Monday, 30 December 2013

Women's Ashes Predictions

Six months ago, I put my (fortunately metaphorical) money on Australia to win the Women's Ashes in England.

And although the final 12-4 scoreline somewhat mocks my soothsaying credentials, it was actually a pretty close series, which would have turned out very differently were it not for Knight and Marsh's heroic stand at Wormsley. (Had Australia got either Knight or Marsh out cheaply, England's collapse would have been complete - they'd have lost the Test and likely the series with it.)

So it will probably come as no surprise that my money is on Australia again - they are the ODI and T20 World Champions for a reason; and this time they are better-prepared than ever, with their near-full-time-professional squad riding the crest of the wave of the domestic season, while England's players have been back at their day jobs - slogging it out in cold gymnasiums while the Southern Stars train in the Aussie sunshine.

I think the weather will play a part too - the heat of the WACA had even England's fans melting during the recent men's game; so for players more used to Pidley than Perth, I've a feeling the Test could be very tough for England.

My guess therefore is that Australia will win the Test and then, with the psychological advantage of being 6-0 up, go on to take the series by a substantial margin. Such a result would flatter them, as the summer's score did England, but that's the way cricket crumbles with the points allocated as they are.

But of course, I've been wrong before... so let's keep our fingers crossed - hopefully I'll be wrong again!

Friday, 27 December 2013

Interview: Mignon du Preez

Can South African win the next women's World Cup in 2017? Team captain Mignon du Preez thinks they can! She was kind enough to speak to us about this, her off-field role, and much else besides.

Here & Now

What’s on the agenda cricket-wise for you between now and the World Twenty20?

We are playing a Tri-Series against Pakistan and Ireland in Doha at the start of 2014 for final [T20] World Cup preparation.

Domestic Cricket

What’s the structure for domestic (women’s) cricket in South Africa?

The country features approximately 16 provincial teams, divided into three major playing regions - Highveld, Coastal and Central - competing in a league format. The teams play both 50 over as well as T20 format throughout the year, with the top four provincial teams competing in the playoffs.

How many games will you play in a typical domestic season?

Give or take, eight 50 over and eight T20 provincial matches (home and away basis, these games exclude the additional playoff matches), as well as a Regional competition comprising the best players from the various regions (additional three games twice yearly).

Is domestic cricket in South Africa white or red-ball or a mixture? Do you have any preferences?

Domestic cricket is played with the red-ball given the fact that domestic playing clothes are the traditional white cricket clothes. Personally, I have no preference.

Have you ever played any “declaration” (multi-day) cricket? How do you feel about the death of women’s test cricket?

Unfortunately, the only test game in my career was on my first away tour and I had to carry the water. The only women's test cricket that I am aware of is the women's Ashes. As a result, women's test cricket is effectively dead or dying, which is a shame as we would all like to play test cricket.

International Cricket

You’ve recently come off a series with Sri Lanka - you won, but the T20 series in particular was no walk-over. Are these games against the so-called “minnows” getting harder?

The disparity between the top and bottom four has closed significantly in recent years, given the increased investment from the various cricket bodies. Women's cricket has taken a step in the right direction towards becoming more professional. In short, women's cricket has become a lot more competitive and doesn't feature "walk-over" games in the top 8 anymore.

Who’s going to be the team to beat to win the World Twenty20?

Australia, being the current champions and the West Indies being as fearless as they are, with big hitting power.

What’s the long-term goal for the Momentum Proteas? Can you win the 2017 World Cup?

Based on our recent and ongoing progress, winning the World Cup is a distinct possibility, which is essentially what we are preparing for. Some hard work still needs to be done, however I truly believe that we are on the right path and that the Momentum Proteas will become a true force in women's cricket.

Off The Field

You graduated in marketing; and now part of your off-field role as captain of the Momentum Proteas is to work on marketing the game! Was this all part of the plan?

No not initially, however I am thankful for having acquired these skills which do help me with the marketing of the game.

You are set to be the face of women’s cricket for maybe the next ten years - not just in South Africa, but globally - that’s a huge responsibility! How much training / coaching are you getting to deal with that?

That is a huge compliment and should it becomes a reality, I want to live up to such honour by staying true to my believes with integrity. In my opinion - Share a smile... it goes a long mile!  Although there is no official guideline for this, one will have to take it as "work in progress" and make sure you live up to your own expectations for a start.

What are you going to be doing day-to-day in you off-field role?

Given the short period before the T20 World Cup, my physical and mental preparation is my main focus at the moment. I recently started doing some public speaking at sport events, which I really enjoy. I also attend cricket related functions such as mini cricket (cricket for smaller children) initiatives which focus primarily on promoting the game at grass root level.

Women’s cricket is already well on the way to becoming a successful game? But what do we need to do to turn it into a successful and sustainable business?

We need to find ways to create awareness and make it much more spectacular for the public. Thus, women's cricket needs to be on display more. Maybe for a start we could play some curtain raisers for  the men's games. We will also need to find more sponsors to invest in women's cricket, since limited funds is one of the biggest problems currently. Lastly, in South Africa we will have to play a lot more competitive cricket to align ourselves with the top side in the world.

Thanks to Mignon de Preez; Women Proteas sponsor Momentum; and Antoinette Muller.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Ashes Squad Insta-Reaction

The England selectors have whittled-down the 21-gun 'Performance Squad' to 16* "seats on the plane" for The Women's Ashes in Australia.
  • Tammy Beaumont
  • Arran Brindle
  • Katherine Brunt
  • Katie Cross*
  • Charlotte Edwards
  • Georgia Elwiss
  • Natasha Farrant*
  • Lydia Greenway
  • Rebecca Grundy
  • Jenny Gunn
  • Danielle Hazell
  • Amy Jones
  • Heather Knight
  • Beth Langston
  • Laura Marsh
  • Natalie Sciver
  • Anya Shrubsole
  • Sarah Taylor
  • Fran Wilson
  • Lauren Winfield
  • Danielle Wyatt
* There are actually two 15-man squads - Cross will be replaced by Farrant for the T20s.

The big surprise for me is the inclusion of Amy Jones at the expense of Tammy Beaumont. I can only imagine this came down to a 'lesser of two evils' decision - the selectors obviously have little confidence in Jones' batting, as witnessed during the Tri-Series; but even less in Beaumont's keeping - so Jones gets the nod.

The rest of the batting then more or less picks itself; and as long as the first-choice top-of-the-order (Edwards, Knight and Taylor) stay fit, England will feel pretty confident that they can put runs on the board.

In the Seam & Swing department, the big question was whether to gamble on Georgia Elwiss, who hasn't played international cricket for the best part of a year, since the World Cup in India; but this is indeed what the selectors have done. The dilemma then was who to drop - Cross or Farrant; but in the end, the selectors have gone for a cunning work-around which hopefully leaves nobody too disappointed.

Turning finally to the spinners, with Laura Marsh injured and Holly Colvin unavailable, England will be hoping that Danni Wyatt will be fit to send down a few overs, because otherwise their spin options are limited to Dani Hazell and... er... Dani Hazell. (Although it does have to be said that if you were going to pick just one spinner, it would probably be Hazell anyway after her brilliant summer, so I'm not too worried there!)

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Why Shrubsole Deserves to be on the Cricketer of the Year Shortlist

The ICC have announced their shortlists for Cricketer of the Year, which is separated-out into the two main formats: ODI and T20. (A pity for Heather Knight that there is no award for Women's Tests; but as there was only one of them played in 2013, it is probably fair enough!)

The ODI shortlist includes two England players: Charlotte Edwards and Anya Shrubsole; and it is the latter upon whom I want to focus today.

In order to understand Shrubsole's presence on the shortlist, you have to look beyond the statistics.

Anya's numbers in 2013 were solid but not spectacular: she took 15 wickets at an average of 17. Ahead of her, Colvin (19 at 19), Brunt (17 at 19) and (a little bit of a surprise this one) Arran Brindle (15 at 15) all had better years on paper.

But the award isn't decided on paper - it is decided by a team of former players and expert journalists, including Women's TMS regular Alison Mitchel.

Shrubsole's role as one of England's opening bowlers is to be lean and mean, and in this she excels. She doesn't take all the wickets, but (along with Brunt) she sets up the platform for everyone else by roughing-up the openers and piling on the pressure which later bowlers like Colvin can exploit.

Concluding, it does have to be said that Shrubsole has no chance whatever of winning the award - Staphanie Taylor is a shoe-in for her all-round performances; but nevertheless Anya's presence on the shortlist is a major achievement in itself and underlines her importance to this England team.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Summer 2014: England v India

In the absence of something akin to the ICC's Future Tours Program, following women's cricket can be a bit of a lucky dip - you never know what you're going to get, or quite when you're going to get it; with some tours being announced just weeks in advance!

