Monday, 24 February 2014

Summer 2014 - England v India & South Africa, Including... A TEST v India!

The ECB have (finally!) made an official announcement about 2014 fixtures against India and South Africa - including a TEST against India - the first non-England/Australia Test in women's cricket for almost 10 years.

England v India

13-16 August - Test @ Wormsley
21 August - ODI @ Scarborough
23 August - ODI @ Scarborough
25 August - ODI @ Lords

England v South Africa

1 September - T20 @ Chelmsford
3 September - T20 @ Northampton
7 September - T20 @ Edgbaston (DH)

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Women's World T20 Squad - Wyatt On The Brutal Brink

England's squad for the #WT20 has been announced, and one thing is clear - it is not the squad the selectors would have wanted to send in an ideal world. Retirements, injuries and loss of form, have taken a big toll on the management's long-term plans; and eyebrows were certainly raised in my vicinity when Clare Connor said "We have opted for a mix of proven international performers... alongside exciting fresh talents."

Opted? Hardly!

If you'd asked the coaches six months ago to name an XI for this tournament, it would likely have included not only the injured trio of Marsh, Brunt and Farrant; but also the now-retired duo of Colvin and Brindle.

Having been aware for some weeks that Marsh had been ruled out, the major loss for me is actually Natasha Farrant, who isn't fast or fearsome, but is very accurate and tough to take runs from. (Though I did also half-anticipate her absence in view of her impending A-levels which (pro contracts or not) are arguably more important that a T20 World Cup.)

The other big talking-points are Winfield and Wyatt, who have both been dropped.

I think Loz Winfield can count herself rather unlucky. She seems to have been dropped on the grounds that she got a duck in the final T20 in Australia - her one real opportunity on that tour; and Tammy Beaumont had a good 'A' tour of Sri Lanka. But ducks happen - ask Sarah Taylor about the last World Cup in India! (Actually... don't!) And ducks happen more often when you pile on the pressure by giving a player just one game to prove herself. Plus you'd have to imagine that Winfield would have got runs in Sri Lanka too had she gone on that trip.

As for Danni Wyatt, it seems the selectors have finally accepted reality - she is having significant issues with her bowling action, and just isn't scoring enough runs to be selected at this level as a specialist batsman. Her problem batting-wise is one as old as the game itself - a natural ability to smash county-level bowlers all over the park tends towards a 'slog everything' mentality which gets found-out at the highest level.

Where I do feel sorry for Wyatt is what happens now? Going back to county isn't going to help much in either department - if (as I suspect) she needs to remodel her bowling action, that isn't going to happen outside the England setup; but you'd have to question whether those resources aren't better-directed at someone younger - leaving Wyatt's career on the brink. For someone who has made cricket her life, and put everything into the game, with (as I understand) no real backup plan, that's harsh. But it is a pro sport now... and pro sport is brutal, I'm afraid.

Friday, 14 February 2014

What Impact Will A Professional Elite Have On The Rest Of The Game?

The full-time contracts announced for England's women cricketers have been greeted with unanimous applause, and it's certainly good news for Team England; but what impact will it have on the rest of the game?

A Widening Gulf Between Domestic and International Cricket?

Some of the players won't thank me for saying this, but there is already a pretty big gap between domestic and international cricket - far bigger than exists in the men's game. Several of the Division 1 county teams are 'carrying' players who act as a specialist outfielder, batting down the order and bowling little more than the odd over. On the other side of the coin, one player - Heather Knight - was basically able to drag Berkshire single-handedly to a mid-table finish last season; and it is indicative that not only was she their best batsman - she frequently looked* their best bowler too!

On the one side, we'll have the professional elite - working full-time with the best coaches at the national academy. On the other side, we'll have the rest - training for a few hours a week at most, fitting things in around work and/or classes, with coaches who are not full-time pros either. If we are not careful, this is a gap which could quickly become a gaping gulf.

The Spanish Footballization of Domestic Cricket?

Although the metaphor is slightly flawed right now, with 3 teams equal on points atop La Liga, Spanish football is basically a carve-up between Real Madrid and Barcelona - these two teams have all the money; all the best players; and by winning everything perpetuate the cycle season after season.

Women's domestic cricket in England is similarly dominated by two sides - Kent and Sussex - who have pretty-much owned the trophy cabinet between them for the past 10 years.

Although Kent and Sussex undoubtedly deserve the success they've had, even the most blinkered of their fans would have to accept that this isn't entirely healthy for the game as a whole - it's supposed to be a competition, after all; and if you want a procession... go to Pride!

It is all to easy to imagine a situation where a couple of defections (Knight to Kent? Shrubsole to Sussex?) mean we are looking at essentially two professional teams playing week-in-week-out against amateurs, which I don't think actually helps anyone, including England who need a competitive domestic game to build the next generation of the national side.

