Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Serious Questions Over Spirit of Cricket Injury

The announcement of this year's Spirit of Cricket awards has led to serious questions being asked of the adults responsible for the welfare of a young female cricketer.

As detailed in the ECB press release:

The winners of the Girls’ Award is Banbury Cricket Club Under-15s bowler Amy Freeman, who was recovering from a dislocated knee at the start of the season but continued to play for her club as they were struggling to field a team. 

During one match she dislocated her other knee but continued to play on, fielding at slip, bowling from a one-step run up and apologising to her opposition as she did so. 

Amy Freeman is clearly one brave and spirited young lady, but you have to ask what on earth the supervising adults were thinking; and whether they should have allowed a minor to continue to participate with such a serious injury?

As leading women's cricket journalist, Raf Nicholson said on Twitter:

If playing on thru serious injury, risking permanent damage, is now the "spirit of cricket", it's time to get rid of the concept altogether.

I've no doubt Amy wanted to play on; but these decisions simply aren't ones we should be allowing 14-year-old girls to take for themselves; and I simply do not understand how the powers-that-be (in this case, the MCC) can possibly condone such a reckless and irresponsible approach by the coaches and/or umpires to a young player's physical well-being, risking long-term damage and (in the worst case scenario) possible permanent physical disability.

Amy is obviously an amazing and courageous girl; but serious questions need to be asked of whoever was responsible for her welfare that day; and they are questions that need answering.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

"Super" Supers 4s

The Super 4s haven't been "super" in a while... and for the past couple of years they haven't even been 4*! It's time to bring them back... and then some! Here's the plan for a "Super" Super 4s:

Four "proper" teams, with cool uniforms and badges, each with a genuine overseas "star name" - a Lanning, a Bates, a (Stafanie) Taylor or a Kapp - to spark media interest. Once a (domestic) player is selected for a team, they stay with that team - we don't chop and change every year, confusing fans and the press; but a draft system brings in new blood every season.

The tournament consists of six 'Super 4's Festival Weekends' held at proper county grounds, culminating in a "Grand Final" at Lords.

Each weekend has one 50-Over game and a T20 double-header, meaning the teams play 6 T20s and 3 One-Day games over the course of the 'season'.

At the end of the regular season, the top two teams (combining formats... again, to keep it simple for fans and the press) contest a T20 "Grand Final" at Lords, and we find a way (somehow) to broadcast this Free-To-Air on a Sunday evening.

This year's T20 at Chelmsford v India has proved that people will pay to watch top-level women's cricket, even when it isn't The Ashes - let's build on that momentum - let's make it happen!

* There were 4 teams in 2013, but one of them wasn't a women's team.

Monday, 15 September 2014

D1/2 Play Off - Warwickshire v Somerset

A pugnacious century from Helen Shipman set the platform for a dramatic last-ball victory as Warwickshire beat Somerset at Mosley CC to retain their Division 1 status next season.

Someset batted first, posting 220 in what was very-much a team effort, with Anya Shrubsole (49), Sophie Luff (49) and Fran Wilson (58) all contributing. Luff in particular was livid with herself when she was caught on the ring by Liz Russell, but she'd done her bit, even if the lower order couldn't quite keep up the pace - losing wickets as Somerset were all-out in their final over.

Nevertheless, the 221 they'd set Warwickshire looked like a fair-old ask. The Bears needed a hero, and they found one in Shipman, who played beautifully early on, including a couple of lovely Edwardsesque late cuts, as she and Minahil Zahoor put on 101 for the first wicket.

Shipman faces Shrubsole in the opening over of Warwickshire's reply

As she grew in confidence, Shipman began to hit over the top, riding her luck a bit, but you can't argue with the scoreboard - she'd made 124 from 143 balls, when she was caught by Moria Comfort off Jenny Withers, with Anya Shrubsole running the length of the field to congratulate the Warwickshire opener on her fine innings.

The game looked Somerset's to lose then however, and even more-so going into the final over, with Isabelle Watson and Liz Russel (Warwickshire's 8 and 9) facing England opening bowler Anya Shrubsole, needing 15 to win. But to screams of delight from the pavilion, Shrubsole's first two balls were dispatched for four, and suddenly it was on! A single followed, then another BIG heave for four and it was down to two-from-two - a single from the penultimate ball brought the scores level (which (I believe???) meant that Warwickshire had actually already survived) but they made sure of it with another single of the final ball - a thrilling end to the season; but heartbreak and tears in the huddle for Somerset, who were denied for the second year running, albeit at least on the field this time.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

England Women v South Africa 3rd T20

Thoughts & analysis:
  • Lauren Winfield's 74 off 60 balls - by far her highest score in international cricket - was exactly the innings we've been looking for her to play in this series. With Lottie failing for once, someone had to stand up; and though there were still a handful of dodgy shots in the earlier overs, she did the job that was needed - which was to put runs on the board at a decent strike-rate - over 120! I said during the Test that her biggest issues seemed to be psychological more than technical; so maybe now she has proved something, to herself and to the world, this is the start of bigger things for her? Let's hope so!
  • (I still think Heather Knight should have been opening though; and so does she, it seems - basically saying as much in her pre-match interview with Isa Guha!)
  • On the South African side, I can only once again point to Dane van Niekerk and say "I wish we had one of them!" The turn she got on the ball that saw Nat Sciver stumped was something else - a weapon like that is worth it's weight in gold, not only because of what it can do, but because of the element of doubt it places in the mind of every batsman she'll ever face from now on. Oh... and she only topped the South African batting averages in the series as well - scoring twice as many runs (105) as her next-placed team-mate, Mignon du Preez (46)!
  • I was going to write that Hazell was rubbish again; but to be fair, although she was milked a bit, it was actually Brunt and Shrubsole who were expensive - both going for 30 off their 4. Basically, England really didn't have a great day with the ball at all, but...
  • The fielding was always the one area where England's professionalism was likely to tell, and it was that which dragged them out of a decidedly sticky-looking situation going into the final overs today, when it really looked like South Africa were in with a shout. Lydia Greenway is touching upon that rarest of cricketing categories - a player who is picked for their fielding alone, vitally doing for du Preez and Kapp today; and mention must also go to Nat Sciver for her amazing direct hit from the (admittedly quite short) boundary to run out Chetty.
  • Finally... the old chestnut... double-headers! The pitiful "crowd" really must persuade the ECB to think again about this - it isn't fair on the girls to play in front of an empty stadium; and it isn't fair on the true fans, who can't go to the game without paying silly money for a men's international they don't have any interest in. (Speaking for myself, anyway!)

