THE HUNDRED: Invincibles v Brave – Is Dropping Your Captain A Smart Move?

It’s the age-old question in cricket – should a captain be selected first, and the team put in place around them; or should you select your best XI, and then choose a captain from that? Or, to put it a different way, how much does the wisdom and charisma of a captain matter, over and above their cricketing skills?

The Oval Invincibles management seem pretty clear on the answer to the above. In their match against Southern Brave on Sunday, they were happy to dispense with established skipper Dane van Niekerk, in order to be able to field their three other overseas players Marizanne Kapp, Shabnim Ismail and Suzie Bates. “We have four quality [overseas] players and the management decided that this is the best combination”, stand-in captain Bates said at the toss.

It’s pretty universally acknowledged that van Niekerk’s captaincy created a team environment last year which was conducive to success and ultimately led to Invincibles winning the title. OK, she didn’t have to bat in the opening game on Thursday; but dropping her seemed, well… brave. [Ed: That’s the type of pun I expect from Syd, not you.]

Whether it cost Invincibles the game is (obviously) hard to quantify, but it certainly didn’t help.

Brave had two “big” phases of their innings. The 25-ball powerplay saw Smriti Mandhana having lots of fun smoking boundaries, with Danni Wyatt’s main role at the other end being to get her partner on strike and keep her there.

Invincibles pulled it back well in the middle phases – Brave lost 5 wickets for 40 runs between the 37th and the 72nd balls. Sophia Smale was excellent yet again – a late replacement for the competition in place of the injured Emma Jones, could she be the Hundred’s equivalent of Linsey Smith, who was a last-minute injury replacement in the first year of the KSL (and went on to catch the eye of then-England coach Mark Robinson)?

After Bates put down a simple chance at midwicket off Smale’s first ball of the day, the 17-year-old kept patient, and smart. In her next set, she tempted Wyatt down the track a couple of times, and ultimately had her stumped. She then did for possibly the best T20 batter in the world at the moment, Tahlia McGrath, courtesy of an absolutely brilliant catch from Kirstie White diving forwards at short third. Perhaps most importantly, 10 out of the 20 balls Smale bowled were dots.

But at the back-end, Freya Kemp and Georgia Adams were able to take advantage of Bates’ decision to front-load her best bowlers, adding 47 runs off the final 25 balls.

With Invincibles already light on bowling due to the absence of Alice Capsey (sitting out with “stiffness” after Thursday night’s ankle injury), and Bates unable to turn her arm over due to her long-standing shoulder issues (she hasn’t bowled a ball in anger since the 2020/21 WBBL), it seemed to make even less sense to assume they could do without van Niekerk’s leg-spin.

Invincibles’ efforts at the death were also damaged by the fact that they dropped behind the required over rate, and were therefore only allowed three fielders outside the circle for the final 10 balls of the innings. There seemed to be a LOT of chat going on between balls and “sets” between Bates, Kapp and Ismail – too many captains spoiling the broth? – which certainly didn’t help matters.

In reply, Invincibles got off to a decent start, with Winfield-Hill and Bates adding 38 runs in the 25-ball powerplay. Kapp, too, did her best to jog things along, smashing 16 runs from Amanda-Jade Wellington’s second “set” of the day, including a slog-swept six.

But the “golden arm” of Georgia Adams, who bowled both Winfield-Hill and Kapp in the space of 14 balls, proved ruinous to their run-chase. There were some brave fireworks from Ryana Macdonald-Gay, but a lack of contributions from the Invincibles’ middle-order had essentially already cost them the game by that point.

If only they’d had the player who was the competition’s leading run-scorer in 2021 at their disposal – a specialist in the middle-order, if you will – to stabilise their chase…

One of the reasons why Invincibles were able to win the 2021 Women’s Hundred was their team culture. It makes this decision, which appears to have been imposed on the players with little to no notice, even more bizarre. Let’s hope it’s just a blip, or things could quickly get very difficult indeed for the Oval-based team.

