ANALYSIS: England Take Note – Wickets Do Matter in T20 Cricket

In the first Women’s Ashes T20 this week in Adelaide, England were sent in and put 169 on the board – a big total on a ground with long boundaries square of the wicket, and one which Tammy Beaumont said afterwards she’d have “bitten your hand off” for going into the game.

But it wasn’t a winning total – Australia cruised to victory with a massive 18 balls to spare, for the loss of just 1 wicket, with Meg Lanning finishing 64 not out off 44 balls, and Tahlia McGrath 91 not out off 49.

It’s often said that wickets don’t matter in short-form cricket, and there is an element of truth in that – a bowler that takes a couple of wickets but concedes an absolute hatful of runs is probably on balance doing more harm than good. But for England, it is the mantra that seems to now exclusively govern their bowling selections – you can’t pick Kirstie Gordon or Lauren Bell because ‘they’ll be expensive’. (And to be fair, it isn’t just England – Australia made similar arguments picking Alana King over Amanda-Jade Wellington.)

But the problem is that this is focussing too much on individual bowlers and not enough on the team, because overall wickets do actually matter… and the numbers prove it, especially when you are defending a total, however big.

Looking at data from a sample of over 100 T20s* between the ‘Top 5’ teams (Australia, England, India, New Zealand, and South Africa) there is a clear trend to the graph**.

Long story short: it is virtually impossible to win a T20 international defending a total unless you can take at least 5 wickets, and you need 7 wickets before the odds really tip in your favour. Taking just 1 wicket, as England did in that 1st T20, is never, ever, ever going to win you the game.

This is why England need to be picking a couple of proven attacking bowlers – the likes of Kirstie Gordon and Lauren Bell, who might be a tad more expensive, but will actually take wickets. This doesn’t mean they need to pick every bowler on this basis – all-out attack is just as bad as all-out defence (just ask the Light Brigade!) but there’s a balance, and England don’t have it right now.

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* The matches for which ball-by-ball data is available from https://cricsheet.org

** Graph smoothed to show the trend, rather than the exact percentages

NEWS: Lord’s Final for Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy & Double Headers in Charlotte Edwards Cup

The 2022 domestic regional season is set to end on a high note, with the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy Final being played at the Home of Cricket – Lord’s – on Sunday 25th September.

Additionally, the Charlotte Edwards Cup will include a number of Double-Header matches with the men’s Vitality Blast, clustered around the double-Bank Holiday weekend and half-term week at the end of May. At least one of these CE Cup matches will be televised, and one (possibly the same one) will also be an evening fixture under lights.

Alan Fordham, Head of Cricket Operations at the ECB, said:

“The rationale for having double-headers are twofold: one to make an event, a number of them are at the beginning of June which is half-term week when we’ve got the double Bank Holiday, so an opportunity to attract some support when spectators might be more able to attend. And it’s also an efficient way to be staging matches, because we want them staged if we can at our most prestigious venues… putting the women’s game on an equal platform.”

Presumably the success of The Hundred, which achieved record-breaking crowds last summer, was also a factor.

The format of the RHF Trophy is unchanged for 2022, with a round-robin group stage where everyone plays everyone else, with the table leader going straight through to the Lord’s final, to be joined by the winner of a play-off between the second and third-placed sides.

The season will begin with the T20 Charlotte Edwards Cup, with also essentially the same format as last year – two groups, with a 3-team Finals Day at the County Ground, Northampton on Saturday 11th June.

The group names are “TBC” but the groups themselves are: Vipers, Thunder, Lightning, and Diamonds in one group; and Sparks, Storm, Sunrisers, and Stars in the other.

Following the CE Cup, the regional teams will embark on their RHF campaigns from 2nd July. Although the schedule for The Hundred has not officially been announced, the RHF will take a break between 24th July and 9th September. With the Commonwealth Games taking place from 28th July to 8th August, we can assume that The Hundred will then take place during the 4-week window after that, with the final likely on the weekend of 3rd/4th September.