So it is no surprise that I haven't seen anything official about next summer yet; but nevertheless The Scarborough News reports that England will be entertaining India on Friday August 29th 2014 at Scarborough Cricket Club - so it looks like that will be one of the two series we can expect next summer.

Although India have slipped down the rankings a bit in recent years, they are still a top, top side so this is a series I'm looking forward to already.

(And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go Google 'hotels in Scarborough'!)

Friday, 15 November 2013

Hol-Col Gotta Do What Hol-Col Gotta Do

Even if you're one of the 'lucky ones' - a Premier League footballer or an England (men's) cricket player on a big-money central contract - it must niggle at the back of your mind.

And for those who pursue a career in sport but don't get so lucky, either because they aren't quite good enough or because their sport doesn't pay the big bucks, that voice must be louder-still:

"What the hell am I gonna do when I reach 'That Age' where I can't kick/throw/hit the ball quite so well any more?"

As everyone who reads this blog knows by now, England spinner Holly Colvin has decided she isn't hanging around to find out - she's taking a break from the game right now (aged 24) to "establish [herself] in a career outside cricket."

And who can blame her? Not me! Holly Colvin is a super-intelligent person (4 A grades at A-level) who deserves the opportunity to build a career which will sustain her and her loved ones for life - and she'll make a success of it too, be in no doubt about that!

It would be easy to argue that this is a direct result of the failure of the ECB to sort out 'proper' central contracts for our women cricketers; but to be fair, I think in this case it is a bit more complicated than that.

This is partly because Holly has already had a longer international career (9 years) than most are able to sustain; and secondly, because she is perhaps the one player from the existing group of established team-members who has the capacity to make a lot more money doing something else - so even if she were on a contract earning (say) £50,000 (roughly what the top Australian players are earning, I believe) she would have realistic options that others probably wouldn't.

I'm sad right now. Very sad. But Holly: you gotta do what you gotta do.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A Tale Of Two Twit-Pics

With only a few weeks to go until the next Women's Ashes, two photos recently appeared within hours of each other on Twitter.

So while the Southern Stars are training in the sunshine, Lottie & Co. are back at their day-jobs, coaching coaches for Chance To Shine - a worthy enterprise to be sure... but I wonder who is going to be better prepared when the teams walk out at the WACA in Perth in six weeks time?

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Does The Women's County Championship Actually Exist? (Royal London Don't Seem To Think So!)

The ECB and Royal London have been everywhere this week, publicising the insurance group's sponsorship of "all" 50-over cricket in England - not just ODIs but domestic cricket too.

Royal London are sponsoring a whole array of competitions, right down to a 32-county Under-13 girls cup... which is fantastic!

But hang on... let's take a closer look at that list: men's ODIs, women's ODIs, a men's county cup, a (men's) club cup, girls cricket and boys cricket.

There seems to be something missing: the Women's County Championship!

I know, I know: nobody cares about the Women's Country Championship - the audience consists of a handful of tragics (myself included) and the family of beautiful red kites that swoop over Berkshire's Wokingham ground during matches.

(I am assured that the red kites are genuine fans; and suggestions that they just have their eye on Tammy Beaumont for a light snack are entirely wide of the mark!)

So, yes, nobody cares!

BUT...

Possibly if we GOT some decent sponsorship for the Women's County Championship, and actually GAVE it some proper publicity, people would START CARING!

Update (April 2014): In the end, it looks like Royal London are sponsoring the WCC after all. So, all's well that ends well, I guess! 

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Women's T20 'Top 4' (They Aren't Who You Think They Are!)

Who are the 'Top 4' women's international teams?

Easy: England, Australia, New Zealand and India.

Right?

Wrong! (At least as far as T20 is concerned.)

Since 2010, these are the 'Win Percentages' for the top teams:

England75%
West Indies61%
Australia50%
New Zealand49%
South Africa46%
India43%
Pakistan42%

They say in football that the table never lies; and although the West Indies numbers are slightly skewed by having played Sri Lanka 15 times since 2010, winning 11 of those games, with 1 'No Result'; the Windies are also the only team not to have a losing-percentage against England during that period - it is 4-4 there, with one tie.

So I think the conclusion is clear: the T20 'Top 4' are now England, Australia, New Zealand and West Indies.

Building On Momentum: The Plan for Women's Cricket In South Africa

In October 2013, Cricket South Africa made a major announcement: no fewer than six leading women's cricket players, including team captain Mignon de Preez, had been awarded central contracts for the forthcoming season.

As a statement of intent, it was of itself a clarion call. In the murky semi-professionalism of women's cricket, it's often difficult to make exact comparisons between what the different countries are doing; but nevertheless it is pretty clear that this deal puts South Africa firmly towards the top-end of the table - behind Australia certainly; but ahead of New Zealand and perhaps England too.

Behind all the different approaches, there lies a common problem: how to pay for a game that can't (yet) pay for itself?

Interested to understand how South Africa planned to square this circle, I spoke to Charlene Lackay from the team's official sponsor - financial services company Momentum.

Momentum are the "headline" sponsor for the team, which is set to be branded "The Momentum Women's Proteas" - but even so, I wondered: was there really going to be much Return on Investment, headlining a sport that ranks (at best) a distant third even in women's sports, behind tennis and golf?

Charlene's answer was both more nuanced and more fascinating than I would ever have expected.

Momentum's corporate goals are long-term. Traditionally an "investor" brand, they aim to grow their business by moving into the consumer space with a full range of family financial services - from car insurance, through healthcare, to investments. The new, consumer-focused Momentum is about 'You + Your Family' and they went looking for sponsorship opportunities which reflected that.

Cricket offered part of the answer so this, via the sponsorship of (men's) ODIs and domestic tournaments; but Momentum also realised that they wouldn't be able to just march-in, hand over the cheque book, and expect to get results. Instead, they needed to work with Cricket South Africa to help build the kind of atmosphere around game with which they wanted to be associated. Hence their promotion of Momentum Family Seating Areas at matches, where alcohol, smoking and swearing are forbidden; and Momentum Qwik-Cricket style kids games on the outfield during innings breaks.

Momentum's association with women's cricket takes this to a whole new level. Women's cricket in South Africa is tiny; but where most sponsors would see this as a problem, Momentum see it as an opportunity to help build a game which reflects their corporate values of inclusiveness, gender-equality and family. It's about more than getting the Momentum name on Mignon du Preez's shirt - that's nice, but it's only a start. The bigger challenge is to get the players out there, building the game from the ground up - coaching the next generation - turning women's cricket into the strong, competitive sport which will be even more proud to sponsor in eight or ten years time. So, that's the plan: to send the contracted players out, into the towns and cities, to build support for the women's game over the long term - nurturing not just the players of tomorrow, but the fans too.

What I personally find so inspiring about this is the proactive approach - it's so full of optimism: women's cricket isn't a viable business, so let's make it one! That's the plan… and as someone who passionately believes in women's cricket, I for one will not be betting against them.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Next England Captain Will NOT Be...

When Jenny Gunn stood-in for Charlotte Edwards as England captain, during the recent tour of West Indies, there was some speculation that the selectors were sending out a message - marking Gunn out as the anointed successor to Edwards when the skipper retires.

I think that the selectors were sending out a message... but not that one!

When a vice-captain is appointed, they are (to borrow recent analogies from the men's game) either Alistair Cook or Matt Prior.

The appointment of Cook as vice-captain to Andrew Strauss was a clear signal - Cook was the next-in-line; and although there was a "process" when Strauss retired, there was never really any doubt about the outcome.

The appointment of Matt Prior as vice-captain to Cook was intended to send completely the opposite message. No one (including clearly the man himself) believes that Matt Prior will ever captain England on a permanent basis, so the signal is the opposite one - there is no "heir-apparent" - the selectors are genuinely unsure who the actual next-in-line is, so they are stalling.

And this is what is happening with the women right now. There are several possible candidates: Taylor? Colvin? Knight? Indeed, if Edwards does carry-on until 2017 (as she keeps saying she will) it could even be someone who hasn't played for England yet such as Jess Watson or Sophie Luff.

So instead of walking into an anointment, the selectors hedged; and we don't know who the next England captain will be, because they don't either!

But we can be pretty sure about one thing: Jenny Gunn has been a fantastic player for England - so reliable; so dependable; so many wickets - but she will NOT be the next England captain.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Par Scores In Women's T20

Since January 2010, the traditional "Big Four" (Australia, England, India and New Zealand) have played each other 61 times, with 60 results and 1 tied game.

Highest Score 1661
Lowest Score 622
Average Score 119
Average Losing Score 114
Average WINNING Score 126
(1) Australia (v New Zealand, 2011)
(2) India (v Australia, 2011)

All the usual caveats of course apply: there are lies, damned lies and statistics!

Nevertheless, it does suggest that a run-a-ball 120 is round-about a par score amongst the top teams.