THE HUNDRED: Invincibles v Superchargers – Alice In Wonderland

143-5 is a good score in The Hundred – it would have been the 6th best total in last season’s comp – but Invincibles made it look easy, sailing past it with 16 balls to spare thanks to a late assault from… who else… Alice Capsey. Capsey celebrated her 18th birthday with 25 off 8 balls, at a Strike Rate of 313 – by some distance the highest 25-run-plus innings Strike Rate in the Hundred’s short history, beating Issy Wong’s 27 off 11 balls for Phoenix against Rockets in 2021.

It came after Capsey survived what appeared to be a horrible fall in the field, slipping as she tried to make a stop on the ring, turning her ankle and landing heavily on her knee. The TV slow-motion replay made it look particularly nasty, but after some treatment and a couple of magic pills she was back on her feet, and although she did leave the field briefly later in the first innings, she certainly seemed unaffected walking out to bat with the score on 104-1, with 40 required from 32 balls.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said that he’d “rather have lucky generals than good ones” but in Capsey, Oval Invincibles seem to have both. The “lucky” came first today – dropped first ball by Bess Heath at square leg, though calling it a “drop” is perhaps somewhat unfair on Heath, who did well to get her hand to it. It was soon followed by the “good” – a six driven straight down the ground was followed by four consecutive 4s off Linsey Smith to end the game.

Smith had been going well earlier, conceding just 7 runs from the last 10 balls of the powerplay, bowled consecutively across a change of ends; but she took a beating from Lauren Winfield-Hill in her third set, going for 11, and then the battering from Capsey to finish with somewhat disappointing figures in the end of 34-0 off 19.

Winfield-Hill collected the Player of the Match (or are we still calling it Match Hero?) award for her contribution of 74 off 42 balls, continuing the excellent form she has shown in domestic cricket for Diamonds this season. She’s already looking like the trade of the century, with Invincibles having picked her up for just a 3rd-tier salary, in the hopes of strengthening a batting order that had been surprisingly weak last year (notwithstanding Capsey’s break-out performances), when they definitely proved the old adage that batters win matches but bowlers win tournaments.

With Marizanne Kapp unwell, being able to bring in Suzie Bates at the top of the innings also gave a bit more balance to the Invincibles line-up. Bates added 46 off 34 balls in a first wicket partnership of 104 with Winfield-Hill, and presents Invincibles with a bit of a selection dilemma going forwards – they will clearly want to bring back Kapp asap, and van Niekerk obviously plays, so one of Bates or Shabnim Ismail is going to miss out. Ismail looked good today, delivering 8 dots from her 20 balls, but it could well be her that misses out for the sake of the balance of the team.

Another one who played a quietly significant role for Invincibles today was 17-year-old Sophia Smale, the Welsh left-arm spinner who only came into the squad as a late injury replacement for Emma Jones. There are obvious comparisons to Sophie Ecclestone, another left-arm spinner who bowls a very consistent ball; but the similarities really end there – Smale has an almost slingly action, delivering the ball wide of the crease to angle it across the batter, and she was obviously causing problems which were rewarded with the wicket of Alyssa Healy, which isn’t a bad first scalp to have in your trophy cabinet. Having come late into the team and not only superseded Danni Gregory in the line-up but also snagged a powerplay bowling spot, Smale must have seriously impressed coach Jonathan Batty, and you could see why tonight.

So Invincibles have carried on where they signed off in 2021, with a big win over fancied opposition – Superchargers were good, but just not good enough on the day to match the brilliance (and luck) of Alice Capsey at the death. It really does feel like the bigger the stage for Capsey, the bigger the performance – and the really lucky ones are all of us being here to see it.

NEWS: Lisa Keightley to Leave England Role at End of Summer

Lisa Keightley will leave her role as England Head Coach at the end of the summer, the ECB have announced, with Keightley having informed the ECB that she will not be seeking an extension at the end of her current contract.

Keightley took up the role of head Coach in January 2020 and was almost immediately forced to navigate the uncharted waters of managing the team in a world of lockdowns and biosecurity forced on them by the COVID-19 pandemic, whilst also being separated from her own family back home in Australia. With Keightley’s long-term assistant Tim MacDonald also returning to Australia after the Commonwealth Games, this decision comes as little surprise.