There is no confirmation yet of the dates of the England fixtures (aside from the Commonwealth Games), so the extent to which the England players will be involved in regional cricket is still unknown. For the RHF, much will depend on whether the ECB intend to schedule a series in September as they did in 2021, or whether they will feel that is one bridge too far in what is going to be another exhausting season.

THE ASHES: 1st T20 – England Eaten By Big Mac

Four short months ago, Tahlia McGrath was yet to play a T20 international, though she’d won a handful of ODI caps, plus one Test cap, mostly during in the 2017 Ashes. No one disputed that she was a very good domestic player, but aged almost 26 it looked a good probability that she’d nonetheless end her career without troubling the international honours boards too much.

Her T20 debut against India, on October 7th 2021, was ended prematurely by rain without McGrath (or any other Australian) having the opportunity to bat; but in the final two games against India she scored 42* and 44*, snagging two Player of the Match awards, plus Player of the T20 Series.

If there were any remaining questions over whether she belonged at this level, they were comprehensively answered today against England.

After playing a crucial role with the ball, taking the wickets of Danni Wyatt and Nat Sciver in the 17th over, when both were in full flow and England were threatening 180, she then topped that with the bat, scoring 91* off just 49 balls to win her third straight Player of the Match gong. She has now scored 177 runs in 3 T20 innings without being dismissed – it will happen one day, but that day wasn’t going to be today, and she still hasn’t got a T20 average!

England looked to have made a decent enough total, after Tammy Beaumont and Danni Wyatt were given the chance to shake off some of their winter rust, hitting their straps by the end of the powerplay, and taking England to 82-0 at the halfway mark. Wyatt went on to make a 54-ball 70, but England stuttered slightly with the dismissals of Wyatt and Sciver. It was a situation made for someone like Alice Capsey to come in and start striking from the get-go; but instead England faltered, and despite hitting 14 off the final over, were probably 10 short of par in retrospect.

Not that it would have made any difference – with McGrath in the form of her life, and Meg Lanning looking back to her ominous best, Australia simply cruised to their highest ever successful chase. Par? Pah!

Would it have been a different story if Amy Jones had held on to a relatively straightforward chance to dismiss Lanning early on off Sarah Glenn? We’ll never know, and Australia still had a lot of batting to come, but those are the chances England need to take if they are going to have any chance of winning the toughest prize in cricket – Nat Sciver’s brilliant catch to dismiss Healy (and it was a much more difficult take than it looked, with the ball on a trajectory so close to the ground) was what England need to do more of if they are going to come back into this series.

Dave Tickner joked on Twitter: “At least the men never tricked us into thinking they might be competitive.” I’m not sure it is quite that bad… yet! But England can’t afford to fall too much further behind – Saturday’s 2nd T20 already feels like a “must win”. Top Tip for England: Make it the day Tahlia McGrath finally gets a T20 average!

The CRICKETher Weekly – Episode 96

This week, we’re asking questions:

  • Can South Africa win the World Cup without Dane van Niekerk?
  • Can Scotland triumph in the Commonwealth Games Qualifier?
  • Can England beat Australia (and Covid) in the Women’s Ashes?
  • And why the heck wasn’t Amanda-Jade Wellington included in Australia’s Ashes squad?

NEWS: Amanda-Jade Wellington Set To Be Omitted From Australia’s Ashes Squad

In a bizarre move, Cricket Australia are set to announce a squad for the forthcoming Women’s Ashes series which does not include Amanda-Jade Wellington, despite the leg-spinner finishing as the leading wicket-taker in the 2021/22 WBBL.

According to reports in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Wellington has been edged out by Alana King, who has received her premier call-up to the national side. She will be included in the Australia A side which will be in action against the England A side during the main Ashes series, but there is unlikely to be a chance of “promotion” to the main side as the two squads are being kept separate for Covid biosecurity purposes.

