Single-minded Steph has eyes fixed on England honours

by Sam Blackledge

A talented young cricketer is hoping to take a giant step towards the ultimate dream of representing her country.

Steph Hutchins, who turns 18 later this week, has long been touted as an exciting prospect with bat and ball, having progressed through the youth section of Yelverton Bohemians.

Now the sports-mad teenager, who has played football for Plympton and Tavistock and is also a qualified referee, is hoping to be added to the Western Storm development squad.

Taking a break from studying for a double diploma in sport at Tavistock College, Stephanie tells The Herald her passion for cricket started early.

“In Year 5 we had a new head teacher,” she says.

“There was a Kwik Cricket competition and he entered a girls’ team and a boys’ team.

“My brother started playing at Yelverton, I watched him and thought ‘I really want to start playing’, so I joined the school team.

“One night at my brother’s training session the coach’s wife said ‘She should go for county trials, she’s got real potential.’

“The first time I played hard ball cricket was at the trials, and it went from there.”

Steph Hutchins (picture by John Allen for the Plymouth Herald)

Steph, who lives in Horrabridge, says the game came naturally to her at first but she was more interested in football.

She had junior trials with Devon at the age of 11 and immediately volunteered to keep wicket – an early sign of her go-getting approach to life.

“I really wanted to drive and be better, that’s how I’ve always been, whereas my brother was quite happy playing where he was,” she says.

At an age when most teenagers are pinning posters of pop stars to their bedroom walls and fretting over homework, Steph was busy setting herself targets.

“Back then it was to play in the age group squad,” she says.

“Then it was to play with (Devon captain) Jodie Dibble; then to play with Devon women in the full squad; and now it’s Western Storm, the England development programme and then England.”

Steph discovered she had a knack with the ball when she graduated to the Yelverton men’s team three years ago.

“I was in the nets with my brother doing a training session with James Carr at Tavistock,” she says.

“My brother was batting, I was bowling. James said: ‘You should bowl spin more often, you’re good at it’.

“He told his brother, who at the time was my county coach.

“Since then they’ve really worked hard on my bowling, making sure I had the right posture and everything, and it’s just become natural. I’m a bowler now.”

That was the moment everything started to click.

Her idol was Plympton’s Cait O’Keefe, who is just a year older but was part of the Western Storm side which made it to the final of this summer’s Kia Super League, and has also represented England Under-19s.

Steph Hutchins (picture by John Allen for the Plymouth Herald)

Steph’s journey has not been all plain sailing, however.

She fractured her left shoulder during her first year playing for Devon and is wary of injuring it again.

But it will take more than the odd niggle to stop what feels like an inevitable progression to the highest level.

She is awaiting news of the next England development programme – does she think about wearing the Three Lions on her cap one day?

“I’ve always had it in my mind,” she says.

“I went for trials in my first year of bowling but I just didn’t quite feel ready. I had probably only been bowling for a month or two.

“Now I feel more ready, I feel like a have a shot at getting in, I just need to keep developing and training hard.”

The professionalisation of the women’s game, and its increasing popularity, has been a huge boost for the sport.

But Steph admits it makes the competition much fiercer than ever before.

“With the England development programme, because there are so many girls at a good standard of cricket it’s getting harder to break your way in,” she says.

“You’ve got more quality coaches coming into it, the training is better. It’s a lot harder now than what it was, but you’ve just got to keep working.”

Chris Cottrell, senior player and coach at Yelverton Bohemians, says Steph is one of the most gifted young cricketers he has seen.

“She is dedicated and passionate about the game,” he says. I can see huge talent there.

“She wants to know everything and she is a lovely person.

“She is not a girly girl, she is quite unassuming but single-minded, she just gets on with the job.”

This piece was first published in the Plymouth Herald.

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