THE HUNDRED: Invincibles v Fire – You’re Fired!

Momentum is a funny thing – just ask the next asteroid you meet! One minute you’re hurtling through space, with more of it than you know what to do with, the next you’re splattered all over the Yucatan Peninsular, taking the entire dinosaur genus out with you. Ouch!

And “Ouch!” probably sums up how the Oval Invincibles are feeling right about now. Having won their opening two games, thanks to match-winning knocks from Dane van Niekerk and Alice Capsey, the momentum was with them. But since then they’ve fallen short twice, chasing low totals – falling 4 runs short needing 110 versus the Superchargers, and 12 runs short chasing 113 against the Fire on Monday.

The result blows the race for third place wide open, with Fire, Invincibles and Rockets all level on 4 points.

Although Sarah Taylor was today’s Player of the Match, catching the eye with a couple of those reverse cuts we first saw when she was playing for the Diamonds earlier this year in the regional T20s, there were other contributions that were equally important.

Georgia Redmayne and Hayley Matthews helping themselves to 24 runs off a 10-ball spell from Grace Gibbs, between balls 30-40, was hugely significant in a low-scoring game. With an “average” 10-ball spell going for just 11 runs on Monday, that extra 13 was critical, and of course later proved to be almost the exact margin of victory.

Nonetheless, 112 felt significantly below par – a calm, sensible batting performance from the Invincibles was all it was going to take to chase them down at little more than a run a ball.

Instead, they got off to a disastrous start – losing Georgia Adams for a duck thanks to some brilliant glove-work from Sarah Taylor, who turned a fumble and a slightly wayward return from Nicole Harvey into a run-out from nowhere as Adams ambled back to her ground. (Adams, who played with Taylor at Sussex for over a decade, really should have known better!)

Nonetheless, Alice Capsey and Grace Gibbs looked to be getting things back on track, until Capsey was bowled by Harvey for 14 off 12. Capsey was the last Invincibles batter (until Jo Gardner came in at the end with the game already gone) to hit at a Strike Rate of more than 100, and while it is true that the Invincibles didn’t need to go at 100mph, they did at least need to go at something close to a run-a ball in order to give themselves a chance at the death.

Fran Wilson’s role probably isn’t to do that, so she can be forgiven for going at a Strike Rate of 87 and trying to anchor the innings; but it is hard to say the same about van Niekerk, who made 8 off 16 balls before she was put out of her misery. Harvey, who finished with two wickets but more importantly conceded just 11 runs from 15 balls, was another vital spoke in the wheel of victory.

And of course Katie George also did her bit. Unable to bowl due to injury, she has been relegated to the role of specialist boundary rider so far during this tournament, but she made it count against Invincibles with 3 catches to dismiss van Niekerk, the dangerous Mady Villiers and Tash Farrant.

She also did it against the backdrop of a wickedly partisan 10,000-strong crowd, many of whom were actively willing her to fail – not something we’re used to seeing in women’s cricket in England, even at international level during the Women’s Ashes.

Talking about it after the game, George said: “I was getting a little bit of stick, but personally, I relish it – I feel I play my best cricket when there are people watching, and it definitely spurs me on to do well. I take it all in good spirit – I know if I was in the crowd watching, which I often am, I’d be giving it the same.”

It’s the right attitude to have, and obviously it is par for the course in something like the men’s T20 Blast for example, but it does feel like a slightly odd sort of progress towards equality compared to the KSL, where even on Finals Day, crowds would cheer but never jeer.

Next up for the Fire is the Trent Rockets on Friday. With both sides currently separated only by Net Run Rate in the race for 3rd, it’s a proper “Four Pointer” which could well end up being the difference between a spot in the 2nd v 3rd “Eliminator” or a taxi home. They remain the underdogs, but if the Fire can pull off another win then that 3rd place will be theirs to lose.

EXCLUSIVE: Police Called To Lord’s During The Hundred Double Header As ECB “Family-Friendly” Claims Come Under Scrutiny

The authorities at Lord’s were forced to call in the police on Sunday evening during the men’s half of the double-header between London Spirit and Southern Brave, due to drunk spectators.

The spectators were ejected from the ground but it is understood that no further action was taken by the police.

The events occurred during a week in which the ECB’s claims that The Hundred is a “family-friendly” tournament have come under increasing scrutiny, with Nick Howson from The Cricketer reporting that he experienced “a deeply unpleasant mood” at Lord’s on Thursday: “Young families cowered into corners out of harm’s way to avoid being caught up among the inebriated hoards parents attempting to shield their children from uncoordinated individuals merely trying to stay afloat.”