Director of England Women’s Cricket Jonathan Finch alluded to some of these challenges, saying:

“Leading an international team is challenging at the best of times. It is more challenging during a pandemic, and Lisa has been able to continue the development of the team during what has been the toughest period we have faced off the field.”

Keightley enjoyed a win ratio of 68% during her time in charge of England, but although the cemented their position amongst the best sides in the world, they remain very-much second-best to Australia, who handed them an embarrassing defeat in the 2022 Women’s Ashes, followed by a drubbing in the World Cup Final a few weeks later.

At the recent Commonwealth Games, England were pipped by India in the semi-finals, and then embarrassed themselves in the bronze medal match with a poor and petulant display – something the new management team will need to address ahead of the T20 World Cup in South Africa next year.

OPINION: England Actually Lost The Commonwealth Games Gold Medal A Year Ago

Just over a year ago, in June 2021, England announced that Nat Sciver would be replacing Anya Shrubsole as vice-captain. Sciver had done the role on a temporary basis during England’s tour of New Zealand earlier in the year; and the decision had been made that she should take on the role on a permanent basis.

Fast forward 13 months. It’s the eve of women’s cricket’s debut at the Commonwealth Games, and Heather Knight is receiving injections to try to relieve the nagging pain in her hip. She desperately wants to play… but it turns out that the pain is just too much. Sciver is called to a meeting with Heather and Lisa Keightley and told that she will be skippering the team. Not only will the anchor-batting role (in the absence of both Knight and Tammy Beaumont) rest on her shoulders, but so will leading a young side to the medal podium. Sciver is one of the world’s leading all-rounders, but even so… this is a LOT.

We all know what happens next. England’s first three matches are a walkover. Then they meet India in the semi-final, and fall just short in a desperate run-chase. The next day, they completely fail to turn up in the bronze medal match against New Zealand, seemingly deciding that if it isn’t a gold medal, it ain’t worth the bother. A picture of Heather Knight consoling a desolate Katherine Brunt after the match goes viral.

It could have been a very different story had England handled the situation with the captaincy-succession a little differently.

We thought at the time of the announcement that it was slightly strange that Sciver had been handed the vice-captaincy role – she is just two years younger than Knight, so it was clearly not a decision made with a long-term view in mind. Subsequent events have reinforced the view that Sciver is not seen by England as Knight’s long-term replacement. Last summer, with Knight out injured for the first two games against New Zealand, Sciver stepped in as captain. Afterwards, when I asked her about an on-field tactical decision, she made it very clear that all the key calls had been made by Knight before the game.

Then, during the Commonwealth Games, Knight was kept with the squad. “She’s been in all the meetings,” Issy Wong said after the New Zealand group-stage match, “and been pretty much 100% part of the group.” It seemed to be for the best, but for Sciver, trying to do the captain’s job on the pitch while (presumably) not feeling like the captain off the pitch must have been a challenge. She admitted as such in one of the mixed zones. “The first few games I was a bit like, ‘arghhh!'” she said, when asked about replacing Knight.

Arguably, the past few days for England have seen a real failure of leadership. As Syd put it in his piece yesterday:

England talk a lot about being role models, but after one player was given an official reprimand yesterday for swearing on the field of play, the overriding image of England today was another being shown live on TV, smashing over a chair with her bat on her way back to the dressing room after being dismissed.

I want to make it clear – I don’t blame Sciver for this failure. The real issue is that England have not been treating Sciver as a captain-in-waiting. They have been treating her as a captain-in-name-only, who simply executes decisions which seem to have already been made by Knight and Lisa Keightley before the match begins.

That can take you so far – but in crunch matches, like the semi-final against India, you need a captain who is equipped to think for themselves, who can come up with Plans C through to Z on the hoof, when Plans A and B fail. Has Sciver really been encouraged to develop that kind of independent thinking by England?

