Katya Witney speaks to the key protagonists behind the Southern Vipers machine, as English cricket’s most dominant side attempts to win their third Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy in succession.
Against the backdrop of The County Ground in Northampton, bathed in sun, Southern Vipers captain Georgia Adams lifted the Charlotte Edwards Cup high over her head as her teammates celebrated around her. The triumphant smiles on the boundary edge at Northampton marked the culmination of a dominant campaign which had seen the Southampton-based team sweep aside every opposition they faced.
In the three weeks that have passed since their victory, the Vipers have been gearing up for the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, aiming for a third title in succession in the competition. Of the four domestic tournaments which have been held since the implementation of the new regional structure in 2020, the Vipers have won three of them, and narrowly missed out on a place in the final of the other, the 2021 Charlotte Edwards Cup. It’s a run which arguably makes them English cricket’s most dominant domestic side right now, and one they are desperate to continue.
It’s not just the bulging Ageas Bowl trophy cabinet that stands out. Every time the Vipers stepped out onto the field in the Charlotte Edwards Cup, they carried an aura that not only that they would win, they would overcome the opposition with relative ease. Most of the time, they were right. The vast gap between themselves and the chasing pack of regional hubs is the result not just of skill, but of culture.
“I think there’s a lot of different reasons why we’ve seen the success that we have,” Vipers’ captain Georgia Adams tells Wisden.com. “We’ve created a winning culture and sometimes culture can’t be copied or taught. We want to win games of cricket and we’re very passionate about the Southern Vipers. We buy into that brand.”
A vital factor in crafting this mentality is head coach Charlotte Edwards. Since ending her playing career at the Vipers in 2017, Edwards served as director of women’s cricket at Hampshire before side-stepping into her current role, and she has been a chief architect of the Vipers’ dominance. “We want to win, and I think that’s the kind of culture we’ve created down at the Vipers,” she said in May, speaking to the media after her team had clinched the cup that bears her name. “We don’t want to be in second place.”
While Edwards understandably didn’t reference the role she herself plays in driving that mindset through the team, it’s something her players are keen to stress.
“She’s a fantastic leader and she pushes our limits,” says England and Vipers batter Danni Wyatt. “Our sessions are really tough, and she gets us out of our comfort zones. But she adds an element of fun to training which is what we need as well.”
Her thoughts are echoed by Adams: “I think what Lottie drives at the top is key. She’s just so honest, not brutal with it but everybody knows where they stand. There’s no grey area for any of us. I’ve learnt so much in the last few years from her from a leadership and a captaincy point of view and she’s a brilliant people person. She gets the best out of everyone in the group.
“I’ve always said she’s psychic and I do think she’s got a cricketing sixth sense. She’s just so passionate about the game and she’s got such a depth of knowledge of tactical awareness and strategies inside out.”
The creation of this uncompromising attitude was a conscious one, established after decision by the Vipers’ leadership team. “We came together as a group to establish what our non-negotiables were going to be,” says Adam Carty, regional director of women’s cricket at the Ageas Bowl. “We agreed what winning measures were required for us to be successful culturally, characteristically and personally. We’ve got a really strong team here and I’m very proud of that group.”
Of course, psychology and temperament can only get a team so far without the talent to back it up, and another tenet of the Vipers’ success has been facilitating the pathways for a constant stream of talent flowing into their squad, and then ensuring those players achieve their full potential when established.
“We integrate our academy with our seniors frequently to ensure that the academy can feed off what we’re doing as a senior team,” says Carty. “When their time comes to make the step up, they’re far better equipped for that the transition. That ties in with our second XI programme. We see that programme as essential for players making the transition from academy or fringe player to frontline senior player and that’s been a very successful initiative this summer.”
This intensive development programme has given the Vipers a depth in quality that no other regional hub enjoys. It has also created an atmosphere where players are constantly driving themselves forward to win selection. “You can’t take it easy as a player,” says Wyatt. “You have to be on your best form for every match and turn up and focus on your skills, focus on the now and the job ahead. We’ve got Emily Windsor and Alice Monaghan who have performed well for us in the past, they can’t get into our side and they’d walk into every other team.”
The competition for places was something Edwards mentioned as a decisive factor in the Charlotte Edwards Cup victory. “I’ve had some really tough selections over the last few weeks and I think that means so much for us today,” she said after the final. “We just keep producing players that will go on and play for the Vipers and for England, which is again another part of our job.”
Developing England players is the other criteria by which a successful team is judged, and the Vipers stand out here as well. Six of the 15 players selected in the England A squad to take on South Africa were Vipers players, alongside Lauren Bell and Charlie Dean winning selection for the full England squad. The fine balance between youth and experience in the set-up has allowed players like Wyatt to develop their skills alongside their already established England careers, and the benefit of having international players in the squad has funnelled the younger Vipers players into the England set-up.
“Lottie always talks about producing England players,” says Adams. “We’re quite passionate about making sure that we do that and it’s a huge part of what we want to achieve here at the Vipers.
“We’re so pleased to see the girls like Lauren Bell, Charlie Dean and Maia Bouchier, who have come through the Academy system over the last few years, break into the England side and thrive alongside obviously, our senior players who are already in.”
As the Vipers begin their Rachel Heyhoe Flint campaign at the weekend, there will be an expectation from many that they will win. Certainly, with the atmosphere the staff have created around the squad, they will expect themselves to win as well. It is hard to see a rival to the machine that has been established at the Ageas Bowl amongst the other regional systems at this moment in time. But if the Vipers are the standard by which all regional centres should be aspiring to, it bodes well for the advancement of women’s domestic cricket in England. Southern Vipers are the level. It’s down to the other teams to catch up.