ODI Series v West Indies

Random thoughts on England's 2-0 ODI Series victory:
  • The talk of England having "made history" is a little overstated - the "history" in question (West Indies' last home series defeat) only goes back 10 years. Moreover, it is a little arrogant to be crowing over anything when you've just lost a T20 "rubber" 3-0 to the same opposition!
  • The New Zealand fan who called Sarah Taylor "criminally overrated" during the Tri-Series has some humble pie to eat now; but it does have to be admitted that Sarah is frustrating, because this wasn't a "return to form" - she is always this good, leaving you too often feeling that she's giving her wicket away, as happened a few times during the T20s.
  • If the selectors have any sense, they will spend the next month in church - praying that Heather Knight is going to come back with her form intact. The word on the street is that she is pretty-much recovered from her injury and that's good, because the batting is looking desperately short of backbone without her.
  • Holly Colvin had a poor summer by her standards, with her return from injury not going smoothly; so I hope I'm not jinxing her when I say that she's BACK! Obviously the wickets in the 3rd ODI were great; but for a player whose game has always been about landing it on the proverbial sixpence, I'm more excited about the six maidens she bowled in the previous match.
  • Whether Katie Cross has done enough to put herself on the plane to Australia is an open question. As Laura Malkin pointed out on Twitter, there are several other bowling options coming back from injury (Brunt, Shrubsole, Marsh, Elwiss) and England have maybe invested too much in Farrant not to take her to Oz, even if she doesn't play. (The irony being that (if I recall correctly) Cross was in exactly Farrant's situation on the last Ashes tour down-under, when she traveled more for the experience rather than any expectation that she would actually get a game.)

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Tri-Series Final v West Indies

Random thoughts on England's Tri-Series Final defeat to West Indies:
  • As a fan, I'm disappointed for England; but as a rational human being, you have to say that the best team won. I said from the outset that West Indies were favorites, with England missing key players in both the batting and bowling departments, and so it proved. 
  • At the risk of sounding like a broken record... England needed more batting out there. Dropping Winfield was criminal - you don't need six bowlers in T20, you need runs on the board! The scoreboard suggests England were 20-short, but in reality it was probably even more, with the West Indies batsmen playing well within themselves at the end.
  • Dottin and Stephanie Taylor are on top of the world right now, and the ICC stats that say Sarah Taylor is the world's number one T20 batsman are looking a bit tardy already! (Though to be fair, the numbers at 'time of writing' don't (I assume) include this series!)
  • I've seen it said a few times recently that England don't have a Dottin - a player who can hit the boundary at-will - but Nat Sciver crashed a HUGE six on the last ball of the innings, when she had nothing to lose. Why didn't she do that earlier? She was taking care of her wicket, I guess; which may have been the right decision under the circumstances, but I can tell you one thing for certain: it's not how Dottin would have played that innings - she'd have gotten rich, or died tryin!
  • It's been great to have this series broadcast on-line. (Though next time, please let me have a better quality stream - I'll happily pay for it!) But the commentary was a joke - you need commentators that actually know WOMEN'S cricket. To be fair, the BBC were also guilty of this last summer - with a certain New Zealander admitting on-air that he'd just mugged-up a bit the night before - but at least he tried to be positive and didn't spend half the time telling Isa Guha she looked hot in heels. (The batsman/batswoman/batsperson thing is actually quite a good test of whether someone knows women's cricket - if they need to ask... they don't!)

Friday, 25 October 2013

Tri-Series T20 v West Indies

Confession time: I slept this one out. (Like Lottie, I was resting myself - hoping to be fit for the final!) It was obviously an exciting match; but sometimes the scorecard tells it's own story, quite apart from the one on the pitch:
  • Dottin is the most dangerous player in world cricket. Not the best, necessarily, but the most dangerous, with the capacity to completely change the game in a moment. She has been doing it for some time too: D and I saw her destroy England in a T20 at Arundel Castle a couple of summers ago (it's the background pic for this blog) and she did it again last night... twice!
  • England chose to play both Langston and Cross... which is fine - Paul Shaw said before the tour that he wanted to have a look at them, and you can't do that if they're sat back at the hotel. But you've got to ask questions about dropping Amy Jones, leaving a side consisting of just four recognized batsmen! 
  • And then you get to the Super Over - it's the big one, so who do you send in? Two bowling all-rounders? Where were Taylor, Winfield and Beaumont? And if you didn't trust them, or they were injured... why didn't you bring another batsman on tour? And if there isn't another batsman? Then I'm afraid you need to take a long hard look at the man who has been running women's cricket at the National Performance Centre for the past few years. Now... who was that again?
  • Of course... all will be redeemed if we win the final - we're fans, and that's what we do! But I can't help feeling that it would only be papering over some serious cracks.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Tri-Series T20 v New Zealand

Random thoughts on the T20 v New Zealand:
  • In cricket, we often refer to the bowlers as "the attack"; but England were forced to play a different game here. This was DEFENSIVE cricket at its most aggressive: bowling to the plan and hounding every ball in the field, creating the scoreboard pressure which drew a flurry of wickets at the end, including a hat-trick for Nat Sciver that she will be deservedly dining-out on 'till she's 90!
  • With Charlotte Edwards injured, England had to turn to the spare batsman they'd picked for this tour, who was... er... oh...! If only someone had warned them this might happen!
  • It's a little thing, but in one of the earlier matches Tash Farrant lingered on an LBW appeal so long that a half-chance of a run-out went begging. Someone noticed, and this time when a very similar situation occurred, she was back on the stumps before you can say 'Howzat?' That's good coaching and good cricket from England!
  • England now have a dead-rubber match before the final, but I'll be surprised if either Cross or Langston play - England are too wedded to their 'winning is a habit' mantra.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Tri-Series T20 v West Indies

Random thoughts on the T20 v West Indies:
  • Although England will be disappointed with the loss, after making such a strong start to their reply, this was a match which went to form. The West Indies are a strong batting side, and they put-up enough runs to create constant scoreboard pressure - exemplified by the dismissal of Danni Wyatt, who played the shot of a woman who knew she had to hit every ball for runs-plural!
  • Loz Winfield had her best match in an England shirt, and helped get the innings off to a very solid start. Martin Davies was touting her for the opening role last summer and she did him proud here. Like Tammy Beaumont, Winfield is probably already on the plane to Australia, but fighting for a place in the XI; and that competition is hotting up a bit - maybe not for the test (when I'm sure Brindle will play) but for the shorter-form games.
  • Tash Farrant has now played four matches for England, has a batting Strike Rate of 100 and has NEVER been dismissed from the crease. Admittedly, she has only faced one ball, against Pakistan last summer; but... still... it's quite a record!
(PS: Sarah Taylor - when we said we wanted to see even more stumpings... that wasn't quite what we meant!)

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Tri-Series T20 v New Zealand

Random thoughts on the T20 v New Zealand:
  • Tammy Beaumont didn't have a great Ashes, by her own admission; but she played a punchy little innings for Kent in the domestic T20 final and she's brought that form with her to the West Indies. She was probably going to Australia whatever, but she is definitely fighting for a place on the team-sheet and if she keeps this up, she'll be in that XI!
  • Nat Sciver's first over looks worse on the scorecard than it actually was - the two opening wides were both of the "One Day" variety, just down the leg side. She then took the crucial wicket of Bates, albeit with a shocking full toss that should have been called a No Ball; and bowled a tight final over.
  • Lottie made a good 40, but it should have been more - the runs were there, but her legs are clearly made of two lollypop sticks held together with double-sided sticky-tape these days. How she's going to cope with playing 8 matches in 3 weeks, I'm not sure?
  • Taylor didn't have a great game, either side of the stumps; but I guess if she is going to have one of her spells of poor form, now is probably a good time to get it out of the way!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Australia Best-Placed, Long-Term

Kathryn Wicks has an article in the Sydney Morning Herald asking why women's sport is "friendless".

Ms Wicks was kind enough to indulge me in a Twitter conversation on the subject; and my conclusion is that things might not be great in Australia... but they sure are much better than they are here!

Some of Australia's domestic (women's) T20 is played as double-headers, which obviously gets good crowds; but I was more interested in the stand-alone games, which are a better indication of the health of women's cricket as a spectator-sport.

In England, at the T20 Finals, I counted a "crowd" (trying to discount players and coaches) of around fifty; but this was by-far the largest number I've seen this season - at Berkshire (a Division 1 team, lest we forget) it was usually closer to five!

In contrast, the stand-alone games in the T20 tournament in Australia are getting crowds which actually merit the word "crowd". (Ms Wicks didn't have exact numbers, but reckoned it was much, much more than 50!)

To me, this suggests that Australian (women's) cricket is much better-placed long-term than it is in England; and this has to be a worry.