Imagine an alternative world, in which a year ago, England had decided that they were going to make a real effort to blood a proper successor for Knight. If you really want to think long-term, Sophia Dunkley is probably the most plausible candidate from the “next generation”. So appoint Dunkley as vice-captain. Allow her free rein to make some key decisions, even if you do that in “minor” matches against weaker opposition (e.g. those six white-ball games against South Africa). Give her the chance to captain the England Academy in warm-up games. Let her make mistakes. Allow her to be a real challenge to Knight’s authority.

Choose to do that a year ago, and losing your captain on the eve of a huge tournament is no longer a disaster. But they didn’t. And disaster it was.

Obviously, England can’t go back in time now – they’ve thrown away their chance to spend the past 12 months blooding Knight’s replacement, just like they threw away their chance at a bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games on Sunday.

But this should be a salient lesson for captain and coach. If you care about the future of this team, you need to let a future leader develop – really, truly, properly develop – and you need to do it now.

COMMONWEALTH GAMES: England v New Zealand – New Zealand Bold As Bronze

New Zealand thoroughly deserved their bronze medals in the play-off match at the Commonwealth Games, after restricting England to one of their lowest 1st innings totals in the history of T20 internationals.

Not to put too fine a point on it: New Zealand looked like they wanted the medals… England looked like they wanted to be somewhere else.

Having lost to England in the last match of the group stages, and been well beaten by Australia in their semi-final last night, with barely 12 hours between leaving the stadium last night and needing to be back here this morning, it wouldn’t have been surprising if it was New Zealand who looked tired and flat. That they came out fighting is credit to their leadership team.

The same cannot be said of England.

England talk a lot about being role models, but after one player was given an official reprimand yesterday for swearing on the field of play, the overriding image of England today was another being shown live on TV, smashing over a chair with her bat on her way back to the dressing room after being dismissed.

We can ask the question as to whether these bronze medal matches are needed or required – other sports in other tournaments just award both of the defeated semi-finalists a “shared” bronze medal – but everyone knew the deal coming into this tournament; and whilst frustrations do sometimes spill over for all of us – me very much included – we also sometimes need to accept that we’ve let ourselves down, front-up and apologise – not for losing in this case, but for losing badly with ill-grace.

The sight of the New Zealand players celebrating with selfies down on the outfield after the game, on the other hand, was lovely to see.

With a new coach and a new-look to their lineup, little was expected from the White Ferns at these Commonwealth Games. Getting to the semi-finals was probably over-par, after a slightly disappointing home World Cup, and so to come home with bronze medals was a fantastic achievement.

Although England were poor by their own standards, they did at least set New Zealand a chase that potentially made it interesting. It doesn’t happen a lot, but matches do occasionally get won by teams making less than 120 in the first innings, so it wasn’t quite a foregone conclusion. But the positive intent shown by Sophie Devine and Suzie Bates up top put New Zealand quickly in the driving seat. By the end of the powerplay they were over half way there, and Devine was able to push on to hit the winning run in the 12th over just after bringing up her half century.

It is probably just as well for England that we’ve got The Hundred coming up hot on our heels right now – there will be no time for the players to brood over the disappointment of the Commonwealths, but instead the chance to reset in a different environment, with different team-mates and different coaches. There will be some tough decisions for the management team to make ahead of the India series in September, but those decisions are for another day.

Right now, let’s just congratulate New Zealand and hope for a brilliant final between Australia and India this evening.

COMMONWEALTH GAMES: England v India – Jemi’s a Gem for India

There wasn’t much in it – just 4 runs, after Sophie Ecclestone walloped the final ball of England’s chase for 6 – but it was India that came away with the win, and the chance to play for the gold medal tomorrow.

India’s total of 164 rested on two crucial performances at either end of the innings. Smriti Mandhana got them off to a flying start with 61 off 32 balls; but arguably Jemimah Rodrigues’ 44 off 31 at the back-end was even more significant.

Jemi had come in at the fall of the first wicket in the 8th over, and made her way to 18 off 19 balls through the middle overs, playing the anchor role; but then stepped up 2-or-3 gears at the death, hitting 26 off 12 balls at a Strike Rate of 217 in the last 4 overs of the innings, playing some lovely strokes over the top on the off side – not trying to hit the leather off it, but doing just enough – the perfect balance of risk and reward.

