Grace Hall’s path to representing the Northern Diamonds Academy began with a chance encounter at school.
It speaks to how cricket can captivate us at an early age if we get the chance.
Grace’s story, just like Mollie Ovenden, is of a young woman whose appetite for the game and seeking out opportunities has propelled her to wear the White Rose.
Cricket wasn’t even a consideration – until someone lit that spark, as Grace picks up the story: ‘At 10, I was obsessed with dance, gymnastics, and football, then Joe Ashdown from Chance to Shine came into school which started my cricket journey. Ten years later, I am now part of the Northern Diamonds Academy squad.’
Joe is a Level 3 Performance Cricket Coach & ECB Coach Educator based in the East Midlands who used to work for the Yorkshire Cricket Board.
We all need role models or someone with that passion for cricket to show us why it’s so special. At school, I had a coach called Andrew Kennedy, once of Lancashire, who was patient and supportive with a dry sense of humour.
My dismal attempts to tentatively invent myself as a left-arm off-spinner were nurtured, despite the fact that I was a bit rubbish.
Without realising it, we all find ourselves at forks in the road.
Without Joe, perhaps Grace would now be a leading footballer or gymnast instead – but cricket can still be a fragile obsession in our teens.
You don’t need me to trot out a statistic on the drop-off in cricket between 15 and 18 – but Grace bucked the trend and cemented that interest.
I’ve interviewed lots of cricketers down the years and whoever they are and whatever standard they reach, parents, family or friends usually figure prominently.
Parents taking their kids to nets, training, practice, driving all over Yorkshire and other counties, clocking up countless miles in the car as any chance to play anywhere is eagerly seized.
With Grace, she was magnetically drawn to cricket and clearly had a talent for it. Her Dad Andy was nudged into taking her to cricket sessions with Joe in York.
Suddenly, she was training with North Yorkshire Girls, trialled for Yorkshire U13s the same year and got a place in the U13s development team.
She reckoned: ‘It all happened very quickly and to play for my county age group, I needed more game experience. The only way to do that was to play boys’ cricket, so I joined Acomb U13s. After three games for the Yorkshire development team and weekly boys’ fixtures, I was moved into the Yorkshire U13 performance squad.’
One thing that struck me about Grace is that playing boys’ cricket was the only option to progress. Gradually, that void is being filled.
There’s now girls’ cricket at county age groups and many more teams at clubs and in leagues, indoors and outdoors, across Yorkshire.
Again, like Mollie who captained Raskelf 2nd XI in the Nidderdale Cricket League in her teens, Grace was propelled into men’s cricket at an early age.
5 x Halls, 2 x Rippons, a brother in law and nephew scorer, last saturday for Osbaldwick CC – local cricket as it was meant to be 👍😉 pic.twitter.com/zQzCVZZRo2— AndyHall (@andrewhal484848) June 20, 2019
Men’s cricket with Osbaldwick
‘That year, I played my first game of men’s cricket for Osbaldwick’s second team. Playing men’s cricket at 13 was intimidating and I didn’t always enjoy it! But I was encouraged by my dad and the team and played until I was 16.’
Andy told me: ‘She came upon some prejudices and comments from opposition, but always answered back with her performances, bowling at the start and often at the end of innings. One proud moment was walking off the field together at Woodhouse Grange after knocking off the final runs together.’
I asked Andy when he thought that Grace had the potential to go far with her cricket?
‘I knew when she wanted to go every week to a Pro Coach adult session as the only girl and aged 15 that she was serious about improving.’
He credits a mentor in the next phase of Grace’s development: ‘It was there she was coached by Courtney Winfield-Hill who really believed in her and gave her more confidence to press on.’
You only have to scoot around the ECB’s Play-Cricket network to see that junior cricketers tend to play loads of games for multiple teams. School, rep matches, club, potentially county and it keeps coming.
Grace was no exception.
‘My friends from Yorkshire played for Sessay Women, I started to play with them in the U15s Lady Taverners competition, which we won (twice)!
Sessay was the closest women and girls club, and for extra games, I played U15s Boys at Clifton Alliance Cricket Club with my brother.’
That cricket thread running through the family sees youngest Joseph (16) as a wicketkeeper-batsman on the Boys County Age Group EPP programme.
As for his sister, you’d have thought that the trajectory as a player towards higher profile teams and ultimately perhaps professional cricket with Northern Diamonds would be hard enough to juggle.
But there was also the pull of cricket coaching.
Coaching: Getting others into cricket
As Grace told me, her own coaches were a major source of motivation, not least her Dad: ‘I think I was inspired by my first coaches in the Yorkshire system and Chance to Shine.
‘It made me think about how I could make a difference in either getting someone into cricket or trying to push them from club to playing for their county. I was also inspired by how my dad was coaching at the club. It wasn’t his job but he did it because he loved it.’
Grace began helping with the U11s and All Stars at Osbaldwick Cricket Club. That led to other openings, including being Lead Coach for York MCC Hub Girls and Clifton Park Cobras.
It’s not a stretch to see how Grace might be a role model herself given the MCC Foundation Hubs offer free all-girls cricket coaching for those at state schools who already play but want to take their game to the next level.
Clifton Park Cobras
Amid all of this, there was a critical breakthrough for women’s and girls’ cricket in York. For an area with such a glut of cricket, I was a little surprised there wasn’t provision already – but it has been a successful collaboration between York Cricket Club and Clifton Alliance Cricket Club, with support from the YCB.
ROUND-UP: Yorkshire Women & Girls Cricket League T20…— Cricket Yorkshire (@cricketyorks) August 2, 2022
🏆 @SaxtonCC 1st in Div One
💥 @erin_th0mas_ (Clifton Park Cobras) averaged 178 with the bat!
🏆 Yapham Cricket Club topped Div Two
💥 Eliza Goode (@ShefColWomensCC) lead batter with 186 runs pic.twitter.com/Jocoq9acx7
Grace said: ‘The Cobras (image below) is one of my proudest achievements, which I created in 2022 to give women and girls in York the chance to play in a female-led environment, rather than travelling out of York or boys and men’s cricket being the only options.’
Meanwhile, Grace’s own cricket has kicked on and she made her first-team debut for Yorkshire Women against Scotland in 2020, before catching the eye of the Northern Diamonds.
Based at Headingley, the Northern Diamonds are the professional domestic women’s team for the North East, featuring the best players from Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham.
For 2021 and 2022, Grace was selected for the Northern Diamonds Academy, led by Head Coach Courtney Winfield-Hill.
Last September, she was selected in the senior Northern Diamonds squad who won a thrilling two-run victory over Southern Vipers at Lords in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Final.
‘It was an experience I won’t forget, surrounded by some of the best and most inspirational players in women’s cricket. It’s amazing to think in a short time how far I have come.’
There’s no reason to think it stops there either. The former Yorkshire Cricket College student is now doing her Journalism & PR with Media degree at Sheffield Hallam University, albeit with bat and ball firmly front of mind.
She’s been training with the Northern Diamonds senior squad over winter and the goal now is to break into that team in 2023 or beyond, if the chance presents itself.
As I write this, my garden is carpeted with snow but cricket outdoors isn’t too far away. For Grace, that means a pre-season tour to Spain in March with the RHF Trophy champions off to Desert Springs in Almeria.
Whatever the next chapter holds, it’s already been an eventful few years with plenty more to look forward to.
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