The incident involving the police occurred despite the MCC’s decision – after complaints in the wake of the first two Hundred match days hosted at Lord’s – to alter the ground regulations, introducing a cap of two alcoholic drinks per transaction and closing all public bars halfway through the men’s match.

Spectators at Lord’s can also now request to be moved if they feel uncomfortable with where they are seated. However, the measures have clearly not been entirely successful at stamping out the kind of behaviour which is anathema to the ECB’s marketing of The Hundred as “family-friendly”.

THE HUNDRED: Spirit v Brave – History Made, Poorly Played

When cricket historians come to write their chronicles of The Hundred, 1 August 2021 will be an important date. It was the day that finally, after 72 years, the record for biggest crowd at a domestic match in England (previously 15,000 for Yorkshire v Lancashire Women set at Roundhay Park in 1949) was broken – 15,189 people turning up to see Southern Brave defeat London Spirit by 7 wickets at Lord’s.

Those same historians, though, might well diplomatically overlook what happened on the pitch in their accounts – for this was a spectacle that was far from edifying, certainly in comparison with what we have seen so far in the women’s competition.

If London Spirit’s scorecard makes for miserable reading – only Tammy Beaumont (34 from 45 balls) achieved double figures – watching Spirit’s batters get themselves out one by one did not make for much happier viewing. The sight of Heather Knight sending up the tamest of catches to Smriti Mandhana at cover was definitely not one for sore eyes. 93 all out in 96 balls (with 25 of them coming in wides) – ouch.

Even Beaumont batted at a meagre strike rate of 76 – not the kind of innings we have come to expect from one of England’s most dynamic T20 batters.

“It’s been a bit tough for me,” Beaumont admitted after the match. “I had to miss two games to go to my brother’s wedding. It was supposed to only be one, and it got changed last minute. I was a week or so without cricket, so I feel like I’m playing catch-up a little bit.”

“I think it’s just a bit of a confidence thing. Mentally playing in your mind that we’re 4 games in but I’m only 2 games in. I’ve just got to keep going but hopefully it will come good eventually.”

“I’m striking it well in the nets,” she added – and she’s right. I was at the ground early enough to watch her having a net before the match, and she looked in incredible touch, as did Heather Knight. You have to ask, then, what is preventing them from translating that into match situations. This was a side who were touted (by us and others) as one to beat before the competition got underway; yet it seems – judging by the body language of the players today – that all is not well in the London Spirit dressing room.

And so to the Brave, who have now gone top of the table after four wins in as many matches. And yet, in the words of Amanda-Jade Wellington: “We still haven’t really put on a 100% performance… it’s not how we want to bowl.” Well, quite. Giving away 25 wides to your opponents, 20 of which came in the powerplay, is… not ideal.

Praise where it’s due: Brave pulled it back well after a shoddy start, with Wellington adjusting her length to make it difficult for the batters to get her away, meting out a maiden “five” before going on to take 4 wickets. “On a wicket like that I really had to change up my pace and variations and length as well, that was really key,” she said after the match. “I saw early on it was turning quite a bit, so I had to change my plans.”

Carla Rudd also had a day to remember behind the stumps, pulling off 3 important stumpings, (admittedly the first one coming after an initial fumble against Deepti Sharma); while Maia Bouchier hit the sweetest of sixes over long-on in her not-out 15.

But Brave’s chase – pulled off with only 8 balls to spare – was far from convincing: Danni Wyatt looked scrappy; Sophia Dunkley ending up plonking it straight into the hands of Dottin at backward point; and Stafanie Taylor’s contribution was built on luck rather than judgement or placement.

The Hundred has proved brilliantly successful for women’s cricket to date, measured purely on getting people through the gates; and we’ve seen some special performances from the likes of Lauren Bell, Jemimah Rodrigues and Alice Capsey.

Not every match can be the perfect spectacle – that’s the nature of sport. But equality for the women’s game means more than just tweeting excitedly when we like what we see – it is also about calling it out when a match is poor quality. Let’s not be scared to admit that (crowd aside), today’s game was hardly one for The Hundred’s highlights reel.

PREVIEW: Honours Even As The Super Series Heads To Edinburgh

Jake Perry looks ahead to Round Four of the Women’s Super Series.

The Cricket Scotland Women’s Super Series reaches Goldenacre this week, where the fourth round of matches will be played on Sunday. Two wins for the Sutton XI saw them square the series at Forthill, and with a break to accommodate the Beyond Boundaries Scottish Cup quarter-finals coming up next weekend, both they and the Ross XI will be looking for maximum points to take into the final round of the competition in a fortnight. 