A House Built On Sand?

Jesus probably didn't have women's cricket in mind when he warned against building your house on sand, but it doesn't mean he wasn't right: the new contracts are great, but let's be under no illusions - we might have got ourselves a beautiful penthouse, with staggering views over a dazzling skyline, but it is currently hovering on little more than thin air!

England women can maybe pay their own way on 10 home international games per year - though even with sponsorship taking up some slack, they'd need crowds of thousands paying 'proper' gate-money at all those matches, to cover even half-decent salaries for just a dozen players.

But to really make this work, for the reasons specified above, we need to find a way to make the domestic game self-sustaining too, with a core of at least 50 professional players. So other difficult decisions might need to be taken as well - more T20s and (whisper it, because I can hear Raf's teeth grinding already) fewer 'other' matches? The construction of a new 'elite' domestic tier over and above the county game? Enthusiastically embracing initiatives such as the WICL, rather than cold-shouldering them?

Don't get me wrong - I'm delighted we are where we are, and I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade; but where we are is not the end, nor even the beginning of the end... but if we work hard and think carefully about where we take things from here, it might just be the end of the beginning!

* Word chosen carefully - "looked" not "was"!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

The ECB Get Serious About Women's Cricket

The ECB's announcement today of enhanced contracts and "significant" pay rises for England Women is fantastic news for the game in this country.

When the new Australian contracts were introduced last year, we all hoped that this would be a catalyst for similar moves over here; and so it has proved.

There are still a few question marks over the "dots and crosses" [or should that be "Lotts and (Kate) Crosses"?] of this deal. In particular, what happens to the existing Chance To Shine and MCC Young Cricketer contracts, which are currently putting the bread on the table and the petrol in the car? And in the case of Chance To Shine, what happens to their outreach programs, now that they have (presumably) just lost half their staff?

Also in general terms, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that this is more of a beginning than an end - we may have professional players now, but that's a long way from having a professional game which doesn't depend on handouts and cross-subsidies from men's cricket.

But for now, let's just sit back and celebrate an amazing landmark in the history of our game.

Champagne, anyone? It's on the players - they're rich now, apparently! [Er... they're almost certainly not! Ed.]

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Women's Cricket Needs The Exposure of Free-To-Air TV

The Australian WT20 (Women's T20) Final took place yesterday, with the Queensland Fire beating the ACT Meteors at the WACA.

The match was broadcast on live, free-to-air [FTA] TV and got an audience of over 60 thousand*. That's not a huge number** but it is about 60 thousand more than watched our Women's T20 Finals Day which was not on TV at all!

It was sort-of covered on the radio, by a local station (BBC Kent???) who broadcast periodic live updates. That's better than nothing, I guess; but when you are a growing sport, nothing beats getting the games in front of people on live, FTA TV.

This is currently not an option in the UK - Sky own the exclusive rights to all cricket played under the auspices of the ICC, under a contract that extends to 2017.

This has been great for men's cricket - in the short term at least, the Sky contract has made the game rich beyond its wildest dreams; and to be fair some of this bounty has trickled-down into women's cricket. But it creates a very limiting situation for the women's game, where new fans can only come from the existing fan-base of men's cricket. Broader horizons would surely benefit the women's game, as they have women's football, which has been getting a lot of new supporters now the internationals are shown on the BBC.

I don't have any answers here - a contract is a contract; and although Sky did permit one game from last summer's Women's Ashes to be broadcast on-line, there is absolutely no chance that they will allow any "leakage" to other TV stations. But wouldn't it be great for the game if they did?

* Hat-Tip: Davis Harrigan
** Sky claim peak viewing figures of over 1 million for last summer's Men's Ashes.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Dear Clare Connor - Please Don't Lock Us Out Of The Biggest Games

An open letter to @ConnorCricket - 

Dear Clare,

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Syd and this is me with my son Daniel:

Daniel took this selfie at a women's county game last year - Berkshire/ Kent on May 19th. Here is a match report from that game, along with some other photos Daniel took that day.

Daniel and I watch a lot of women's cricket - we attended every single one of Berkshire's home games last season and we were at the T20 Finals Day, where you actually said hello to us! We were both there for the first day of the Wormsley Test last summer and I saw 5-out-of-10 days of the Women's Ashes live.

There was one game we'd really liked to have attended last summer, but had to miss out on though - the T20 at The Rose Whatever-The-Sponsor's-Name-Is Bowl. Unfortunately (as you know) there were no tickets sold for that game directly - you could only get entry by buying an expensive ticket for the men's game. We watched it on TV instead - and saw England win The Ashes in front of thousands of empty seats, because most men's cricket fans aren't really that interested in women's cricket.