Interestingly, Ms Wicks suggested that one factor might be that the premier women's competition is state-based - i.e. a level above "grade" cricket, where the crowds are more like we see in county cricket here. I think she might be right about this, which is one reason I've pushed for the reinstatement of a proper Super 4s competition, with games played in the cities and not in (e.g.) Wokingham - however convenient that might be for me!

One thing is for sure - England need to up their game domestically or risk falling behind internationally.

England Set For Competitive Tri-Series, But Who Will Play?

England begin their T20 Tri-Series campaign tonight in the West Indies, with a match against New Zealand. It starts at midnight, and is being broadcast via the ECB's web site - so get the coffee on and charge-up the laptop!

Although New Zealand have traditionally been regarded as one of the "Top 4" (along with Australia, England and India) they are definitely the tournament's underdogs, with World Cup runners-up the West Indies probably narrow favorites.

The T20 cliche is "anything can happen"; and it is a cliche for a reason: anything can happen, especially with England missing several key players - Knight, Brunt, Shrubsole and Marsh; all of whom would be in their ideal XI.

When the squads were announced, I predicted a starting XI of:
  1. Edwards
  2. Beaumont
  3. Taylor
  4. Greenway
  5. Winfield
  6. Sciver
  7. Wyatt
  8. Gunn
  9. Farrant
  10. Hazell
  11. Colvin
I still think this is the likely team - it's perhaps a bit batting-light; but there is a long middle-order from Sciver through Gunn.

A possibility is that one of the spinners drops-out to make room for another seamer (probably Katie Cross, who is a bit more experienced than Langston) but this presents another dilemma - England would dearly love to bowl Holly Colvin back into form for The Ashes; but they also desperately need Wyatt's batting to bolster that middle-order. It's a tough one!

The other question is who opens with Edwards? I think everyone agrees now that opening with Wyatt at the World Cup was a mistake, so I've gone for Tammy B, but Loz Winfield is another candidate; and it is also possible that Amy Jones will be brought in to fulfill that role; though at whose expense, I'm not sure? (Colvin, again? That would still leave five "proper" bowlers; and the longer batting line-up might be worth it; but at the expense of some flexibility?)

Thursday, 10 October 2013

More Info On South African Contracts

While we're on the subject of contracts... more info has emerged regarding the contracts issued to six of the leading South African players, including team captain Mignon du Preez.

The bottom line is that they are not full-time "playing" contracts - instead (like the New Zealand contracts) they are coaching jobs with time built-in for training and playing.

However, I am assured that Cricket South Africa see this as just the start - an opportunity for these players to focus on cricket while the structures are evolving to support a more fully professional game at some point in the future.

We all know that South Africa are committed to the future of women's cricket - they are currently hosting the England U19s; and I'm starting to believe that some of those players have a fully professional future within their grasp.

UPDATE: Actually... Most of the England Team ARE Now Contracted

In response to my previous post - Again... There Are NO England Players On Central Contracts - I was Tweeted by The Boss herself:

So... I stand corrected: 18 of the 21 members of the Performance (i.e. Full England) Squad are now contracted.

Exactly what the terms of these contracts are, we are yet to find out (I am told there will be a press release soon) but I'm guessing Danni Wyatt won't be going out to buy that Porsche just yet!

Nevertheless, credit where credit is due: we are getting there.

And while we are on the subject, I want to say something about The Boss:

Clare Connor gets some stick from people like me; but I also know for a fact that she is working very hard behind the scenes to improve the lot of our England players. She might not be going as far or as fast as I would like, but she has to deal with reality and politics and all that stuff; while bloggers like me just sit on the sidelines and criticize the one person who has achieved more for women's cricket in England than anyone else ever.

What we have now isn't perfect - Clare Connor doesn't need me to tell her that! But she's working on it, and we might be there sooner than we think!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Again... There Are NO England Players On Central Contracts

An article on Cricinfo, about contracts awarded to some South African players, again repeats the myth that some of the England players are on central contracts:
... the move sees South Africa join England, Australia, West Indies and Pakistan in centrally contracting some women's internationals.
Unless I've missed a major announcement somewhere along the line, this just isn't true; and I think it is important to raise it (again!), because it gives the ECB credit where I'm afraid it is not due.

The confusion arises because some England players are contracted to the MCC, via the Young Cricketers program, which pays them a student-grant-level stipend (and little more) to focus on cricket during the season; while others are employed by Chance To Shine - a charity which promotes cricket. C2S is better paid than the YCs, but it is important to note that those players employed by C2S are not paid to play cricket - they are employed (mostly) as coaches, and have to work jolly hard too - trekking up and down the country, living out of their suitcases.

So in both cases, the claim that these are "central contracts" is stretching it mightily; and for the sake of the players - who are increasingly competing against those like the Australians who are on genuine central contracts - we need to call this out.



Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Tri-Series Squad A Batsman Short?

England have announced their squad for the Tri-Series in the West Indies, and I have to admit, I'm a bit confused - basically, it looks a batsman short.

There are 14 players touring, with a possible starting '11' of:
  1. Edwards
  2. Beaumont
  3. Taylor
  4. Greenway
  5. Winfield
  6. Sciver
  7. Wyatt
  8. Gunn
  9. Farrant
  10. Hazell
  11. Colvin
The other three players named are Beth Langston and Katie Cross (both bowlers) and Amy Jones, who can bat, but is likely only included as wicket-keeping cover for Sarah Taylor, with England seeming to have decided that Tammy Beaumont is not international class in that department.

Of course, England might argue that Sciver, Wyatt and Gunn can all wield a blade respectably; and perhaps Nat Sciver is actually seen primarily as a batsman by the selectors these days, though she initially came to England's attention as a bowler.

Obviously, this series is pretty-low on England's list of priorities at the moment, which probably reads: (1) The Ashes in Australia; (2) The Ashes in Australia; and (3) The Ashes in Australia; but still, an unbalanced squad is an unbalanced squad... and to my eyes, this squad looks a tad unbalanced?

Monday, 16 September 2013

Reflections on the 2013 County Championship

This was our* first year intensively following domestic (women's) cricket in England. We'd been to the odd game in previous seasons, usually when there was the promise of seeing an England player in action; but this time, encouraged by the enthusiasm of Martin Davies at womens-cricket.blogspot.co.uk, we resolved to go more often, and to try to post some photos and match reports.

In the end we saw all of Berkshire's home County Championship games, plus the T20 Finals Day - catching Berkshire, Kent, Sussex, Essex, Notts and Yorkshire along the way.

We watched Heather Knight drag Berkshire single-handed to a respectable mid-table finish. (Having watched her four times before The Ashes, it was no surprise to us that she finished the summer as a bit of a superstar!)

Knight was also involved in our personal 'Champagne Moment' of the season - though this time on the receiving end!

Notts' Sonia Odedra had Knight caught at square leg, but the Notts celebrations were cut short as they realised a No Ball had been called.

Notts looked deflated, but Odedra - who has played Academy cricket, but who has surprisingly never been called-up for a full England cap - was having none of it. Fired-up, her next ball had everything - pace, venom and accuracy - and Heather's middle stump took the full force!

I think it is only fair to admit, however, that we've seen bad as well as good. Our gut feeling is that most of the sides in this championship (Sussex and Kent excepted) are carrying at least two players - literally in a handful of cases, with the player in question neither batting nor bowling much, but apparently being picked as a specialist deep fine leg.

It is no secret that I think the county system is a deeply flawed way of running domestic women's cricket in this country; but still overall I'd have to conclude: I can't wait for next year!

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* All but one of the domestic games I attended with my 10-year-old son, acting in his capacity as official photographer!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Somerset Denied, But We CAN Fix This Broken System

Somerset players were left furious after the weather denied them the chance to compete against Essex for a place in Division 1 of next year's Women's Cricket County Championship.

(For those who are unaware how this works - there is a play-off between the Division 1 loser* and the Division 2 winner* to decide relegation/promotion.)

England Under-19 captain Sophie Luff posted on Twitter:
Absolutely fuming... Never felt so disappointed.. I would rather have the chance and lose than the feeling of never knowing what might have been.
Meanwhile, Fran Wilson railed against the "ridiculous rules".

I agree that the rules are ridiculous, but I think it is more complicated and nuanced than that!

The reason for the ridiculous rules, that load the dice against promotion/ relegation, is to try to reduce the need to re-allocate players if/when a team is relegated, to try to ensure that those competing for England places stay in D1. For example - Dani Wyatt is a Staffs player in D2, but has been "loaned" to Notts on a semi-permanent basis, so that she can play in D1.

(Following this train of thought, it would not therefore be a huge surprise if we did indeed see Luff in D1 next year, but she'll be wearing a different shirt... possibly even an Essex one - who knows!)

But why do we need to limit the re-allocation of players? After all, transfers happen in football all the time; and are pretty common in men's cricket these days.