Without those extra 12-14 runs from Jemi’s bat, India would have finished on something more like 150, which would have handed England the game. As it was, 164 proved just too many for England.

Although England kept in touch with the rate for most of the game, a couple of weak overs towards the end of the middle-over phase pushed the required rate towards ten, and it was looking dicey. They looked to have been handed a lifeline when India gambled on giving Shafali a second over in the 16th, which went for 15; but the two overs that followed were the death knell.

Deepti Sharma bowled the 17th and restricted Amy Jones and Nat Sciver to just 3 singles. The pressure that put on then indirectly led to Jones running a panicked single off the second ball of the 18th, bowled by Sneh Rana, from which she was run out; and the result was a second consecutive over of just 3 singles, leaving England needing 27 off the last 2 overs, which they simply couldn’t manage.

(13.5 an over does sound do-able, and England did hit 13 off the 19th; but in practice it is virtually impossible to get even 10 off the final over – it just never happens – so really England needed 18-20 off the penultimate over – 13 was never going to be enough.)

There can be no doubt that the better team won on the day – India deserve to be the ones vying for gold tomorrow; while England came up short at the first real hurdle they’ve faced this summer, after South Africa’s failure to really challenge them in the series that preceded the Comm Games.

The “Glass Half Full” take is that England were close, and this exciting young team can leave Birmingham with their dignity intact. Alice Capsey did exactly what we always said she’d do – stepped up to international cricket with aplomb; while the Freya Kemp gamble worked out well enough, though she didn’t get any opportunity to prove herself with the bat, which could have been interesting because she is arguably an even more exciting prospect with bat than with ball.

The likelihood remains that, even if they’d come through today, they’d have been flattened by Australia tomorrow; but the “next” England team, which is starting to take shape now, looks a much better bet to really give Australia a run for their money over the next decade than they have recently.

This being the Commonwealth Games, there remains the small matter of a bronze medal match for England tomorrow. It’s the match no one really wants to play, and it will be a tough ask for the management team to get everyone up for it – the squad were so fixated on that gold medal, that anything less was always going to be a huge disappointment. But they need to be the professionals they are, and give their all nonetheless – England expects… even if it is “just” for a bronze medal.

OPINION: Seedings Are Ruining The Group Stages of International T20 Tournaments

In the past 4 years, we’ve been treated to 3 brilliant international T20 tournaments: the 2018 World T20 in the West Indies; the 2020 Twenty20 (try saying that after a couple of jugs!) World Cup in Australia; and the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

All three tournaments have had basically the same format: two seeded groups to decide the semi-finalists, with the winner of Group A playing the team finishing 2nd in Group B in the semis, and vice-versa.

As a system it works to produce a balanced competition, and it is infinitely preferable to some of the crazy formats we’ve had in the past (and which they still have in The Other Game™) with Super Sixes and whatnot!

But is it making all these tournaments too samey?

All of the past 3 tournaments have seen Australia and India in one group, with England and South Africa in the other. So England have played South Africa in the group stages in each of the past 3 “world” T20 comps (the Commonwealth Games being effectively a “world” competition) while never facing India or Australia; and ditto for India and Australia, who haven’t played England or South Africa in the groups stages for 4 years, but have faced-off against each other 3 times.

Furthermore, England have ended up facing India in the semi-final on all 3 occasions, albeit a) for slightly different reasons in 2018 and 2020 (when India won their group and England finished 2nd) to 2022 (when England won their group and India finished second); and b) England didn’t actually get to play India in 2020, due to the rain in Sydney.

And with another T20 World Cup coming along next year in South Africa, the same seeding system is likely to produce the same results on a 4th consecutive occasion too!

One answer is to draw the groups completely at random out of a hat. The argument against this is that it can produce a “Group of Death” which means that the best teams don’t all make it to the knockout stages; and can ultimately impact the quality of the final, which is the real “big deal” for TV.

But this could be avoided by having two hats: one for the top 4 seeds, and one for the rest. This would at least ensure some variety – each group would contain two top-seeds and 2-or-3 “others” – but we might see England get to play India or Australia in the group stages, rather than South Africa again.

