By Ben Fleming
After a year of restrictions, rules, and regulations, Durham sport is back in all its glory. Durham cricketers, in particular, who saw their entirety of last season cancelled with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, have been waiting longer than most.
And whilst the sight of mistimed shots, long hops, and questionable fielding down at the racecourse will be welcomed
back with great anticipation, the high fives, post-game pints, and wider cricketing camaraderie has been sorely missed in equal measure.
Reflecting on this welcome return over the last week, DUWCC’s (Durham University Women’s Cricket Club) club captains, Anna Perkins and Antonia Welch, are full of optimism.
“It’s great to be back in the sun. This has been one of the first years where there has been such a sense of community between the men’s and women’s teams and it’s great to see.”
Anna and Antonia speak to Palatinate a few days after their opening round of fixtures, which saw comprehensive victories for both the first and second teams against Leeds and Hull respectively.
“It was great to have two wins on Wednesday and see cohesion between players who hadn’t really known each other before,” they said. “There were standout performances from both skippers Helen Fenby and Indy Wood, supported by our freshers, so it is good to see that and their leadership roles working.”
With such a positive start and the summer months ahead, it would be easy to forget how tumultuous the last 12 months have been for the club as a whole, as Perkins and Welch explain.
“We lost a lot of players at the end of last year. Combine that with financial cutbacks including to the fresher scholarship funds, and we expected this year to be particularly tough.”
Yet, like most of Durham’s sporting outfits, DUWCC have risen to the occasion in this elongated and ever-frustrating off season. At the start of the first lockdown, the entirety of the club took part in the University Ashes Running Challenge alongside 11 other UK university cricket teams and raised over £6,000.
Internally, the club has also looked to make progress. Before the return to the grass, the club held a joint meeting, with both male and female members, to discuss sexual harassment and assault within universities; sharing experiences and striving to make a tangible and long-term improvement to the culture within the entire club.
With the focus of the club now firmly on on-field matters, the first few weeks could hardly have gone better, with the club now boasting enough members to launch a new third-team squad, much to the delight of Anna and Antonia.
“We’ve had probably the largest intake ever across squads ranging from complete beginners up to national standard. With the huge influx of cricket freshers, it just made sense to expand to a third team to make sure everyone could experience as much cricket as possible and ensure the club could keep growing.”
For one of those players, Abi Curran, a second-year English student, it’s a welcome return to a sport that she started playing aged eight but stopped at 15.
“I can’t think of any other unis who have three women’s cricket teams, it says a lot about the importance of sport here at Durham. It’s exciting that more girls are playing cricket having grown up, like so many others, being the only girl at the crease.”
“DUWCC has been a great way for me to get back into hardball cricket at a competitive level. The support from our captains and coach has been amazing and it’s been so much fun to start playing again and gelling as a team.”
It is not simply the depth, but also the quality of cricketers present within the DUWCC squad that stands out. First team captain Helen Fenby, for example, has been selected to play for the Northern Superchargers in this summer’s inaugural season of The Hundred.
“Fenners is a great character that’s for sure,” Welch exclaims. “Having such a high-class player definitely encourages everyone to play their best when she’s around and provides an aspirational figure for some of our players who are aiming to go professional.”
With such a deep roster of cricketers at their disposal, it is no wonder DUWCC have set their sights high for the season.
“We hope the first team will finally go all the way and win the BUCS Premiership and be national champions. It would be great if the 2’s could win their league.”
As for right now, those are but dreams. But the foundations are in place, on and off the pitch, for a successful season in the sun for Durham’s female cricketers. The last words of my interview with the club captains reflect this most poignantly.
“You’re always welcome at DUWCC.”