Wellington last played for Australia in 2018 and since then has been consistently and inexplicably snubbed by the Australian selectors, despite consistently being a top performer in domestic and franchise cricket. She was the top-ranked bowler in our Women’s Hundred rankings and a key factor in Southern Brave’s progression to the final.

Other notable inclusions in the squad, which will be announced officially tomorrow, are Adelaide Strikers captain Tahlia McGrath, who enjoyed success in Australia’s recent series against India, and teenage pacer Darcie Brown.

The squad looks set to be as follows:

  • Meg Lanning (c)
  • Rachael Haynes
  • Darcie Brown
  • Nicola Carey
  • Alyssa Healy
  • Ashleigh Gardner
  • Jess Jonassen
  • Alana King
  • Tahlia McGrath
  • Beth Mooney
  • Ellyse Perry
  • Megan Schutt
  • Molly Strano Hannah Darlington*
  • Annabel Sutherland
  • Tayla Vlaeminck

[Amended 12 Jan 2022.]

OPINION: Will Omicron Jeopardise the Women’s Ashes & World Cup?

COVID is currently ripping through Australia, with record numbers of cases being identified and the highly contagious Omicron variant spreading in New South Wales. Meanwhile, New Zealand has reintroduced border restrictions this week until the end of February at the earliest. With both those things in mind, are the Women’s Ashes and World Cup in jeopardy?

The good news is that the short answer is no.

The final match of the Women’s Ashes is scheduled to take place on the 19th February; with the opening game of the World Cup due to take place on 4th March, and England playing Australia on the 5th.

As the regulations on entry to New Zealand currently stand, both Australia and England will be required to complete 10 days ‘Managed Isolation Quarantine’ (MIQ) between that final Ashes match and the start of their World Cup campaigns. Whilst MIQ is emphatically not prison, it is nonetheless strictly enforced ‘hard’ quarantine; but if it is the price of playing in the World Cup, it’s something that most players will take in their stride.

However, there is still a risk that players could be identified as COVID cases during MIQ, having brought it with them from Australia to New Zealand. Under these circumstances, they would (as things currently stand) be required to remain potentially considerably longer in MIQ, from 14 days after the positive test. In theory, this means that MIQ could last as long as 24 days. Though 16-18 would be more likely, this still means that the teams could be in danger of being unable to fulfil their opening fixtures if they brought 5 or 6 cases with them.

This is where the Ashes potentially becomes impacted – if the ICC want to minimize the risk, they need to ensure that all the players are in the country ideally 18-20 days before the tournament starts, which would mean that England and Australia will have two options – to either curtail the Ashes, or to play the final matches between the ‘A’ teams, while the main squads fly earlier to New Zealand.

It is extremely unlikely that the New Zealand government, committed as they are to a ‘Zero COVID’ strategy, will relax their rules earlier than currently anticipated. Worryingly, it is much more likely that the rules will actually become more strict. With the lag between infections and deaths in the first world currently running at 17-21 days, it is possible that we may see a significant increase in deaths in Australia in mid-to-late January, and pressure subsequently on the New Zealand government for a total border closure which they may find difficult to resist.

Whether they would make a special exception under these circumstances for hundreds of players, managers, analysts and other staff to enter the country for the World Cup is an open question. The New Zealand government have previously publicly stated that the World Cup is their top priority in terms of sporting events taking place in the country this summer, but their priority understandably remains the health of the New Zealand public, and that’s what would be worrying me if I was the ICC.

Of course, as fans we can pursue a strategy of keeping our fingers crossed and hoping it will all be okay, but that’s really not something we want the ICC to be doing. If they have contingency plans, I’d hope they’d be giving them serious consideration right now, because the idea of teams having to withdraw at the very last minute, or worse while the tournament is actually being played, is not one we want to contemplate. If there is one thing worse than no World Cup, it is half a World Cup.