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, 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!

* 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?

* 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


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 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.


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.