The issue here is professionalism - or rather, the lack thereof. These cricketers can't just up-sticks and move from 'A' to 'B' - they need to find a job and somewhere to live - neither trivial undertakings in these tough times.

So what's the answer?

There is clearly no chance whatever of the County Championship going fully professional (or even fully semi-professional) in the near-future - it is several teams too heavy, and several thousand fans too light, to support that.

So, once again I find myself falling-back on the idea of turning the Super 4s into a proper competition, existing above the county level. This could be a fully semi-professional undertaking - i.e all players paid something - with an American Football-style "draft" system for bringing in new players.

With stable squads, proper (sponsored) uniforms, and a little marketing nous, such a competition could start to draw fans in, with an emotional attachment to "their" team - something that is largely non-existent in domestic women's cricket at the moment.

Ambitious? Yes! It's basically an Indian Premier League for women's cricket in England!

It might work... or it might not. But could it really be any worse than the situation we have at the moment?

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* And actually... it is even more complicated than that - the D2 winner is not the side that finishes top, but the side which wins the D2 play-off; and similarly the D1 loser is not the side which finishes bottom either, but the loser of a play-off between the bottom two sides there!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Balls!


If you're a seasoned cricket-watcher, you might notice something unusual about the photo above, of a T20 match which took place last weekend, during the Women's County T20 Finals: the players are wearing white uniforms and (though you can't actually see it) they are playing with a red ball.

In fact, all domestic women's cricket in this country is "red ball"; which will no doubt please the traditionalists, but is actually a problem for the England team.

This is because international women's cricket is all-but exclusively white ball, due to the vast majority of games being ODI and T20.

This means that when players graduate to the England team, they are suddenly faced with a ball which, in a match situation, is completely alien to them. To quote just one example, this factor (along with the novelty of playing under lights) was mentioned by Katherine Brunt when asked about dropped catches in the T20 at Chelmsford.

I do appreciate that switching to "white ball" cricket isn't a decision that is easily made. You need coloured uniforms (or the ball gets "lost" in the whites) and black sight-screens, which not every club has available.

But nevertheless, perhaps this is something to which the ECB should give some consideration in future?

Sunday, 8 September 2013

England Coaches Unhappy With Fitness / Nutrition

Despite the recent big Women's Ashes win, it seems that England's coaching staff are not happy with the players regarding their fitness and nutrition.

Sources close to the England camp say that these issues extend from top to bottom - and although one player in particular is the object of singular exasperation, both senior and junior members of the team have come in for criticism for being unable to complete the kind of fitness drills that the Australian players take in their stride.

Poor nutrition is being singled out, not only as a cause of lack of cardiovascular fitness, but it is also being held liable for injuries sustained on the field.

While the Australian team are issued with a smart-phone app, upon which they are required to log everything they consume, the England players eat and drink what they like. They are advised, but this advice is often ignored, leading to problems at both ends of the scale - while some players are clearly overweight, others are allegedly underweight.

To be fair to the players, I think this is partly an inevitable side-effect of their borderline-semi-professional status. The support-network which underpins the "professional athlete" side of their lives is very part-time; and the fact that many of the younger players live together on fairly low incomes, reenforces the kind of "permastudent" lifestyle which is frankly not conducive to long-term health and fitness much after the age of 21.

Nevertheless, there is also an argument that if the England team want to be fully professional athletes, they had better start acting like them first!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

County T20 Finals 2013 at Preston Nomads

The County T20 Finals took place at Preston Nomads Cricket Club - a beautiful village club in southern England, near Brighton.


The weather was a little drizzly early on in the day, delaying the start and causing one of the semi-finals to be shortened; but although black clouds frequently threatened, the weather stayed away for the rest of the day.


There were lots of England players present, but a few were sidelined with injuries - Heather Knight, Lydia Greenway and Laura Marsh were all sat on the boundary; while Notts captain Jenny Gunn was another notable absentee,

The semi-finals saw Sussex beat Berkshire, in a very scrappy game; while Kent beat Notts on the other pitch.


The final saw Kent take advantage of Sarah Taylor's absence from the line-up (she was injured warming up), to restrict Sussex to 107, which Kent made with an over-or-three to spare, thanks mainly to an almost-half-century (49) from Lottie Edwards.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Funny Cricket-Like Sport On TV

There was a very funny sport on TV today: it was a bit like cricket, but believe it or not (and this is the funny part...) it was being played by men!!

As far as I can see, there isn't much actual skill involved in "men's" cricket - the players just try to biff and bosh the ball as far as they can, making it more a test of brute strength than the artistry of real cricket as played by the likes of Sarah Taylor or Ellyse Perry!

(I've heard boxing fans say that they prefer to watch the wit and guile of the lighter divisions, rather than two big blokes slugging it out at heavy-weight; and after seeing this "men's" cricket, I really know what they mean!)

Furthermore, sometimes the lack of skills is really quite embarrassing. One of the players today dropped a couple of complete sitters in the field - the kind of catches that someone like Lydia Greenway would have taken in her sleep, with her eyes closed and her hands tied behind her back!

So my verdict on this so-called "men's" cricket? It's not bad... but I think in future I'll stick to the real thing!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Women's Ashes - Play The Test At The End?

ECB Head Honcho (to give his official title) Giles Clarke, and his Aussie counterpart Wally Edwards are, according to The Guardian, in agreement that the multi-format Women's Ashes series is here to stay, but needs some tweaking:
Clarke believes the multi-format system may need some tinkering, having agreed with his Australia counterpart, Wally Edwards, that the single Test... should be played after the one-day matches to avoid the negative tactics that led to a stalemate at Wormsley.
Would playing the Test at the end of the series counteract the temptation to play for a draw?

I'm skeptical!

It obviously would on one side - i.e. whichever side had the disadvantage going into the Test would be desperate for victory. But the other side of that coin is that the team with the advantage would probably go into the Test with the (quite rational) intention of just killing the game completely; and they'd likely succeed too!

Indeed, we have seen this before, in past 'One Test' Women's Ashes series, where the holders, knowing that a draw was all they needed to retain the trophy, played for exactly that - smothering the contest beneath a slow blanket of negativity.

The formula for the multi-format series needs tweaking - I think almost everyone agrees that. I'm just not sure that this is the tweak we need!

UPDATE: Thanks to David Millson for pointing out in comments that I've likely misunderstood here - I took "one-day matches" to mean all the limited-overs games (i.e. the ODIs plus the T20s) but as David points out, it seems more likely that Clarke was referring to just the ODIs and hence meaning to play the Test 'between the ODIs and the T20s' which certainly does make a lot more sense!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Women's Ashes Post-Mortem

So, that's that... for a few months at least. (As with the men, the next Women's Ashes series is literally just around the corner, in Australia this winter.)

What have we learned?

The Multi-Format Series

It is often said regarding men's cricket, that a one-day rubber played after a Test series feel like a trivial afterthought - the glass of water that you have after you get home from the party.

Folding the one-day cricket, with the T20s and the Test, into one, multi-format series avoided this and created a month-long narrative which generated an unprecedented degree of media coverage and general interest. (Even the sports-phobic girls in my office knew there was a Women's Ashes on... albeit that they had somehow conflated various half-heard stories to conclude that it was the women who did "that thing" at The Oval!!)

The Points System

The points system, however, is broken.  It worked on this occasion only because the Test was drawn. Although England did achieve the one thing I said they couldn't possibly do - i.e. win 5-out-of-6 limited overs games - the way they picked themselves up mentally from a 4-2 deficit would not have been psychologically realistic if it had been 8-0 after Lords.

Australia

Australia have not become a bad team overnight. Yes, they lost by a margin-and-a-half; but as Amy Lofthouse has observed, they looked knackered by the end of the series and were just too exhausted to do themselves justice, particularly in the final game.

England

Batting-wise, England really won this as a team - battling through the Test with Knight and Marsh's amazing stand; then Taylor smashing a couple of big innings at Hove and Chelmsford; before Lydia Greenway dragged a (literally) collapsing order over the line at The Rosebowl and Durham.

England's bowling was more mechanical - based on metronomic rhythms and tight control, rather than spectacular fireworks. No English bowler bowled a ball like the one from Holly Ferling which got Sarah Taylor out in the first innings of the Test... but equally no English bowler had the nightmare that Elise Perry had at Lords.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Women's Ashes 3rd T20

Random thoughts on the 3rd T20 at Durham:
  • For a whole variety of reasons, this morning felt like a bit of an anticlimax: the early start, combined with the dead-rubber series situation, produced a bit of a forgettable game of cricket, which didn't live up to the series as a whole.
  • Foundations are really important - you don't notice them, but try constructing anything much without them! Katherine Brunt hasn't done anything spectacular in this series; but she has been the foundation of England's success and arguably the only player on either team to have "turned-up" to every game.
  • Heather Knight's injury is a huge blow to Berkshire, who she was due to captain in the up-coming domestic T20 Finals Day. Berkshire have been a bit of a one-woman team this season, and without her I'd say their chances are now pretty close to zero. (But D and I will still be there next Saturday at Preston Nomads to cheer on The Beavers!)

