Victory celebrations were bittersweet amid the picturesque university backdrop of Cambridge on Monday (August 30), but Western Storm captain Sophie Luff is pleased with the direction her young team is heading as they build on the legacy of past successes. The five-run win allowed the west country side to avenge defeat to eastern rivals Sunrisers in the opening round of the Charlotte Edwards Cup. However, results elsewhere ruled out Storm’s qualification for finals day, despite finishing level on points at the top of their group.
Luff has been an integral part of Western Storm since its origins as one of six elite domestic teams competing in the Women’s Cricket Super League (WCSL). Established in 2016, the league was intended to create an exciting, fast-paced women’s competition and bridge the gap between county and international cricket. Storm became the most successful team in the four years of the competition, reaching all four finals days and winning two titles.
Amid a host of international stars skippered by Heather Knight, Luff stood out and found herself tipped for England honours. She played a key innings in the 2017 final during an unbeaten 57-run stand with Stafanie Taylor to see their side to victory.
Since then Storm, like the whole women’s game in England has undergone something of an evolution with the advent of a new regional setup and game-changing professional contracts. The side, now backed by Glamorgan County Cricket Club in south Wales as well as by its original backers Somerset and Gloucestershire gives the club an even broader geographical base.
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Talking to Women’s CricZone at close of play on Monday, Luff admitted that it can be easy to focus on the success of the team’s WCSL days, but says her sights are firmly fixed on the future.
“We're very much developing, and I think that's where maybe we get a little bit caught up in the success of the past,” she said.
“The KSL was a very different tournament, and we had a very different side. Sometimes I look around the group and I think, yeah, there aren’t many of us that had those successes back in the KSL. We’re a young group. Three of our contracted players are 19, 20, so it's asking a lot for them to perform, because they're still learning their games. But it's a great opportunity for them to get even better. And I guess it's just them being hungry to keep developing and keep putting up performances for Western Storm.”
Under the ECB’s new eight regional structure model, Storm boasts world-class training and coaching facilities all year round as well as a flourishing academy. Luff, who worked for the Somerset Cricket Board as the county’s women and girls performance head coach, is excited by the youngsters she sees coming through Western Storm’s development system.
“I've worked on the academy programme as a coach in the winter and it's great to see the talent that is coming through.”
“We obviously cover a very large region in the southwest and Wales, which has its challenges geographically, in terms of girls being able to access cricket at academy level, but I think we've done a really good job in terms of trying to keep that core group of academy girls getting a lot of cricket. We've seen players progress into the senior side from performances there.”
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Western Storm finished second in the group stages in last year’s inaugural 50-over Rachael Heyhoe-Flint Trophy but have claimed only one victory in the tournament so far this season. Despite the T20 heartache at Cambridge on Monday, Luff was able to take some positives from the team’s campaign.
“It’s bittersweet. I guess coming into this game knowing that it was a must-win, to put ourselves in the position where we could qualify from where we were at the start of the season is testament to the group and the girls. Obviously, very disappointed to get over the line but it not being good enough to get to finals day.”
“We lost to these guys
On a personal note Luff is revelling in her first full year as a fully professional cricketer.
“I’m fulfilling a childhood dream. All be it I haven't had the season that I'd have liked in terms of weight of runs. That's something I really pride myself on is leading from the front and at times, I've been guilty of not doing that this year.”
“But the girls have been brilliant, and hopefully we can finish the season at the back end really well. There's not much on it for us in the 50-over competition, but it's a chance for people to put their hands up for contracts if they do perform and hopefully it'll be a good finish to the season for us.”
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She can also reflect on captaining Welsh Fire in The Hundred on the biggest stage of her career.
“It was an unbelievable tournament,” she says. “Like to have the opportunity to skipper players like Sarah Taylor, to skipper overseas signings! It was a sort of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, one that I couldn’t turn down and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.”
“Like I said, I probably didn't put in the performances with the bat that I'd have liked to in that tournament either. But the experience that I've gained in terms of leadership and captaincy will hopefully hold me in good stead for the next couple of years.”