Lauren Smith primed for big WNCL summer after making headlines in England – ABC News

Lauren Smith primed for big WNCL summer after making headlines in England
Next week, Lauren Smith will take the field for her first domestic match of the Australian summer after making headlines during the off-season in England.
The NSW Breakers and Sydney Thunder all-rounder has recently returned from a four-month stint in the UK, where she's been hunting game time right around the country thanks to her long list of contacts and the British passport she inherited from her father.
Smith had experienced one of the leanest campaigns she's had in her young career across the 2021-22 season, for a range of reasons – another La Nina summer, a busted hand and a bout of COVID – that made it hard to build form.
Her two teams also had seasons they'd like to forget, considering the Breakers missed the Women's National Cricket League (WNCL) final for a second straight year and the Thunder were unable to defend their Women's Big Bash (WBBL) title and ended up finishing seventh.
The rough patch of form was all the motivation the 25-year-old needed to jump on plane, skip winter and chase more opportunity in the northern hemisphere.
It was the second time Smith has headed to England with the goal to challenge herself, having made a similar trip six years ago to play county cricket for Lancashire while she was still a teenager.
This time, as a full-time professional and three-time WBBL champion, Smith was hot property and found herself fielding requests to play cricket left, right and centre; linking up with five different teams.
"I pretty much flew in and played the Saturday morning just a few days later," Smith told the ABC.
"Their days run longer in summer with the light, so you can almost play every day of the week there if you're up for it.
"I knew I was signing myself up to play a lot and there ended up being moments where I was like 'okay, I need at least two days off,' but it was good to find more game time and test myself against the men – that's not something I've ever really done before."
The main drawcard that had originally enticed Smith over was an offer from Woolpit CC to join their men's first XI side, as the club's first female overseas player in the Two Counties Cricket Championship.
From there, Smith took on a secondary role playing and coaching the Woolpit ladies first XI in the East Anglican Premier Cricket League.
"Playing against men is very different, you have different rules and different oval sizes," she said.
"They hit the ball a little bit harder and further, so I wasn't used to that … Even just facing their bowling with the extra height, nice and fast at around 130 clicks was a big change, so I think that's helped me evolve."
Across the two teams, Smith took 33 wickets and made 441 runs in her 18 appearances for Woolpit.
The runs were harder to come by in the men's game, but she still managed to score a half century and snare 17 wickets with best figures of 3/30.
Meanwhile, in the women's, Smith averaged 57.33 runs, scored another fifty and also passed the hundred mark on one occasion to reach 144. With the ball, she took a further 16 wickets, claiming 4/11 on her best outing.
At the next level up, Smith featured for Suffolk in the Women's County Championship, leading them to victory over Essex in the T20 Group 4 Final with a five-wicket haul and a hat-trick in the last over of the innings (5/9 from 4 overs, 1 maiden, 2.25 economy rate).
Then she appeared twice for the South East Stars in the ECB's equivalent of the WNCL – the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy – where her best performance came against some of her old Lancashire teammates at the North West Thunder.
Batting seventh, Smith changed the game when she produced an unbelievable knock of 73 not out to forge a 76-run 10th wicket partnership with Danielle Gregory (12 runs) and save the team from a serious batting collapse.
Smith later backed it up with the ball to take 2/20 and seal a 52-run victory with the final wicket of the game.
All of this led to a short training partnership with the London Spirit in The Hundred, where her Thunder coach Trevor Griffin is also at the helm, and although Smith only got to play a handful of practice matches with the team, she did get to tick off a bucket-list item training at Lords.
Catching up with key contacts like Southern Brave coach Charlotte Edwards was another highlight, considering Smith has voiced her desire to play in The Hundred. Edwards is also due in Australia next month to coach the Sixers in the WBBL.
"It was good to build that connection again, because you never know what will happen in the years to come and I'd really love to play in The Hundred … Having a British passport, hopefully that makes it easier for me to just slot into a team eventually."
With plenty of cricket left to play in her career, Smith is still harbouring dreams that she may one day play for Australia and hopes the extra effort she's made in the off-season will bring her a step closer to the breakout season needed to catch the national selectors' attention.
This time next week, she'll be suited up in blue, as the Breakers take the field at North Sydney Oval for their first match of the 2022-23 summer.
In its 27th instalment, the WNCL is set to hold its biggest season yet, expanding to 43 matches and seeing all seven teams play each other twice for the first time since 2009-10.
NSW have been the most dominant team throughout history, reaching 24 consecutive finals and winning 20 titles but have struggled to have the same impact over the last two seasons due to a lack of experience.
They've just taken another hit in that department this week, after Australian vice-captain Rachael Haynes announced her retirement from the 50-over game, but Smith is still hoping this season will be different.
"What I've seen since I've come back is that the group have had a really great pre-season, so hopefully we can make it back into the final and bring the Ruth Preddy Cup back where it belongs."
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