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Improving Women's T20

Over on Women's Cricket Blog, Martin Davies has some proposals for improving the spectacle of Women's T20 cricket - an issue Izzy Westbury also raised recently in her All Out Cricket column. Here's my tuppence:

Cricket is a complicated game - that's one of the reasons why we love it; but sometimes it's a bit too complicated. Powerplays and fielding restrictions are a case in point - if you don't believe me, ask Raf Nicholson who recently attempted to explain them to an intelligent, cricket-loving eleven-year-old boy (my son) and got precisely nowhere!

So let's ditch the poweplays and apply the same rules for the entire game.

But note that I didn't say "ditch the fielding restrictions" - they are there for a reason, to stop teams just posting 9 men on the boundary at all times. But we can simplify them, and I would propose a radical simplification - require all men to be inside the circle at the moment of delivery.

This means that there will always be the option of hitting "over the top" and the fact that the girls find the boundary less often is actually an advantage here - it makes running between the wickets all the more exciting, as the race between the batsmen and the fielders trying to run them out really comes to the fore. This gives women's cricket the distinctive character that Izzy describes thus:

"... not a boundary-hitting fest, but a game that relies on quick-thinking, innovative shot-selection and graceful strokes."

So there's no need to shorten the boundary (in this scenario, the long boundary becomes a feature not a bug) or shoot one of the players - vis-a-vis Martin's (I suspect slightly tongue-in-cheek) suggestion to reduce the teams to 10 men!

Neither of these suggestions changes the fundamental nature of women's cricket - it's still cricket, with all its traditions; and I don't think either idea requires a change in the Laws either, only in the Playing Conditions. But by ditching the powerplays and requiring all fielders to be inside the circle, we've made women's T20 cricket more exciting and more accessible. (And the fact that it plays to England's strengths more than Australia's? Pure coincidence!)

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

England Women v South Africa 2nd T20

Thoughts on England's win in Northampton...
  • Charlotte Edwards' storming limited-overs summer continues - across the ODIs and T20s she has scored over half of England's runs. (Though add on the Test and it falls back to a "mere" 37%!) 
  • A side-effect of Edwards' performances at Chelmsford and Northampton is that neither Heather Knight or Danni Wyatt have had a bat yet in this series; though Heather picked up a couple of wickets with the ball tonight. 
  • I still think Knight should be opening - Winfield looked largely unconvincing again today; and though a couple of storming shots gave notice of her potential to hit through the ball, there were still more questions asked than answered I feel.
  • On the South African side, I have been really impressed with Dane van Niekerk - she looks a very solid batsman, and bowled her leg-spinners pretty tidily here and at Chelmsford as well. Like captain Mignon du Preez, she may be even better-suited to 50-over cricket - look out for her at the 2017 World Cup when, aged 24, she'll be approaching her best years with both bat and ball!
  • England were obviously some lengths ahead of South Africa again, even though the Women Proteas performed much better today than they did at Chelmsford; but was this a performance that would win us a World T20? I'm not sure. We scored runs at "7", which is what we need to be doing, but that's a lot easier to do against an attack that bowls a fair few of loose deliveries as the Saffers did tonight, and I can't help feeling that we are still some way behind Australia, who are currently showing us what a real walloping is against Pakistan.

Monday, 1 September 2014

England Women v South Africa 1st T20

Some thoughts on England's win at Fortress Chelmsford...
  • From a South African perspective, I thought 89 was pretty-much a "par score" against an England attack that looked to have a bit more "bite" than it has so far this summer. I certainly don't think the Women Proteas should be in any way disheartened with their batting performance - remember, the historic average score in a women's international T20 innings is 108 (cf. 139 in "the other game"), so they really weren't massively short with the bat. (Although I can see why you might think so... if you mostly watched m's cricket!)
  • Shrubsole looks a different bowler in T20s - suddenly she was World T20 Anya again; and Brunt also looked the business. Hazell didn't though - this game last year (i.e. the Ashes T20 at Chelmsford) she was England's best bowler; but I'm afraid she hasn't been very good all summer and she wasn't great again tonight, so I think Farrant really has to play in the next match* - she isn't a like-for-like replacement, but she will do a similar job.
  • Why, oh why, oh why is Lauren Winfield opening the batting? I know she was "unlucky"... again... but I'm starting to wonder if the antitheses of an old adage is at work here: The more out of my depth I am, the unluckier I get! And it isn't like we don't have a solid, settled, classy opening alternative - so I really hope Heather is put back where she belongs ASAP.
  • It is a pity Danni Wyatt's one contribution was a horrible misfield, which was very out of character too - she is usually excellent in the outfield. I'd still really like to see her batting at "first drop", which I guess isn't going to happen, but I do hope she gets some chance to show in this series why we were all clamouring for her inclusion in this team.
  • Lottie. (Enough said.)
* Assuming she is fit - and I haven't heard anything to the contrary.