Friday, 30 August 2013

Women's Ashes 2nd T20

Random thoughts on the 2nd T20 at The Rosebowl*:
  • Dani Hazel was outstanding again - maiden overs are like gold-dust in T20, and she's now bowled two in the past two games. She's been by far the most economical bowler of the series, and a big part of why England have been winning these matches.
  • At 9/3 I was ready to get on the bus to Durham. (Only metaphorically, unfortunately!) But The Ashes have been a real team effort by England: this was Lydia Greenway's Chance To Shine, and she took it!
  • It was a real pity that The Ashes were won in a half-empty stadium. (And it was half-empty, whatever Sky's presenters might have been told to pretend.) In the cold light of day, the double-headers aren't working any more, with the real women's cricket fans priced-out of empty seats.
  • And if I felt galled... I can't imagine what it was like for the handful of journalists that have covered the series so far; but had to give up their seats in the press box to "proper cricket" correspondents, whose by-lines are now being read up and down the land in the wake of England's victory.
  • On a personal level, it was lovely for me that my 10-year-old son, who was with me at Wormsley for Day 1 of the Test, arrived back from his holiday in Spain just in time to see Lyd hit the winning runs last night!
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* If anyone wants to pay me to call it something else... you know where to find me!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Women's Ashes 1st T20

Random thoughts on the 1st T20 at Chelmsford:
  • What a night at Chelmsford! The (admittedly small) ground was packed and this was the best atmosphere of the series so far. (Caveat: I wasn't at Hove.)
  • The crowd was quite mixed. The guy sitting in front of me with two kids, knew who some of the players were; but the couple sitting next to me didn't... and were surprised to discover that you can get runs even if you don't hit the ball!
  • There were a couple of dropped catches, but it is worth remembering that the England girls play very little white-ball cricket and they never play under lights. (In contrast, Australian women's domestic cricket is all white-ball; and is (I believe - please correct me if I'm wrong) often played under lights.)
  • Anya Shrubsole's injury is a blow - she has been a vital part of our strategy of strangling the power-play. However, Nat Sciver isn't too bad a replacement - she certainly looked to be quite quick from where I was sitting! Honestly, however, I'm amazed that both Shrubsole and Brunt have made it this far injury-wise, so let's just be thankful for what we've had, even if Shrubsole doesn't play again later this week.
  • Danni Wyatt is what my grandmother would have called 'A One'. Brought back in place of Holly Colvin for her batting, which has been quite good in domestic cricket this year, to say she rode her luck is somewhat of an understatement. In about over 8, I was about to tweet that we had 'World Cup Waggy' back; when she pulled out a couple of fantastic shots... bisected by the most appalling slog, that only failed to be caught because it went literally straight up in the air, leaving the fielder running in from the edge of the circle too much to do.
  • Who was the captain out there? Two weeks ago, in the Test at Wormsley, Charlotte Edwards was very visibly in charge, directing the field and always taking the ball between overs. At Chelmsford, it was Sarah Taylor who was marshalling the troops, with the occasional input from Lottie, who was stood back in a very literal sense, at a more-deep-than-usual mid off. There was also just a hint that Lottie's knees are starting to suffer as the series progresses - chasing one drive towards the end, she was off the mark in almost slow-motion. (Perhaps that is why she was fielding so deep?) I know how desperately she wants to still be here for the 2017 World Cup; and she still has "it" with the bat, but... an Ashes victory isn't a bad way to go out, and a new captain needs time before that World Cup, especially given how little cricket the women play.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Marketing The Women's Ashes - One Step Forwards, Two Steps Back

I was talking to my friend Kate on Twitter yesterday about why men are so prejudiced against women's team sports in general, and women's cricket in particular.

She had this to say:
"Some men still find it hard to admit to 'liking women's sport' it's some kind of macho stigma, or won't give it a chance because they aren't 'supposed to like it'."
I think she's right; and I also think that things like this don't help.

In case it is later removed, here's a screen-grab of Essex Cricket's ad for the Women's Ashes T20 match at Chelmsford:


They've used the ECB's fiery marketing pic of KB, Lottie and SJT, which I think it really cool; but they've accompanied it with their own text, and here's where we hit the problem:
"... we bring you 'Girl Power'"
 Sorry? What? Girl Power? With Capital Letters? And 'Finger Quotes'?

Apart from sounding horribly 90s*, it is almost as if they want to turn-off and turn-away anyone with a 'Y' in the chromosome department!

Generally speaking, I think the ECB have done a pretty-fab job at running a gender-neutral marketing campaign for The Ashes. It was a real step forwards. But this, I'm afraid, is two steps back.

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* Just a hunch... but I'll bet a penny-or-two that the person responsible for this text is a woman in her late 30s, for whom The Spice Girls were her generation's Beatles!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Women's Ashes 3rd ODI

Random thoughts on the 3rd ODI at Hove Home via Sky's Little Red Corvette Button:
  • This was a quality England performance with the bat - the performance we'd all been waiting for. Australia's total was one they'd have been happy with; but Knight and Taylor took the game away from them in the middle overs. Taylor's was obviously the Man of the Match performance; but Paddy Power can pay out now on the English Player of the Year for 2013: stand up, Heather Knight.
  • Taylor's stunning catch is all over the internet by now, and has done more to promote women's cricket than any amount of tweeting hashtags or flaming photoshoots! Rob Key was saying what a great day Taylor had behind the stumps; but you know what? She actually had a normal day - that's how good she is! (The only difference is that on this occasion she followed it up big-time with the bat.)
  • Martin Davies mention on Twitter that the Australian team looked deflated in the field towards the end. They shouldn't have done - this contest is far-from over, especially bearing in mind that England need to "more-than-draw" the series to reclaim The Ashes.
  • I'm looking forward to Chelmsford on Tuesday - it'll be my last 'live' match of the series, and I can't wait!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Women's Ashes 2nd ODI

Random thoughts on the 2nd ODI at Hove Home via 5-Live:
  • Yay!
  • Woo-hoo!
  • Woop-woop!
  • Listening-in on 5-Live, Ali-Mit is much missed. Iain O'Brien isn't a bad broadcaster, but he basically admitted that he doesn't know a thing about women's cricket. (He gets bonus points for being frank and not bluffing, I guess; but I'd rather have a commentator that actually knows the player's names, and doesn't keep referring to "batswomen"... which is what my ten-year-old son would call a "noob fail"!)
  • Playing Silver Sciver was a gamble. It paid off; but it was a gamble nonetheless, because Sciver is more of a bisher-bosher, in contrast to a "proper" batsman like Loz Winfield. If England had lost Brindle or Greenway earlier, Sciver would have been horribly exposed I suspect. (It might have made more sense if Sciver had bowled, but she didn't... so it didn't!)

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Women's Ashes 1st ODI

Random thoughts on the 1st ODI at Lords:

  • I really don't understand batting Heather Knight at 5, especially given how uncomfortable Aran Brindle looked at the top of the order. Knight is England's in-form player, but she had no time to build an innings coming in so late.
  • Sarah Taylor needs to add some gritty to her pretty. Elegant thirties don't win matches. (Copy out 500 times, Sarah!)
  • England were ahead on Duckworth-Lewis for much of their innings, but they didn't press home this advantage. They played a lot of strokes without finding the gaps and jogged a lot of singles without pushing for the twos. 
  • Holly Colvin may (or may not) be 'yipped' but she sure isn't landing it on her usual, economical sixpence. She wasn't bad... none of the bowlers were... but Holly wasn't quite at her best. (Let's hope she gets back there soon!)
  • Lords was only half open - the stands on the south side being closed entirely - but there was a really good buzz about the place. 
  • It was good to see Danni Wyatt in the crowd, supporting the team with a smile on her face, even though she must feel rubbish on the inside. I've not been her most vociferous fan, but this was big and brave. (Can you imagine seeing Nick Compton in the crowd at The Oval this week?)
  • Overall, I really feel that England lost this match much more than Australia won it. And that is actually good news: Australia are beatable and The Ashes are still winnable... we just need a bit more "oomph" next time.
UPDATE: I've amended this post slightly, after a friend pointed out that it read as if I was primarily blaming Holly Colvin for the loss... which I really, really wasn't!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

T20 Finals - The Secret Cricket Match

The men's T20 finals took place this weekend. It was the biggest day of the domestic season, and drew more than 20,000 people to Edgbaston for a day of thrilling cricket.

