KATIE Levick has hailed Yorkshire’s backing of the Northern Diamonds after the county opted to separately fund two more professional contracts on top of the six financed by the ECB.

The Diamonds will head into 2022 with eight full-time pros, including Levick.

The Sheffield-born leg-spinner is one of three Yorkshire homegrown stars to be contracted alongside captain and batter Hollie Armitage and left-arm seamer Rachel Slater.

Armitage, Jenny Gunn, Beth Langston and Linsey Smith have all been retained for a second year, while Levick, Slater, Bess Heath and Sterre Kalis have all been handed new deals.

The Diamonds, the only team to reach all three finals so far, now have more contracted players than any of the other seven regions.

“It’s every credit to Yorkshire that they’ve had the foresight to see we’ve had some success early on and have put faith in us,” said Levick.

“Ultimately, this is the best way to move forwards and succeed. It’s an investment worth making.

“It’s great that the girls who’ve worked so hard over the last couple of years are being able to reap the rewards.

“We’ve gone about it in a professional manner since we first came together as the Northern Diamonds whether we’ve had the funding or not. This has just given us the best possible chance to get over the line.

“It’s been the last step, the little one per cent, where we’ve fallen short. Hopefully with eight professionals in the squad, we’ve got more time to dedicate to finding that one per cent.”

Netherlands batter Kalis has been with the Diamonds for the last season and a half, first as an overseas player in 2020 and then as domestic qualified during the most recent campaign.

She has been their leading run-scorer in both Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy 50-over campaigns (197 in 2020 and 290 in 2021).

She believes more Associate nation players can follow the likes of herself, the Bryce sisters and Kim Garth and earn full-time contracts.

Scots Kathryn and Sarah Bryce are contracted by the Loughborough-based Lightning, while former Ireland all-rounder Garth is contracted by Victoria in Australia.

“That is something which makes getting a contract even more special for me,” said Kalis.

“The Bryce sisters are doing really well with the Lightning and Kim Garth in Australia. It’s really good for Associate Cricket.

“And some of the other girls around the different countries are not that far away from the level played in England and Australia. It shows that if you are really driven and work hard on your game, it can happen.”

Wicketkeeper batter Heath enjoyed a rip-roaring end to the regional summer after a hip injury ruined the opening half of the campaign.

The 20-year-old from Chesterfield posted scores of 32 not out, 78 not out, 71 and 25 in her last five innings and claimed a catch and a stumping in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy final defeat to Southern Vipers.

The delighted youngster beamed: “To be able to call yourself a professional at the age of 20 shows what is possible. For young girls looking up towards that, it just shows it’s within their reach.

“For them to be able to come and watch and say, ‘I want to be a cricketer and I want it to be my job’, that’s amazing.

“They don’t have to say, ‘I want to be a cricketer, but I have to go through Uni to make sure I get another career because I can only play cricket on the side’.

“Hopefully many more can follow us in the years to come.”