By Andy Hirst
A Yorkshire cricket star from Huddersfield says girls and women are playing with far more confidence in the game now they have kit that actually fits.
Hollie Armitage captains the Northern Diamonds regional women’s cricket team which draws its players from Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham.
The 25-year-old professional cricketer from Golcar says for far too long girls have had to put up with hand-me-down cricket gear, ill-fitting pads and bats that were either too heavy or too long. In effect, they’ve been the Cinderellas of cricket using inappropriate hand-me-down gear.
But Hollie revealed there has been a quiet revolution going on in Yorkshire to change all that.
Viking Cricket (https://vikingcricket.co.uk/), based in Silsden near Keighley and owned by cricket coach Jeff Wilson, has been working quietly behind the scenes with top female cricketers to design the very best-fitting equipment for girls and women which they have now revealed as the Viking Valkyrie range.
Many top female players now rely on Viking gear, including Hollie who has three bats made specifically for her by Viking.
“It means it has just the right size, weight and weight distribution,” she explained. “I’ve pads, gloves and thigh pads too and the fine dimensions such as a few millimetres in the design stage can make all the difference.”
Hollie was brought up in Meltham and attended Meltham Moor Primary School, Honley High and Huddersfield New College before achieving a sport management degree at Loughborough University in Leicestershire.
She started her cricketing career at Meltham Cricket Club where her dad, John, was an opening bowler for many years.
Hollie said: “I was the only girl in the team and that carried on right until I was around 12 and was picked up by Yorkshire where I made my county debut in the under 13s.
“At that time there was no such thing as girls or women’s cricket gear, we just wore equipment for youths and got on with it.”
Hollie played for the England Academy when she was aged between 16 and 21 and played a couple of winters in Australia for the Women’s National Cricket League.
She said the fact Viking has led the way on women’s cricket has had a major impact on the confidence of girls and women.
“I was lucky in that I’m quite tall so could get away with bats and pads that were too big for most girls,” she said. “But now everything is designed for the female body shape and build it’s made a big difference. Many girls even struggled to run between the wickets because their pads were too heavy or ill-fitting.
“Just to look inside the gear and see the label Girls or Women is so important. The sport is growing at a phenomenal rate and it’s great to see a Yorkshire company at the forefront of that.”
Another top player who has seen huge improvements in women’s cricket gear over the last few years is England opening bat Emma Lamb who scored her first century in international cricket against South Africa in the summer.
She said: “When I began playing I used to get a lot of my brother’s hand-me-down kit and it just didn’t fit. There really was nothing available for girls and women and Viking Cricket has helped to change all that.
“The bats I used were so heavy and long they even left an indent in my arm every time I hit the ball. Women’s cricket has really lagged behind when it comes to equipment such as bats, pads and gloves that needed to be specifically designed for women.”
Viking owner Jeff Wilson revealed there is a real science behind making the perfect bat.
He said: “With professional female players we make the bats specific to each of them as every players’ needs are different and even playing in different competitions can require a slightly different bat. If you’re playing a short game like the hundred where it’s about hitting runs and boundaries your bat might be slightly different than your normal everyday bat. We would put more meat in the right area of the bat to allow for that sort of power hitting for a hundred bat.”
He added: “When it’s a player’s career at stake it’s important to give them the right equipment which they can trust. Let’s be honest, when you’re opening the batting for Yorkshire or England you want to have the best.”
Jeff said when he was designing other cricket equipment known as softs – such as gloves and pads – measuring was all-important.
“We measured a junior girls’ team and a women’s team so we could get an average of the sizes for the items,” he said. “We also made sure that in these pieces of equipment the tags are marked correctly to say it’s for women or girls. It’s little things like this that really make the difference.”
Jeff said the lack of proper cricketing gear in the past has held up the women’s game to a degree.
He added: “In the past female cricketers have just been given youths or men’s hand-me-downs which isn’t ideal at all because they don’t fit properly so you would find players’ struggling to bat properly or running in batting pads that were too big for them. All of this meant that female cricketers weren’t reaching their potential.”
Viking has worked closely with Jenny Gunn MBE who played for England for 15 years until 2019 to fine tune the designs for gloves and pads.
Jeff said: “Female cricketers tend to have smaller wrists so their gloves are smaller in the wristband and they also tend to have smaller calves than your average man so we adjusted these to make them fit better.”
Viking now works with the online Female Cricket Store set up by former England international Lydia Greenway to make this equipment as accessible as possible to all female cricketers.
Jeff added: “Both Lydia and I can’t believe how many parents still comment on social media saying they can’t get female gear. They can now. It’s moved on so much in recent years and providing the right equipment has been so important to help female cricketers improve their game. It’s something we’ll continue to develop.
“To have top professionals like Hollie, Emma and all the others wanting to work with us is an honour because they are trusting us to provide them with the best equipment available.”
* Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging and copywriting. Copyright Andy Hirst.