The women's equivalent, for which Berkshire, Nottinghamshire, Sussex and Kent have qualified, also promises to be closely fought. Although last year's Sussex-Berkshire final was a bit one-sided; Berkshire are a stronger team this year, with Heather Knight in the form of her (young) life; and any of the four teams would be worthy winners.

However... one thing there won't be is a crowd of 20,000 people!

In fact, if there was a crowd of twenty, it would better Berkshire's biggest "gate" of the season so far. I attended all of Berkshire's home games this year, and (discounting the players' mums, dads and dogs) I reckon the largest "crowd" was about three!

But surely the T20 finals will attract a bit of a turnout, when they take place on September 7th at... er... hang on... actually, where are they taking place?

That's the problem - I know when the finals are taking place, but I don't know where! And nor does anybody else! (Including, to the best of my knowledge, the players themselves!)

It's a secret cricket match, in a secret location.

Why?

Is The Queen playing?

Are the ECB afraid someone will creep-into the clubhouse the night before and steal the trophy? (Will it eventually be found, lying under a bush, by a dog called Pickles?)

Or is this just the sad reality of following the women's game?

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Women's Ashes Test - Day 4

Random thoughts on the final day:
  • I couldn't be at Wormsley today, so I had the pleasure of following the game via Charles Dagnall, Alison Mitchel & Co. on Test Match Special. And what a pleasure it was! (Once they'd turned-down the "Trump Mic"!!) I'll be at Lords for the first ODI next week; but I look forward to joining "Team TMS" again at Hove for the second and third ODIs.
  • Following up on the Four or Five Day Tests? debate, I'm really not sure that it would have made any difference. Australia would have batted long into the fifth day to make the game safe; and while England might have had to survive two sessions rather than one, I suspect they would still have done so.
  • Heather Knight was rightly Man-of-the-Match, but I hope she shared some of her champagne with Laura Marsh! Heather scored the 150, but without Laura's support, she would have been left high-and-dry on 70-odd Not Out at around-about tea time on day two; and the team would now be 6-0 down in the series.
  • For better or worse, a draw is actually the best result for the fans - the rest of the series could have been a dead rubber by mid-way through next week; but now we've got some big, BIG ODIs to look forward to - BRING IT ON!

Important: Wormsley DID Respond To Inappropriate Banter Directed At Holly Ferling

I mentioned last night, in my 'Random Thoughts' from Day 3 of The Ashes Test, that some of the "banter" directed at Holly Ferling went a bit too far.

Actually... a lot too far.

I now gather that those responsible were brought to the attention of The Powers That Be at Wormsley. They were almost ejected, but pleaded for one more chance and subsequently dialed it down.

So... good for Wormsley for doing something about it at the time; and good for those responsible for (a) realizing that they needed to tone it down and (b) doing so.

(But I still very-much hope that Holly's parents were late to the ground that day - they really didn't need to hear that stuff.)

Sthalekar: Four days not enough!

In her Cricket Australia blog, Lisa Sthalekar asks: are four days enough for The Ashes Test? She brings to bear several arguments, so it is really worth reading; but her basic answer is: no - four days makes it too easy to play for a draw.

One thing we do need to bear in mind is that this is actually a four-and-a-half day Test in "men's" terms, because 100 overs are being bowled each day, rather than ninety. And (I think?) they've actually bowled them all every day, even with the rain yesterday.

However, I think that a bigger part of the picture on this occasion is the six points. Although they provide a huge incentive to win, they also provide an even bigger incentive not to lose; and I am quite convinced that if you'd offered either captain a draw at the start of the contest, they'd have taken it; rather than risk going into the one-days having to win five of the six remaining matches.

The irony is that the six points were allocated to try to emphasize the primacy and importance of the Test. All they've done (so far!) is reduce it to a bit of a trundle.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Women's Ashes Test - Day 3

Random thoughts on the third day:
  • Some of the "banter" directed at Holly Ferling by a certain section of the crowd was a bit... er... inappropriate. (And that's putting it mildly.) I dread to think what her parents (who were at the ground) made of it; but if I'd had to hear that about my daughter, I think I might have gone over and thumped someone. Yes, she is an international cricketer... but she is also seventeen guys! Seventeen.
  • Unsurprisingly, people were starting to ask 'How many points for a draw?' Now, I'm not a mathematician, so correct me if I am wrong; but I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter! In a two-team league, it could be one, two, six or sixty points for a draw - it makes no difference, because the other team would gain exactly the same amount of points, so they cancel each other out. (No?)
  • Heather Knight - above, on her way to 157 - was amazing again. She has quite literally saved England's Ashes campaign - if it weren't for her innings, we would surely be staring down the barrel of 6-0. (Because points for a win do matter!)
  • The Southern Stars were encouraging each other with shouts of "Show you're Aussie!" I was hoping this meant they were going to lose all their wickets in the final session... but sadly not!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Women's Ashes Test - Day 2

A few (mostly Anglo-centric) random thoughts on the second day:
  • England set very different fields this morning, with no silly point; and Taylor standing up to the quicks. There is only one possible explanation for this: Lottie reads my blog!
  • Holly Ferling is basically the same bowler she was at the World Cup. Her radar is all over the place (and had the Barmy Army singing a re-working of the Mitchel Johnson song - She bowls to the left... etc.) but when she hits the target: BOOM!
  • Was it just my imagination, or was Lottie distinctly unimpressed at being given out LBW to the upstart Ferling? Her reaction bordered on dissent, and it wasn't pretty.
  • If Laura Marsh was selected over Holly Colvin for her batting... it was a good call!
  • This was obviously Australia's day. Again. But Heather Knight has brought her brilliant county form with her to this series and all is not lost - a draw is still possible; even if a win is probably not.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Women's Ashes Test - Day 1

 A few (very Anglo-centric) random thoughts on the first day:
  • There is "Silly Point" and "Far Too Silly Point". Tammy Beaumont spent much of the day fielding at the latter - far too close to react to anything. Unless the only purpose was to unsettle the batsmen, it was "Really Very Little Point Indeed."
  • Katherine Brunt isn't fit, is she? She managed only 4 overs with the new ball before she gave-way to the decidedly unthreatening Jenny Gunn. I accept that a half-fit KB is probably worth two fully-fit "someone elses" but...
  • Was it my imagination; or was Sarah Taylor standing a fair bit further back to Shrubsole than she was to Brunt? (The pic above is Shrubsole bowling; and Taylor is certainly standing a long way back.) Interestingly enough, there was a speed-gun in the ground... but it was in the kids "Cricket Factory" playground - I'd like to have seen it pointed at England's quicks!
  • I thought the toss was going to be perhaps the most important moment of the entire series, because I was convinced both sides would want to bowl. Australia's decision to bat was obviously vindicated, but I'm still surprised, if only because surely England would have chosen to bowl?
  • Wormsley is nice. Lovely, even. But a proper ground, with proper facilities... and proper toilets... and proper 3G coverage would... also be lovely! (To be fair, my son (on '3') had some mobile internet coverage; but I had none on Vodafone.)

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Where's Our Jonathan Agnew To Ask The Difficult Questions?

Something's up with Hol-Col... but we don't know what!

Holly Colvin - England's most reliable bowler over recent years - was not included in the team for the Ashes Test which begins tomorrow... and nobody seems to know why!

Retired Southern Star Lisa Sthalekar, blogging for Cricket Australia, hints at a possible explanation:
There has been a suggestion that [Colvin] may be suffering from the ‘yips’...
But the truth is that we don't know... and we are probably not going to find out any time soon!

This segues into something that has been bugging me since the World Cup in India: that while there are reporters covering women's cricket, 99% of them are too close to the team to ask any difficult questions - they see their role as supporting the game and the England team; and acting as cheerleaders, rather than quizzical "journalists".

Women's cricket lacks a Jonathan Agnew - an authoritative figure who can't be ignored (unlike us bloggers) and who is not afraid to prod and probe around-about off-stump, moving the ball one way and then the other, asking tough questions and then following them up intelligently.

(And the brilliant thing about Agnew is that he does this so cleverly and subtly, that a lot of people assume he is a bit of a soft-touch buffoon - when in reality he is nothing of the sort - and he ends up getting the answers no one else can!)

Women's cricket is at a bit of a junction; and it does need an element of cheerleading in the press to drum-up support for the team and the game.

But sometimes I just wish they'd ask the odd difficult question too!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

England Women On Twitter

With Lydia Greenway having "caved into the peer pressure" (her words!) all 18 of the England Women's Ashes squad are now on Twitter! So, here they all are, mostly supporting their brand-new "#RISE" promo pics:
As you'd expect, some tweet more than others - it goes in phases, with Charlotte Edwards, Sarah Taylor and Danni Wyatt tending to be the most prolific. 99% of their tweets are "Safe For School"; and though a couple of the girls do "push the envelope" occasionally, it tends to be more on the risque side than anything more concerning for parents of younger kids.

