If you’re looking to find Nottingham’s newest sporting franchise, you won’t have to look too far.
In fact, their new home is right in the heart of the city’s sporting corridor.
Trent Bridge is the central hub of The Blaze, the newly restructured women’s cricket team who are aiming to leave a big impression during the upcoming 2023 season.
Training at the Test match ground alongside players from the Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club men’s side has been a real coup, as Blaze assistant head coach, Jon Bateson revealed.
“It’s amazing. It’s great to walk through Test match [ground] gates on a daily basis, both from a personal point of view, and a professional point of view.
“You can see the change with the girls as well, that a lot of them have stemmed from Loughborough University and they’ve extended from a performance-based programme as a student.
“And I think that the shift they’ve made has been a testament to the facilities and the ground that they’re walking through as well. You can definitely see that it is such a positive move and positive environment.
Previously known as the Lightning, and before that the Loughborough Lightning, the squad have consistently combined the talents of all East Midlands counties but now have taken their ambitions up a level.
News of The Blaze rebrand was released in October 2022, following seven seasons when the Lightning played at Loughborough University’s Haslegrove Ground.
The Lightning had an underwhelming 2022, with the side finishing bottom of the 20-over Charlotte Edwards Cup standings and sixth out of eight teams in the 50-over Rachel Heyhoe Flint Trophy.
“I think everyone would agree we didn’t sort of do ourselves justice last year. I think that’s made the girls hungry for success this summer,” said Bateson.
“We’ve got a really strong team. We’ve made a couple of good signings, which I think will be released soon. And I think we can sort of walk on the pitch and in in April with a really strong team.”
The Blaze will play two matches at Trent Bridge during the 2023 season, as well as three fixtures at Notts CCC Women’s regular home, The John Fretwell Centre at Sookholme.
In between these, they will also crisscross the Midlands with a game apiece at Grace Race (Leicester), the Incora County Ground (Derby) and Chesterfield, as well as a final fixture back at Loughborough University.
With the opening game of the 2023 season taking place at Trent Bridge on April 22, the stage could not be bigger for the rebranding.
“It’s going to be great to be able to play with Trent Bridge as our home ground, and hopefully we’ll get a [big] crowd in,” said all-rounder Michael Kirk.
“At the moment, we’re more focused on doing our things for the winter and preparing as much as we can for the summer, but it will be really great to start off the campaign at Trent Bridge.”
Kirk, who hails from South Africa and joined Lightning in 2021, has just returned from a 18-month spell on the sidelines after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury in her first summer in England.
“It was very hard to not do anything after I got told I wasn’t allowed to train for four months.
“In the beginning, I was only allowed to do rehab. And then only certain things [like] under arm [bowling], and then only started running like ten months, 11 months into rehab, which was a bit of a weird thing to me because I like to do something. So that was the hard part of it, being told not to do what you love to do.”
Kirk is not the only one with big comeback ambitions this season, as the whole squad seek to return much stronger as the Blaze.
Fast bowler Sophie Munro said: “I think the move has been positive [and] a lot more professional being able to train during the day rather than filling in at nights at Loughborough.
“I think it’s just nice to be around [the men’s side] and integrate men’s and women’s cricket, like the Hundred managed to do as well.
“Hopefully, if we can get the regional setup to look something like that, then I think it’d be a great move for the women’s game.”
21-year-old Munro has been involved in the Hundred for the London Spirit in 2021 and the Rockets in 2022, and is looking to kick on again this season with participation in several competitions.
She spoke highly of her teammates, even highlighting a couple of players for Nottingham fans to keep tabs on this season.
“I think we’ve got quite a few standout personalities. Beth Harmer and Grace [Ballinger] are definitely a few loud ones,” Munro said.
In terms of dressing room disc jockeys, the leading candidates are also clear.
“It’s a mixture, either Lucy [Higham] if we want a chill vibe or Grace if we want drum and bass, and then I don’t know who does the pop and the R&B vibes, [but] it’s a nice mixture,” she added.
Amidst that brilliant mix of characters, there are some players for whom Trent Bridge brings very unique highlights.
This was definitely the case for opening batter Marie Kelly.
“Am I allowed to say the free lunches?”, said Kelly.
“The chef’s been great. We have like a communal area with the men’s team, so we kind of sit and chat with the coaches and the players and just get to know each other.
“And then obviously, the free food. Lunch cooked for us every day is pretty awesome.”
With such a dizzying mix of world-class gym facilities, coaches and food at the second oldest Test ground in the world, The Blaze are set for a thrilling 2023 season.
Asked about their goals, the squad all mentioned silverware and particular personal landmarks.
Munro said: “In terms of me, technically, to bulk out a bit, that would be ideal. And then just to put in some good performances for the team.”
“Me? Gosh, I don’t know numbers-wise, it’s more about the contribution for me,” said Kelly.
“I think the focus should be more on, ‘how can we best win this game?’ And if I can contribute to as many of those outcomes as possible, that’s what I’m looking to do,” she added.
“Just enjoy myself, have fun [and] hopefully have some winning innings,” said Kirk.
Finally, we asked for a player to expect the greatest improvement from this season.
“I think Grace Ballinger has put on a yard pace this winter already,” Kelly said.
“She was rushing me in the nets the other week, so that’ll be exciting. I know there’s been big work for her increasing the pace, and she bowled really well last year.
“With more 50 over cricket, I think she could be an exciting one. She’s a dangerous swing bowler as well, so hopefully with both swing and pace, she’ll be quite attacking for us.”
The Blaze’s full fixture list is available on: https://www.trentbridge.co.uk/cricket/first-xi-fixtures.html, while more details about the squad and set-up can be found at: https://www.trentbridge.co.uk/blaze/index.html.