Perhaps all of this is just really a symptom of the wider problem in women’s cricket, where the top teams are increasingly pulling away from the rest, making the group stages largely academic anyway? It certainly feels like there is less jeopardy in the group stages than there has been in quite some while, with England’s only real “worry” in Birmingham being whether they would face Australia or India in their semi-final. And with great crowds at Edgbaston, the evidence might suggest that the public doesn’t really care right now either. But ultimately, we do need to keep things interesting, and slightly more randomised groups could be a way of achieving that in South Africa next year.

ANALYSIS: How to Win at Domestic T20 – A New Approach

The tactics and strategies deployed by many women’s teams are fairly standard and largely mirror those seen in the men’s game (possibly not surprising given how many of the coaches are men) with seemingly little questioning as to whether these really are actually the best ways to win T20 games.

This article argues that just 2 stats* could drive a number of different approaches in team composition, batting order and bowling attacks. (*Taken from the 2021 WBBL – the best T20 competition in the world and the one with the most match data.)

Stat #1: “15 runs”

What’s the significance of this number? The margin of victory in 40% of games (21/53 completed) was 15 runs or less i.e.,

  • Chasing teams fell short by ≤15 runs; or
  • Teams batting 1st would have successfully defended a score which was 15 runs higher. This second point is obviously simplistic since it assumes that the chasing team wouldn’t have scored more quickly if they were chasing a higher target.)

But the crux holds true that just a few more runs made (or saved) would change the results of a large number of games.

Stat #2: Over-reliance on the top 4 batters

Bat Win/Tie Runs* scored by Top 4 Lose Runs* scored by Top 4
1st 28x 83.00% 25x 55.00%
2nd 25x 87.00% 28x 60.00%

* Runs off the bat only

Basically, teams don’t win unless their top 4 batters deliver the vast majority of the runs.

So, how could these 2 facts influence the way that a team might bat, field and select players?

Batting

Some might opine that if batters were capable of scoring more runs then they would. But this assumes, firstly, that these batters are making good decisions regarding how to make runs and, secondly, ignores the fact that top batters understand, and hence are constrained by, the correlation between their personal success and team success.

So how could a team score 15 more runs? The average 2022 Blast score was approximately 171 whilst the average 2021 WBBL 1st innings score was 137; the difference (34) being primarily attributable to approximately 3.4 fewer 6s, 1.1 fewer 4s and 11 fewer singles.

Can 6 hitting be improved? The best women batters can clear any boundary but the vast majority can’t. In the WBBL 50% of 6s were hit by just 10 batters. So, this wouldn’t seem a viable approach.

Can teams score more singles (and twos)? Most objective observers would agree that many teams could take far more singles through ‘drop and run’ or targeting weaker fielders. Rapidly improving batter fitness levels will also help. And boundaries need to be pushed out to avoid what some commentators have dubbed “1s or 4s games”. The recent Cricket World Cup saw big boundaries so it’s disappointing that the organisers of the Commonwealth Games have decided to bring them in so far. Big boundaries open up gaps, reward those batters able to manipulate the ball and allow the best fielders to showcase their skills.

But who is to score these runs given the highlighted reliance of teams on their top batters? More aggressive batting comes with higher risks and there simply isn’t the depth of batting in most teams to recover if several wickets fall early. (This is in marked contrast to the Blast where the SRs of batters #1 through to #8 barely drops.) So how do you reconcile the need to take more risk with the fact that you can’t afford to lose your top batters too early?

The proposal here is the deployment of pinch hitters. Central Sparks alluded to such tactics by using Issy Wong at the top of the order in this year’s CEC but this isn’t about promoting a solitary batter to ‘give it a go’ before the ‘proper’ batters come in – this tactic would see a succession of lower order batters promoted to the top of the order with the clear role of taking advantage of fielding restrictions during the powerplay. Losing 3 wickets in the powerplay is rarely recoverable in men’s T20s, but 30-3 off 3 overs might be fantastic start for a women’s team utilising this strategy. (For comparison, in 2021, the average powerplay in the CEC was 38.4 for 1.6 wickets.) And, if the opposition didn’t change their bowling order, it would also mean your best batters faced fewer balls for the opposition’s best bowlers.