The two games played at Forfarshire offered some of the most intriguing cricket of the contest so far. In game one, the Ross XI batters had looked odds-on to reach 200, Ailsa Lister, Becky Glen and Megan McColl all scoring rapidly around Abbi Aitken-Drummond’s 45, but the Suttons did well to claw them back, Abbie Hogg taking 4 for 26 and Priyanaz Chatterji 2 for 24 as their opponents slipped from a ten-an-over score of 97 for 2 to a final total of 136 all out. 

It was still a decent target, made all the more so after two great catches and a fourth-ball wicket from Hannah Rainey reduced the Suttons to 17 for 3, but a partnership of 66 between skipper Katie McGill and the in-form Chatterji was crucial in getting the chasers back on track again. The match-winning hand, though, was played by Samantha Haggo, whose brilliant 28, well supported by Orla Montgomery, saw their side over the line with eight balls to spare. A two-wicket win, but much more than that was the manner in which it was achieved, the cool head of Haggo guiding her younger partner through those closing stages – getting the result is one thing, but the value of this competition in the development of Scotland’s up-and-coming talent has been massive already. 

Similar qualities were also on show in the second game, as Anne Sturgess, Niamh Robertson-Jack and Zoe Rennie refused to throw in the towel despite their team sliding to 40 for 7 in their chase of the Suttons’ modest total of 121. Another fine knock from Katherine Fraser ensured respectability for the Ross XI, too, the off-spinner having earlier taken 3 for 11 as the Sutton XI lost their last five wickets for just five runs. But it was still their day in the end, with Abbie Hogg, Katie McGill, Nayma Shaikh and Charis Scott taking two wickets apiece as the Suttons squared the series at three games all. 

And so to Edinburgh, where, as at Titwood, a new pitch awaits the two teams. The unused surface at Clydesdale produced 637 runs two weeks ago; on a ground both sides know well, it will be fascinating to see what this latest one can produce on Sunday. 

The Cricket Scotland Super Series will be live-scored and streamed via CS Live. 

Ross XI: Abbi Aitken-Drummond, Ailsa Lister, Becky Glen, Megan McColl, Katherine Mills, Emily Cavender, Katherine Fraser, Hannah Rainey, Caitlin Ormiston, Niamh Robertson-Jack, Anne Sturgess, Zoe Rennie. 

Sutton XI: Katie McGill, Priyanaz Chatterji, Ellen Watson, Samantha Haggo, Lorna Jack, Abbie Hogg, Charis Scott, Emma Walsingham, Emily Tucker, Orla Montgomery, Nayma Shaikh, Niamh Muir.

——

Jake Perry is the author of The Secret Game

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket

As part of our ongoing coverage of men’s and women’s domestic cricket, The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the Super Series every Tuesday, with analysis and player interviews along with those from other featured games. Follow @ScotlandPod on Twitter for all the latest information.

THE HUNDRED: Brave v Phoenix – Anything You Can Do, Danni Wyatt Can Do Better

Southern Brave shot down Birmingham Phoenix in full flight at the Ageas Bowl in The Hundred, chasing 141 in just 82 balls, at a Run Rate of 1.71. That’s more than 10 an over in “old money” – by far the best Run Rate posted in the women’s competition to date.

The result puts the Southern Brave top of the table – an increasingly familiar feeling around these parts, with the Southern Vipers currently top of both the 50-over Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and the T20 Charlotte Edwards Cup.

There’s still a long way to go in The Hundred of course, and topping the league counts for nothing if you don’t go on to win the final, but the Brave have really set down a marker with this performance, after the Phoenix posted 140, which looked like a pretty good score, with Amy Jones in particular looking in lovely touch – hitting 42 off 26 balls.

When Amy Jones took a brilliant catch to dismiss Sophia Dunkley for 36, racing from behind the stumps to take the ball on the dive at short fine leg, it felt like a pivotal moment – Wyatt had made a start on 17 but she was running a lot of singles, and it was Dunkley that was really driving the chase for the Brave, having just hit two consecutive 4s off Em Arlott.

Except… it wasn’t quite to be! The delivery from which Dunkley had been caught was deemed a marginal no ball on height, and she was reprieved. The pivot itself had pivoted, and although the gods made sure to set the record straight – having Dunkley run-out off a deflection from Abtaha Maqsood at the non-striker’s end a few balls later – the Brave looked good for the win from that moment.