Women's Ashes Match To Be Broadcast On-Line

The ECB have announced that one of the Ashes ODIs (Lords) will be broadcast on-line.

This isn't a first for women's cricket - the West Indies have shown matches this way in the past. And neither is it a first for English cricket - the recent men's Ashes series has been broadcast on-line in "non cricket" countries by YouTube.

But it is significant nonetheless.

The ECBs contract with SKY gives the pay-TV giant exclusive rights to all cricket played in the UK; so the broadcasting of this match must have been done with SKY's permission... meaning that SKY have accepted the principle that if they don't want to broadcast it, someone else can.

Hopefully then, this is a precursor to fuller coverage of women's cricket being made available in future. (And ECB, if you're listening... which I'm sure you're not... I'd be happy to pay for it!)

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Women's Ashes - The Pessimist v The Optimist?

The Women's Ashes begins in less than a week; and you can get the full lowdown over at womens-cricket.blogspot.co.uk.

As an England fan, I'm excited... but also nervous; and in the past few weeks I've veered between optimism and pessimism.

The Pessimist

England's early-summer wins against Pakistan were a little close for comfort. Pakistan are the weakest of the "top 8" sides; and if England are going to beat Australia, you'd expect them to totally put Pakistan to the sword... but they didn't. (Which, I might add, is great news for international women's cricket in general though!)

Several of England's top bowlers have had problematic years. Four of our go-tos - Brunt, Shrubsole, Colvin and Marsh - have had serious injury problems and been out for significant periods; and if Brunt and Shrubsole both make it through 10 days of hard cricket, it will be a miracle.

Then there is Sarah Taylor; who had a dreadful World Cup; and while she has found some form this season, she no longer looks quite like the best player in the world that she did a year ago.

The Optimist

The Test is the key - if England can take the 6 points there, it is a long way back for Australia; and Lottie Edwards could be be the difference between the teams at Wormsley. If England bat first, and Edwards posts a big hundred, then England will be well on their way. And when England bowl, they'll have the most experienced captain in world cricket running the show.

Our leading bowlers may have had injury problems; but they'll be fired-up and ready to go. If England gamble on Brunt and Shrubsole for The Test, they could take a lot of wickets between them; while Holly Colvin* Laura Marsh keeps it tight at the other end. And if Brunt and Shrubsole can bring back those points from Wormsley... maybe it doesn't matter if they don't play all the limited-overs games?

Then there is Sarah Taylor! As the old adage goes, form is temporary but class is permanent;and she is due some big performances on some big occasions.

So...

Who is it going to be? I don't know! If I were a gambling man, I have to say that I might be putting my money on Australia... but my heart will always say England!

* UPDATE: Colvin has been left out of the Test squad.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Women's County Chanpionship: Berkshire v Nottinghamshire

Heather Knight starred again as Berkshire beat Nottinghamshire in the final game of the championship season.


As a cricketing spectacle, this was very much a game of two halves. Notts batted first, clocking up 215 against some shockingly poor bowling, as Berkshire sent down slow full toss after slow full toss, with a goodly sprinkling of no-balls and wides. Only Heather Knight looked like she belonged in a first division bowling attack; and the fact that Notts didn't score a lot more I can only attribute to shock at just how bad Berks were.


The second half, however, was a different game. With Sonia Odedra opening the bowling as dangerously as anyone I've seen this season, Notts were professional in the field; and looked to be nailed-on for a big win.

But with Heather Knight hanging in there, you never know! The runs kept coming, but the wickets didn't. Danni Wyatt, suffering from a stomach upset, was understandably out-of-sorts; and with Heather Knight on 80-odd, Berkshire must have been thinking maybe... just maybe!

A potential turning-point occurred when Odedra had Knight caught at  square leg, only for it to be called a no-ball. It looked like a huge let-off; but a fired-up Odedra then cleaned-up Knight's middle stump with the next delivery; and the game was Notts' to lose.

But lose they did, as with wickets in hand, Berkshire were free to begin hitting-out, eventually stealing past the target in the final over, with the assistance of a "five-no-balls" from Jenny Gunn.

Monday, 8 July 2013

England Name Ashes Squad

England have named 18 players in their provisional Ashes squad, with the only "surprise" being the inclusion of the currently-injured Katherine Brunt - I'm guessing more in hope than expectation. Apparently, the plan is to whittle this down to 15 at the beginning of August, ready for the Ashes Test on August 11th. (For what it's worth, I've highlighted my Test XI and struck-through those I think will be whittled!)
  • Charlotte Edwards (Kent, capt)
  • Arran Brindle (Sussex)
  • Sarah Taylor (Sussex)
  • Lydia Greenway (Kent)
  • Georgia Elwiss (Sussex)
  • Danielle Hazell (Yorkshire)
  • Danielle Wyatt (Nottinghamshire)
  • Jenny Gunn (Nottinghamshire)
  • Heather Knight (Berkshire)
  • Natalie Sciver (Surrey)
  • Holly Colvin (Sussex)
  • Anya Shrubsole (Somerset)
  • Amy Jones (Warwickshire)
  • Natasha Farrant (Kent)
  • Tammy Beaumont (Kent)
  • Katherine Brunt (Yorkshire)
  • Laura Marsh (Kent)
  • Lauren Winfield (Yorkshire)
(Yes - I wouldn't play Shrubsole in the Test - she has the pedigree; but in a match we really, really, really can't afford to lose, she is too much of an injury-risk.)

The Final Lesson & The Critical Test

There is one more lesson to be taken from the England-Pakistan series; but I wanted to raise it in a separate post because it segues into The Ashes series which begins in a month.

It concerns The Ashes "points" system, which awards 2 points for each of the (six) limited-overs matches, and a whopping 6 points for the (one) Test, which kicks off the series on August 11.

And there is the problem:

If England lose the Test, it would be a disaster, because it would leave them 6-0 down, and needing to win five out of the six remaining (limited-overs) matches to win-back The Ashes.

And on current form (i.e. against Pakistan) there is no way in hell that this England team are going to win 5-of-6 games against that Australia team.

So, it is absolutely critical that England don't lose that Test. They can win it (nice... though Australia could still come back if they did!) and they can draw it; but they really, really, really can't afford to lose it!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Pakistan Deserve To Be At The Top Table

I don't usually comment much on England's opponents - I'm an England fan and this is an England blog.

But... I do feel the need to say something about the Pakistan side we've seen followed on Cricinfo this week.

If there is a "top table" of women's cricket, Pakistan are comfortably the weakest side on it. Some bloggers even went so far as to refer to this series as warm-ups in all but name suggesting that anything less than an England whitewash would be a major upset! [Er - That was you wasn't it? Ed.] (Hmmm... it might have been!)

Well, this week has proved that even if Pakistan remain the weakest side at that top table, it is a top table which they fully deserve to be at! Neither of the ODIs were walk-overs and even in the first T20, where England were very comfortable winners, Pakistan weren't a total embarrassment to themselves - at least batting-out their overs. And then came the final T20! Yes, England weakened themselves by re-jigging the team and leaving-out one of their two world-class players, but that England team still contained over 700 international caps*.

So here's to Pakistan! We look forward to welcoming you again soon - if not before, then in 2017 for the World Cup.

(PS - If you haven't already, watch this video of the 2nd T20. The joy on the faces of the Pakistan team at the end is just lovely to behold - that's what cricket is all about!)

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* 722, to be precise!

Saturday, 6 July 2013

England vs Pakistan Series Review

England's quick-fire series against Pakistan ended yesterday with honours shared in the T20s. (Though it is worth noting that Pakistan's win - widely lauded across the web as "historic" - came against a deliberately experimental England team, with Sarah Taylor rested, to give Amy Jones mitten-time, and Lottie Edwards batting down the order.)

The entire series was always destined to be a light entree for the Ashes feast to come; and with the new management team seemingly (correctly, in my view) sticking mostly to Mark Lane's template, there were unlikely to be any huge revelations; and I think this was largely borne-out.

Nevertheless, here are my thoughts:
  1. Without Lottie anchoring the batting, we are pretty second-rate in that department. She topped the series batting averages by a country-mile; and it is no coincidence that the game we lost was the one where she stepped aside from her usual opening spot.
  2. Danni Wyatt is not an international opening batsman. We knew that two games into the World Cup; and after yesterday we still know it. (Yes, she can hit one in county cricket; but...)
  3. Anya Shrubsole isn't right - she took one wicket in 3 games, and that in an over in which she also conceded 7 wides. I'm guessing she isn't genuinely fit; and that is a concern for the Ashes.
  4. Natalie Sciver is a keeper. (As in... we'll keep her!) (HT Raf Nicholson!) Although Holly Colvin was back in light training this week, I've given up hope that Katherine Brunt will play any part in the Ashes; so we'll be looking to Sciver big-time in August. (No pressure Nat!)