Levick: The whole game must get behind women's cricket evolution

Northern Diamonds leg-spinner Katie Levick believes the upcoming women's regional domestic season will be a celebration of the progress made during the competition ahead of next year's restructure.

The new cricket season always brings fresh hope and that is especially the case this summer.

With the imminent announcement of the restructure of the women’s domestic game, there is a strange sense of uncertainty and excitement about what comes next both on and off the field.

That is, in my view, a privilege not to be taken for granted.

The generations before us did not have the opportunities we are seeing now and for me, personally, I can remember a time not so long ago when I was playing county cricket with just my parents and a dog watching.

This will be the last season I pull on a Northern Diamonds shirt before the restructure. It will always be a shirt I hold dear to my heart because it is with the Diamonds that I was able to fulfil my lifelong ambition to be a professional cricketer.

It was one of the most significant decisions in my life. I was, at the age of 30, able to quit my nine-to-five job in marketing and focus on the sport I love.

I’ll admit I had a lot of conversations with my family over whether it was the right thing to do, and whether I should give up the security of my job. I took the leap of faith and within 12 months I was winning a major trophy at Lord’s. It has paid off!

In the two years since the growth of the women’s game has expanded at such a pace – with more and more professional contracts – that I would like to think that same decision for my fellow women’s players is now far easier to make.

There is undoubtedly still a lot more that cricket must do to grow the women’s game, and that is something I will continue to pursue in my role as a PCA representative.

But there is no doubt that young girls can now confidently view cricket as a professional career. It isn’t a punt any more – there’s hard evidence and structures to prove it. It is now our living and I never thought that would be the case in my lifetime.

I will never take that for granted, because the generations before us worked just as hard, probably harder, to forge the opportunities we have today.

Sometimes people say do you feel lucky, but that’s not how we should feel. You only have to look at what pioneers such as Rachael Heyhoe Flint did for women’s cricket to understand that today’s opportunities have been built on those sacrifices and passion for the game.

There has been no luck about that. It has been graft and perseverance and an iron-will to ensure young girls can fulfil their ambitions in cricket. And that’s just how it should be.

It’s now up to all of cricket to ensure that legacy lives on in the progress we make, and I genuinely feel like everyone in the game is committed to doing that. And I am really proud to be able to live that change as a player and representative.

It is in the little things you might not see at home that make all the difference.

Professional sport is about the one percenters - so if you’re training in the evening after you have been to work or university then you aren’t going to be able to give yourself the best opportunity to show what you can do.

At the Northern Diamonds, both Yorkshire and Durham who are part of our region, have prioritised us when it comes to facilities. We have the same facilities, support and schedules as Durham and Yorkshire men’s teams to allow us to get better as athletes.

You do need a base – you need to know where your life is going to be - and I think that is one of the issues perhaps the regional structure has struggled with. The new structure will give us that consistency and that will be welcomed.

Working in these environments we have been side-by-side with the men, not just in training, but the other parts of the game such as promoting cricket too.

In February, every women’s team had player representatives at the ECB’s Content Day for the first time. We filmed content that will be used on big screens and social media to showcase the sport. It’s about time!

It was eye-opening for me because as part of that we learned sign language that will be used on the big screens at matches this summer to promote anti-discrimination messaging. It was brilliant to do and a reminder of the value of being inclusive right across the whole of the cricket community.

Above all else it was a lot of fun and it felt normal. This is where the game is now.

It is not just about opportunity, we’ve moved forward again. It is now about taking the next steps being confident, promoting women’s cricket and showcasing our skills to a wider audience of fans.

It’s great to have more eyeballs on our game and to increase the audience through the regional competitions and The Hundred. People are appreciating women’s cricket and seeing the skill.

You have to be able to see it to appreciate it – that is probably true for anything in life. The more and more we do that the more it becomes the norm and we create more space for the game to expand and to reach more people to either watch or play cricket.

As someone who dreamed of playing cricket when I was a young girl it is crazy to think I might be helping to inspire other girls to share that same dream and know they can fulfil it.

It is really exciting to be a part of that and to see it happening before our eyes.

I feel like this summer will be a celebration of that and what the women’s regional structure has done to help us take those steps.

I’d love to win a trophy with Northern Diamonds. I can’t wait to play in the T20 double-headers alongside Durham and Yorkshire men and I really hope we can make Charlotte Edwards Cup Finals Day – when for the first time the format will mirror the men’s Vitality Blast Finals Day that has been so successful.

I can’t wait to see how the young players on professional contracts for the first time will develop and get better. I can’t wait to see that fans that come out to watch us play.

I still do pinch myself that I’m a professional cricketer. I get to throw myself into a sport I love and it all starts again on Saturday.