Fielding / Bowling

The strategic ramifications of these 2 stats are just as important for the fielding team (particularly if your opposition also adopt the above batting tactics).

The wicket-keeper becomes even more pivotal. All keepers should be able to stand up, even to the fastest bowlers, and thereby keep batters in their crease. This is not an unreasonable expectation as Amy Jones and Sarah Taylor have demonstrated. They should also look to how the best men keepers cover a wide area behind the stumps rather than, as many women keepers do, hovering by the stumps and expecting third and fine leg to field snicks and edges.

A keeper standing up combined with a ring of athletic fielders would put enormous pressure on batters – the tactic so brilliantly deployed by the men’s Gloucestershire team during their 90’s heyday or the current men’s Hampshire squad.

Teams then need a bowling attack capable of taking out the opposition’s top 4 batters. Economy rates shouldn’t matter and nor should overall Strike Rates (which can be flattered by cheap wickets at the back end of an innings) – just a bowler’s SR against the best batters. This also means teams shouldn’t necessarily copy the men’s tactics of using 4-5 different bowlers in the powerplay – teams need their best bowlers attacking the opposition’s best batters (because if the best bowlers can’t get the best batters out, what chance do the other bowlers have?)

Regarding the composition of the bowling attack, teams need to focus on what works versus what’s ostensibly exciting. The simple fact is that slow bowlers are hard to score off – in the 2022 Blast the 26 most economical bowlers were slow – so a team should have at least 3 spinners (ideally a wrist spinner, a left armer and a conventional off spinner). But why not 4?

Is this anti-fast bowler? No, but coaches should acknowledge the realities of what fast bowlers bring to a team versus the hype. It might sound exciting if someone is bowling at 70-75mph, but in itself that just means more speed off the bat and no decent batter should be fazed by such speeds since they’ll regularly face bowling machines set at this speed or, for the diminishing number who play men’s cricket, in club matches. Speed of this magnitude is only penetrative when it’s combined with something else. (The 27th most economical bowler in the Blast is the 6’7” Irfan.). So, your fast bowler needs to be tall (e.g., Bell, Arlott or Filer) or left arm (e.g., Kemp, Farrant or George) or someone who can take the ball away from the righthander (since the majority of women bowlers bowl inswing).

What therefore might a team look like built on these insights?

4 bowlers: selected for their SR against the best batters, not against the middle order and tail. (Once you’ve dismissed the top 4 opposition batters, further wickets become unimportant since the SRs of number 5 to 9 are pretty similar.) Hence a SR of 10 / ER of 9 is far more desirable a SR of 20 / ER of 6. But they need to be matched up against the best batters – your all-rounders and batters-who-bowl should be capable of getting the other batters out.

4 batters: capable of batting the bulk of 15 overs (although not the first few) with a SR of 120+. (A team could perhaps afford to have 1 ‘anchor’ but even then their SR should be at least 110.) Your keeper doesn’t have to be one of these 4 if they form part of the expendable opening batting line up, but their keeping and wider athleticism has to be exceptional. If any of these batters can offer the occasional over of bowling, all the better.

3 all-rounders: collectively capable of delivering 4-8 overs once the top 4 batters are out (or early in the innings if the opposition also cards their best batters lower) combined with role as pinch-hitters capable of scoring e.g., 10 off 4 balls and ‘gun’ fielding.

Fielding athleticism: the ability to squeeze teams in the field is core to this strategy. As we start to get better fielding stats, we can better assign value to this aspect of the game.

The most valuable player in such a squad might not be the batter with an average of 25/SR 120 or a bowler with an ER of 5, but instead someone who bats at 3 with an average of 12 / SR 150, often bowls 2 overs for 16 and typically saves 5 runs in the field compared to the ‘average’ fielder.
Einstein famously said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. It could similarly be contended that any team hoping to beat Southern Vipers by simply repeating the same tactics which haven’t worked to date is destined to the same fate. Is any team ready to re-think the way domestic T20 is played? If so, perhaps some of the answers lie herein?