Southern Vipers were the inaugural winners of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy

Champions Southern Vipers face Loughborough Lightning in Southampton on Saturday as the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy returns for its second season.

The eight-team, 50-over competition is named in honour of former England captain and pioneer of women’s cricket Baroness Heyhoe Flint, who died in 2017.

Central Sparks, South East Stars, Northern Diamonds, Western Storm, Sunrisers and Thunder are the other teams.

A new T20 tournament featuring the eight sides begins on 26 June, with a total of 56 matches across the two formats.

What is it and how does it work?

Southern Vipers beat Northern Diamonds in the inaugural Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy final at Edgbaston last September.

The competition was introduced after the coronavirus pandemic saw the original 2020 domestic schedule postponed until August.

A total of 41 players signed full-time professional domestic contracts for this summer in addition to the 17 centrally contracted England players.

Teams will play each other once during the league stage, with the side who top the regular-season table advancing direct to the final on 25 September.

The second and third-placed teams will contest a playoff on 22 September, with the winner progressing to the final.

The new regional T20 competition will be split into two groups of four, with a finals days taking place on 5 September.

Will Sparks fly? Or Lightning strike?

Sarah Bryce was Loughborough Lightening’s top run-scorer in last year’s competition

Last year’s tournament was split into two groups, with Central Sparks finishing second in the North Group and missing out on a place in the final.

Sparks will be hoping for more big contributions from batter Eve Jones who scored 334 runs at an average of 55.7 last year, with the reliable Marie Kelly also bolstering the batting line-up.

Spin could be key for Sparks, who have leg-spinner Anisha Patel – who took eight wickets in 2021 – and exciting off-spinner Georgia Davis, who is also a handy lower-order batter.

The Bryce sisters shone for Loughborough Lightning last year, with captain Kathryn taking 14 wickets and younger sibling Sarah scoring 395 runs at an average of 79.

Lightning will also have England opener Tammy Beaumont available for the first three matches, while spinner Kirstie Gordon is likely to feature throughout the competition.

Diamonds’ England internationals & Hartley leads Thunder

North West Thunder captain Alex Hartley took 11 wickets at an average of 15.45 last year

With a star-studded team which includes England internationals Katherine Brunt, Nat Sciver and Lauren Winfield-Hill, Northern Diamonds should have a good run in this year’s competition.

Skipper Hollie Armitage will lead Diamonds’ charge, with gifted 21-year-old Dutch batter Sterre Kalis – nominated for ICC’s Women’s Associate Cricketer of the Decade – a player to keep your eye on.

Veteran England all-rounder Jenny Gunn will also bring a great deal of experience to the side.

North West Thunder will be captained by spinner Alex Hartley, who was their leading wicket-taker last year with 11 dismissals.

Hartley presents the ‘No Balls’ podcast, which will be available on BBC Sounds this summer, and will be joined by co-host, England seamer Kate Cross, in the Thunder squad.

They also have the world’s number-one ranked T20 spinner in Sophie Ecclestone available for the start of the competition and 22-year-old wicket-keeper Ellie Threlkeld who, according to England great Sarah Taylor, has “phenomenal hands – she’s one of the best in the country”.

Teenage Stars & Vipers look to dominate again

Skipper Georgia Adams scored 80 as Southern Vipers beat Northern Diamonds by 38 runs in last year’s final

At just 16, the future looks bright for South East Stars batter Alice Capsey who was the side’s top run-scorer in 2020 with 141 runs at an average of 28.20.

A potential England call-up for batter Sophie Dunkley could hinder Stars’ chances this year but may provide an opportunity for 18-year-old Chloe Brewer, who scored 119 in two innings last season, to take on a bigger role.

Southern Vipers dominated last season, winning each of their seven games pretty convincingly.

They will be hoping for more of the same from captain Georgia Adams who was in astonishing form with the bat, scoring 500 runs at 83.33 to finish as the tournament’s top scorer.

Vipers, coached by former England captain Charlotte Edwards, also have highly promising bowler Lauren Ball at their disposal.