Perhaps having taken confidence from Dunkley that there were some serious runs in this pitch, Wyatt began to relax, just as she did for England at Chelmsford a couple of weeks ago. The straight boundaries at the Ageas were short, but square they were huge, which seems to be the policy for this competition. Nonetheless, Wyatt began to find them with ease – hitting five 4s and four 6s, including a huge maximum to finish the game. Crucially, Wyatt also continued to “run” runs – finishing with 25 “run” runs – 36% of her final score. The Hundred may be all about the big hits, but the singles can be just as important and without those 25 runs the Brave would have had a much harder time overhauling their target.

There are still those who have their doubts about Danni Wyatt – having grown up in the pre-professional era, her technique is not what you’d call classical, and she’s very dependent on the inside-out drive over cover, which feels like such a high-risk shot. She hasn’t got the 360 degree arc of Tammy Beaumont… or the power of Nat Sciver… or the precision of team-mate Smriti Mandhana.

But at the end of the day, there comes a point where you can’t argue with the numbers any more – not just in domestic cricket, but against the very best sides in the world, Danni Wyatt continues to prove again and again that on her day, anything you can do, she can do better.

THE HUNDRED: Another Ball From Lauren Bell (And One From Freya Davies)

Two years ago, I wrote a piece entitled One Ball from Lauren Bell. The thesis of that piece, which if anything has been reinforced over the past couple of years, is that although there are a lot of fast bowlers around, Bell is the most exciting because she has the ability to ball that “One Ball” which absolutely no one else can. Combining the pace of Lea Tahuhu, the inch-perfect line of Megan Schutt, and the swing of Anya Shrubsole, it is totally unplayable, as Rachel Priest discovered on that day in 2019.

Two years later, as they say in the movies, Trent Rockets are chasing 133 to beat Southern Brave. They are 75-2 – needing 59 from 37 balls. It sounds like a bit of an ask in traditional women’s domestic T20, but in this shorter format, with Nat Sciver at the crease, the game is starting to feel like the Rockets to lose. The Brave need a wicket, which is why captain Anya Shrubsole has brought back not herself, but Lauren Bell, into the attack – looking for a strike from the strike bowler.

Sciver, meanwhile, is looking to go on the attack, coming down the pitch and using the pace off the ball to hit out. After getting a single off the first ball of the over, and two off the third, Sciver targets the fourth. Looking to thump it over mid on, she opens up her front leg and swings through the ball…

Or rather, she swings through where the ball would have been if it had been a “normal” 70mph delivery from Bell. But this is another ball entirely – rolled off the fingers, it dies off the pitch, leaving Sciver swinging at thin air as the zing bails explode over her stumps.

It was such a different ball to that one from 2019, but it had exactly the same result – one of the best batters in the world was left looking like a chump.

The slower ball is becoming something of an art-form among fast bowlers – it isn’t just about bowling it slower, but keeping everything else about the action the same, so it comes out of nowhere. As the Monty Python boys might have said: Nobody expects the slower ball!

Bell does this by rolling the ball off her fingers – a bit like an orthodox spin delivery – but there’s another way too: out of the back of the hand, like a leg-spinner. You may have seen Katherine Brunt do this, but the master of this art is Freya Davies, as Shafali Verma discovered this weekend. Davies delivers a googly out of the back of the hand, which as well as dying on the batter can also turn into the right-hander off the pitch.

The ball from Davies floats through the air like it has hitched a ride on a hot air balloon, but it is a sucker punch for Shafali, who like Nat Sciver is left swinging in the breeze as her stumps fall apart behind her.

You’ll hear a lot during The Hundred about who the fastest bowlers are – the ones who are pushing 80mph, and targeting numbers beyond that even.

But perhaps… just perhaps… speed isn’t everything.

OPINION: Alice Capsey – A Star Is Born

Almost exactly four years ago, Alice Capsey was at Lord’s Cricket Ground to watch England beat India in the 2017 World Cup final.

Then aged 12, she had been playing age-group cricket for Surrey for less than 4 years. She could have had little idea that just a few short years later, she would be walking out to open the batting on the very same ground, in a moment that will go down in cricketing history – the first ever competitive women’s domestic match to be played at the Home of Cricket.

Even a week ago, when I interviewed her for The Guardian, she was caveating her answers with the suggestion that she might not even make it into the Oval Invincibles’ starting XI. Having watched her shine for Surrey and South East Stars in 2020 and 2021, I felt pretty sure that she would be. Fortunately, Invincibles coach Jonathan Batty agreed with me.

On Sunday, in front of 13,537 fans at Lord’s, Capsey outshone a host of established international stars – including England captain Heather Knight – in a sparkling, confident innings of 59 from 41 balls that announced her presence to a load of journalists, not to mention the aforementioned fans, who previously didn’t even know her name.

