“Silverware. We’d love two, but we’d take any,” says South East Stars captain Bryony Smith, about her team’s ambitions for the upcoming season.
2022 was a season full of promise and learning as the newly appointed skipper’s young side played impressive cricket, reaching the semi-finals of the Charlotte Edwards Cup and Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, although stumbling at the penultimate hurdle on both occasions. Nonetheless, Smith is proud of how the whole squad reacted, “the hurt that we felt has driven us to be better” she reflects. Heading into the 2023 season, the 25-year-old holds “high hopes and every confidence” that the Stars will shine when they take the field.
Towards the end of 2022, the ECB announced a £3.5m injection into women’s domestic cricket which saw a significant increase in the number of professionally-contracted players and supporting staff across regions. With 11 full-time professionals assisted by a widened coaching squad, Smith and her Stars have more than many reasons to be optimistic for the future.
Not in the least is how these changes have strengthened the team bonding and banded the squad together. “[The contracts have] made a massive difference off the pitch as well,” shares Smith. “Having 10-11 of us, most days here together, has been really beneficial… Just spending time with each other a bit more and getting to know each other on and off the pitch is only going to help us when we’re all together as a squad.”
Gearing up for the season, what has also been “fantastic” for the squad are the inputs added by the new sports psychologist, Louise Byrne, alongside having a bolstered team of physios, technical coaches, and strength and conditioning coaches. Smith feels that having a larger squad is “only going to benefit us more” as it grants the players more contact time with the coaches while at the same time allowing the staff to maximise the squad’s potential.
Over the off-season, the team have been working on making improvements in their game. “We put a lot of time in against spin with our batting,” says Smith. “We felt like that was a big area we needed to improve in, especially in 50 overs, in that middle-overs period… We’ve put a big shift in physically in the gym and out on the grass running as well.”
With the curtain-raiser against Thunder just around the corner and on the back of a productive pre-season, the Stars are all set for a big summer of cricket. Following in the footsteps of The Hundred, this season the regional sides will be featuring in double-header fixtures in front of bigger crowds for the first time, including at The Kia Oval. “We’re buzzing,” tells Smith. “We’ve been speaking about [playing in the double headers] a lot actually… for a lot of them, it will be their first time to be playing at the Oval. It’s going to be big and hopefully we can put on a show.”
On a personal note, Smith is laser-focused on spearheading the Stars. “[C]ontributing with the bat and the ball” is at the top of her list. If England come calling, the 25-year-old says that she’ll “take it with both hands” but she doesn’t want to get too ahead of herself.