said. “Everyone has their own story and so we're all different role models for different reasons.”
Drawing on words from a Sky interview with Lisa Keightley, Castle reiterated that the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy has catapulted people from across the board into playing for England.
“From young girls like Grace Scrivens who's knocking on England’s door all the way up to Cordelia Griffith and Naomi Dattani who’ve been involved [at the England level],” she said.
The breadth and depth of the pool of available players is increasing and performances are more visible meaning greater opportunities for England selection.
“It's given opportunities to everyone,” Castle said. “Irrespective of how old you are or where you are in your life, there's always an opportunity to keep moving up that level. If you perform, then that's what's going to get you forward.”
With all of this under the Sunrisers’ belt, Castle believes they have never been in a better position to win games at the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy.
“Now it’s just learning how to put our foot down and be really ruthless.”