I understand the arguments for double-headers. The TV companies like them, because they can add a couple of women's internationals to their schedule at the very marginal cost of turning on the cameras a couple of hours earlier. And there were some men's fans who turned up early to watch the women; so there was a bit of additional exposure.

But it came at a cost to your most loyal supporters - the ones who go to county games and drive across the country to follow England women - as we did the day a few years back when Daniel took the background photo for this blog at Arundel Castle.

Now there is talk of running some of the domestic T20 competition as double-headers, including the finals. I don't know how far advanced these plans are but I have one simple request as you consider them:

Let Daniel and I still see these games live, at the ground, just like we've always done.

We aren't asking you to let us in for free - we know that is unsustainable - but please find a way of allowing us in to watch just the women's matches at a reasonable cost, without having to buy pricey tickets for a men's game we aren't interested in.

Of course the women's game benefits from the additional exposure of T20 double-headers; and we know you need to reach out to new supporters, and the men's game is the most obvious place to try to find them.

But please don't forget who your real fans are.


Syd & Daniel

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Fixing The Women's Ashes Points System

Meg Lanning has become the latest to chip-in on the #WomensAshes points system, arguing that the system over-weighs the Test and that perhaps allocating 3 points* for the ODIs might be the way to go?

Whether or not Lanning meant that just the ODIs should be worth 3 points, or the T20s as well, it is worth bearing in mind that under both scenarios Australia would still have failed to reclaim The Ashes. (An 11-10 victory for England if the T20s were still 2 points; a 12-12 "retain" for England if they were 3.)

One thing we shouldn't lose sight of is that the points system was designed to over-weigh the Test - it was a concession to those who felt that the hallowed traditions of The Ashes were being 'dumbed down' by bringing ODIs and T20s into the equation.

Nevertheless, I have some sympathy with the idea that the current system negatively impacts the competition as a sporting contest, by making it too difficult for the losing team in the Test to come back into it from 6-0 down.

Clearly allocating 3 points to the limited-overs matches doesn't solve the problem; nor does playing the Test at the end, which just incentivizes the team going in ahead to play for a (bore) draw.

So how about this:

Change the emphasis so that points are allocated by series rather than by match - leave the Test, ODIs and T20s all at 6 points each, but allocate ALL 6 points to the winner of each mini-series.

This maintains the primacy of the Test, but means that the other team has to win only 2 of the 3 ODIs to come right back into the contest at 6-all.

Under this system, Australia would have won The Ashes - though perhaps it is debatable whether England would have played quite so badly (even depleted as they were) had the trophy not already been in the bag.

Of course, it isn't perfect - as with the current system, it would still be possible to win The Ashes after just 3 games, leaving a long 'dead rubber' which the losing team could go on to win 4-0; but by putting the emphasis on 'series' rather than 'matches' even this would feel a little fairer.

What Lanning actually said was that two ODIs should carry the same weight as the Test - but whether you reduce the Test to 4 points, or up the ODIs to 3, the difference is the same.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Women's Ashes 3rd T20

Random thoughts on the finale of the #WomensAshes, focussing on the match itself -
  • England's batting was basically rubbish. (That's the kind of detailed insight I (don't) get paid for on here!) Seriously, though...
  • Having Lauren Winfield open was the right call, but offering her one opportunity, in the very last game before the T20 World Cup, just heaped far too much pressure on her and (surprise, surprise) she didn't do herself justice.
  • That England didn't score enough runs is obvious from the result, but a couple of stats stand out in this regard. In the first 5 overs, England scored at just 3.5; and by the end of the match they had notched up a whopping 42 dot-balls. (This was actually less than the 45 dot-balls in the 2nd T20, but at least then they opened at 5.0 from the first 5 overs.) The 19th over consisted of 4 dots and 2 singles - 'not good enough' is understating it, I'm afraid.
  • England chose to open the bowling with Dani Hazel, and she didn't let anyone down; but England really needed an 'enforcer' there with the new ball too, and without Shrubsole or Brunt they had to turn to Cross, who was getting no favours from the pitch today and got knocked around a bit.
  • Seeing Edwards bowl at the death, with a huge smile on her face, was interesting. I guess partly she was protecting Cross and co. from taking any more of a confidence-busting thwolloping. (And yes - I am assured by my 10-year-old son that it is a word!) But there was also a psychological element there I think - Lottie was sending a message to the Southern Stars: Yer, we've lost this game; but we won The Ashes, so who cares! I'm not completely sure I agree with her - there is a sense of disappointment at finishing the tour on such a low; but coming home with the trophy clearly means something, so for the moment I'll raise another cup of coffee to that!