That’s the kind of stage that The Hundred has given her.

“It’s really special, especially to do it at the Home of Cricket,” she said, still dazed as she spoke in the post-match press conference. “At the moment I’m just trying to take it all in. To get a performance like that is mind-blowing.”

“There were a few nerves, but I just wanted to express myself, stay true to how I play, and do a job for the team.”

On the question of her newly-found fame, she displayed the level-headedness that you feel will take her far: “I wasn’t really expecting it! But I’ll take it all in and continue to keep focusing on myself and pushing my game forward.”

Perhaps the most important thing about Capsey’s innings was that it followed on from her premature dismissal in the first match of the tournament, in front of another rollicking crowd at The Oval on Wednesday evening. On that occasion, after slamming her first ball to the boundary, she fell second ball attempting a ramp shot – sending it straight into the hands of the keeper.

Another player might have been cowed – might have gone into her shell second time around. Not Capsey. “I want to keep expressing myself, playing my shots, and get us off to a good start,” she said. “At The Oval it didn’t come off, but on another day it might have come off. And it [the ramp] is one of my strengths, so I’ll keep playing how I’m playing, and try not to get too fazed.”

Capsey is already confident enough to have openly expressed her desire to “open or bat in the top order for England in all formats”. Nothing is certain in cricket (just ask Sophie Luff), but it doesn’t seem a stretch to suggest that this won’t be the last time we see Capsey play an innings like this one.

And if that England cap does come, those 13,537 fans, not to mention the handful of journalists sat up in the Lord’s Media Centre, will be able to look back and say that they were there on the day that a future star was born.

THE HUNDRED: Invincibles v Spirit – Capsital Punishment For The Spirit

The first “London Derby” of The Hundred ended with a big win for the Oval Invincibles versus the London Spirit at Lords.

The scorecard will tell you the Invincibles won by 15 runs; but this flatters the Spirit, after Dani Gibson and Charlie Dean had some fun slogging 27 off the last 10 balls, with the game essentially already lost.

There were two factors in the Invincibles’ win. The first, of course, was “Match Hero” Alice Capsey, who hit 59 off 41 balls in an 80-run partnership with Dane van Niekerk. Having won the opening game for her side with a half-century of her own, DvN was happy to play second-fiddle this time around, not even scoring at a run-a-ball, but giving Capsey the support she needed to play the key innings for the Invincibles.

The ramp may be the shot from Capsey that catches the eye… and occasionally the wicket-keeper’s eye, as it did on Thursday when she ramped straight into Ellie Threkeld’s gloves behind the stumps… but she actually scored the bulk of her runs straight today, in the arc between midwicket and mid off, picking the “holes” in the field to go safely over the top of the ring. It’s exciting cricket to watch, though it is certainly not risk-free, and she was eventually caught with 12 balls still on the clock.

So it really helped that Mady Villiers (again) and Jo Gardner both chipped in at the end for the Invincibles too – they might have only hit 8 and 9 respectively, but crucially it was off 3 and 4 balls – Strike Rates of over 200 – exactly what’s needed at the death in this quickfire format.

Nonetheless, it felt like the Invincibles were perhaps slightly short on 132-7, and they were going to have to bowl well to get the win. Which brings us around to the second factor, which was some quality work with the ball. Shabnim Ismail and Tash Farrant both opened the bowling with 10 balls straight apiece, and they nullified the Spirit’s opening batters in the powerplay. Naomi Dattani, who can be such a destructive player when she finds the middle of the bat, just couldn’t make it happen today, and finished with 8 off 14 balls. Even Deandra Dottin couldn’t make the impact she’d have wanted, also hitting at under 100… albeit only just with 14 off 15. And it was downhill from there really for the Spirit.

Heather Knight is usually the player to rely on in a chase, and she did her job today with 40 off 29, but she didn’t get the support she needed, as the Invincibles bowlers kept turning up the pressure. Chloe Tryon, having bowled very well earlier in the day, couldn’t get bat on ball today – when she was eventually dismissed for 9 off 16, it felt like a mercy-killing. Even more so than in T20, you can’t afford to take your time in this format – you really need to be going at a Strike Rate of 100 from the off and accelerating from there – there is little leeway to go at a Strike Rate of 50-something and hope you can make it up later if you stay in because even if you do accelerate later, you’ve already lost too many balls.

So it is the Invincibles that make the early running in the tournament, with 2 wins from 2. It is very early days of course, but it is also a very short tournament – games are coming at a million miles an hour, and momentum will be key. Right now, the momentum is with the Invincibles.