The 20-year-old seamer, known for her pinpoint yorkers, may only be available for a short period if she receives her first England call-up this summer.

But 16-year-old seamer Freya Kemp and spinner Finty Trussler, 17, have the potential to play a significant role for Vipers this season.

Only way is up for Sunrisers & will Storm blow us away?

England captain Heather Knight plaeyd two games for Western Storm last year, scoring 158 runs and taking two wickets at an economy rate of just 3.60

In contrast to Vipers’ unbeaten 2020 season, it was a year to forget for Sunrisers who lost all six of their matches.

But they did show signs of improvement throughout the competition and are coached by Trevor Griffin, who led Sydney Thunder to victory in the Women’s Big Bash League in the winter.

Sunrisers will be captained by wicket-keeper Amara Carr, while big-hitting batter Grace Scrivens has been in promising form for Kent this season.

You cannot discount any side which features England captain Heather Knight and, after finishing second in the South Group last year, Western Storm could be contenders this season.

England World Cup winner Anya Shrubsole only played once for the side in 2021 but could develop a formidable bowling partnership with fellow seamer Danielle Gibson.

Captain Sophie Luff hit 339 runs at an average of 67.80 last year while all-rounder Alex Griffiths’ knack of scoring runs and taking wickets could be important.

Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy fixtures

May

29: Northern Diamonds v Central Sparks (Headingley), Western Storm v Thunder (Bristol), Sunrisers v South East Stars (Chelmsford), Southern Vipers v Lightning (Southampton)

31: Lightning v Northern Diamonds (Kibworth), Central Sparks v Western Storm (Edgbaston), South East Stars v Southern Vipers (Beckenham), Thunder v Sunrisers (Chester)

June

5: South East Stars v Western Storm (The Oval), Sunrisers v Northern Diamonds (Cambridge), Southern Vipers v Central Sparks (Hove)

6: Thunder v Lightning (Chester)

12: Northern Diamonds v South East Stars (Headingley), Lightning v Sunrisers (Loughborough), Central Sparks v Thunder (Worcester), Western Storm v Southern Vipers (Taunton)

September

10: Northern Diamonds v Western Storm (Riverside), South East Stars v Lightning (Beckenham), Sunrisers v Central Sparks (Northwood), Thunder v Southern Vipers (Sale)

12: Northern Diamonds v Thunder (Riverside), Central Sparks v South East Stars (Worcester), Western Storm v Lightning (Bristol), Sunrisers v Southern Vipers (Chelmsford)

18: Lightning v Central Sparks (TBC), South East Stars v Thunder (Beckenham), Western Storm v Sunrisers (Bristol), Southern Vipers v Northern Diamonds (Southampton)

22: Play-off – 2nd v 3rd (TBC)

25: Final – 1st v Winner play-off (TBC)

Regional T20 fixtures

June

26: Lightning v South East Stars (Trent Bridge), Central Sparks v Southern Vipers (Edgbaston, d/n), Northern Diamonds v Thunder (Headingley), Western Storm v Sunrisers (Taunton)

July

2: Sunrisers v Northern Diamonds (Chelmsford, d/n)

3: South East Stars v Central Sparks (Canterbury), Southern Vipers v Lightning (Arundel),

4: Thunder v Western Storm (Chester)

9: Thunder v Sunrisers (Old Trafford)

10: Lightning v Central Sparks (Leicester), South East Stars v Southern Vipers (Beckenham), Western Storm v Northern Diamonds (Taunton)

August

25: South East Stars v Lightning (Guildford), Southern Vipers v Central Sparks (Hove), Northern Diamonds v Sunrisers (Gosforth), Western Storm v Northern Diamonds (Cardiff)

28: Central Sparks v Lightning (Worcester), Southern Vipers v South East Stars (Southampton), Northern Diamonds v Western Storm (Riverside), Sunrisers v Thunder (Northampton)

30: Lightning v Southern Vipers (Derby), Central Sparks v South East Stars (Worcester), Sunrisers v Western Storm (Cambridge), Thunder v Northern Diamonds (Chester)

September

5: Finals Day (TBC)