Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes 2nd ODI

* England Wasted A Good Toss

Though this was a good pitch, on an overcast morning bowling was the obvious choice; so it was a bit of a no-brainier for Charlotte Edwards to put the Aussies in and throw the ball to Brunt and Shrubsole. And although the Stars didn’t quite get off to a flyer, England nevertheless failed to make the inroads they must have been hoping for, allowing the Australian openers to build a solid platform which their middle order later exploited with aplomb. So the toss win was somewhat wasted, but…

* Australia Wasted Their Final Overs

With just two wickets down going into the last 10 overs of their innings, at 187/2 the Stars must have been eyeing up a score nearer to 280; so 259/6 represented something of a mini-victory for England at that that stage of the match; and from an England perspective 260 certainly felt “gettable” albeit it would have been close to a record chase.

* Edwards On Top of the World

Although Lanning got the big score (and the big Man of the Match champagne) it was Edwards that looked like the one player truly in command of the crease today; playing it like she had all the time in the world to pick her shots. In the end it wasn’t the Aussies but the drinks break that did for her, as an uncharacteristic lapse in concentration saw her bowled by a nothing delivery from Megan Schutt.

* England Batting Like… England

Edwards aside, England batted largely like… well… England! Knight looked scratchy and survived a couple of edges which really should have been caught by Healy. Taylor got a start but didn’t push on; and once the ‘keeper was dismissed, England collapsed, Gangnam Style. As Megan Schutt admitted afterwards, all Australia had to do was bowl straight and the wickets fell faster than the stock market on Black Wednesday.

* Cricket Was The Winner

Okay, if you are an England fan this is scratching around for consolation; but for the second match in a row we’ve had a crowd of well over 3,000 at a women’s international, which is just brilliant; and full credit to the ECB, Sky, the BBC and the counties who have all pulled together to market this series like no other series in “our” game has ever been marketed before.

It will be interesting though to see what the mainstream press make of things now they don’t have a victory to trumpet. Yesterday’s headlines were of the “Girls show the boys how it’s done!” ilk. Are we now showing them how it’s NOT done? 😉

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Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes 1st ODI

* Australia Lost It Early

Speaking after the match, Ellyse Perry hit the nail on the head: “We didn’t get off to a great start with the bat.” And yes, that really was the difference.

Jess Jonassen (career ODI Strike Rate 87) made just 5 off 17 balls (SR 29); bringing to the crease Meg Lanning (career ODI SR 97) who then scored only 6 off 18 balls (SR 33).

In short, this was not the kind of start the Southern Stars are used to making; and they were playing mental catch-up with themselves ever after, leading to some risky running in the last 15 overs, and 4 of their last 5 wickets falling to Run Outs. 

* Villani Holding Back

Ellyse Villani’s Strike Rate was a more respectable 69; but she looked timid at the crease, as if she was consciously holding back her more natural attacking instincts; and her tame dismissal reflected that – caught at square leg, basically not even playing a shot.

* Blackwell Down The Pitch

Alex Blackwell had a couple of big LBW shouts against her, but they were never going to be given because she was coming a long, long way down the pitch to almost every ball. This was a definite tactic – she wasn’t doing it for Berkshire last month! England need to look at how they can counter this, maybe by bowling for the stumping?

* Sciver NOT Smashing It

Nat Sciver made a career-best 65 in her last match in New Zealand. Today she went one better – 66 off 75 balls, and a well-deserved Man of the Match medal to boot!

I think she looked more relaxed at the crease here than I’ve ever seen her before, and she was playing with a grace and elegance which she has sometimes lacked – not trying to smash it out of the ground, but pivoting and pirouetting into her shots.

Nat is a supremely fit individual – probably the most athletic of the current squad – but she seems to have realised that cricket is about more than being able to bench-press the ball into the stands; and it is a lesson that others, particularly some on the fringes of the team, could well learn!

* Elwiss To The Manor Born

Georgia Elwiss hasn’t had the best start to the season at county level, but pulling the England shirt on today (for the first time in over a year) she looked to the manor born from the first ball, and you get the sense that this could be her summer.

A (slight) surprise selection she may have been, but Elwiss has definitely NOT left the building! (If this form continues, expect to see her batting higher up the order too, by September!)

Pape and Franklin Snatch Victory for Kent

A late-order seventh wicket partnership between Charlotte Pape (59*) and Phoebe Franklin (26*) saw Kent snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in a low-scoring thriller against Surrey on Sunday.

Kent had been 49-6 and still 92 runs short of their target when Pape and Franklin came together, but the pair weathered the storm, initially with singles as they kept the run rate ticking over, then – after the 50 partnership was reached – utilising some more expansive strokes. The highlight was a glorious six from Pape as she pulled Cecily Scutt to the square leg boundary.

Pape reached her half-century in the 41st over with a boundary through midwicket, and hit the winning run to third man the following over.

Earlier, Kent had done well to bowl Surrey out for 140 on what looked to be a decent batting wicket. Surrey’s innings was anchored by opener Kirstie White (51), who reached her 50 in 77 balls and played some lovely shots around the wicket. But the introduction of Megan Belt to the attack brought an end to her innings as she was caught at mid-on by Molly Davis.

Two excellent run-outs by Alice Davidson-Richards followed, leaving Surrey 7 down in the space of 36 overs. Belt then helped finish off the tail as, in the same over, both Scutt and Sarah Clarke holed out to Davis at mid-on. Surrey were eventually all out in the 46th over, and Belt finished with figures of 4-24.

Kent’s reply began badly, as some tight bowling from Rachel Candy and Katherine Robson saw them score just 14 runs off the first 8 overs.

15-year-old Hannah Jones (2-34) then removed both openers, having both Davidson-Richards (7) and Lottie Bryan (9) caught by Robson at mid-off.

The wickets continued to tumble with 3 Kent players (Lynsey Askew, Kara Sutherland and Lauren Griffiths) falling for ducks – both Sutherland and Griffiths being trapped lbw by Scutt (2-34). At 49-6, it was left to Pape and Franklin to attempt to stick around.

Surrey had several chances to break the partnership – including a dropped catch at deep backward point when Franklin was on 17 – but failed to do so, and consequently had to watch the match gradually slip away.

After play, Kent captain Lauren Griffiths said it had been a “fantastic win” and praised the performances of her young team:

“We were missing 5 England players and a few others were injured as well, so we had quite a few U15 and U17s playing, and they did amazingly. It just shows that without those England girls the younger girls can step up.

“At 60-6 we were in a little bit of a mess, but we bat all the way down to number 11, and Phoebe and Charlotte looked really confident at the end.”

It was a match thoroughly enjoyed by a rather raucous crowd, at least 4 of whom were watching their first ever game of women’s cricket. A note to the Oval officials, though: is it really necessary to force spectators to move seats halfway through an innings, for so-called “security reasons” (the second set of seats were approximately 5 metres away from the first set)? Not only did it disrupt enjoyment of the game, it created a rather unwelcoming atmosphere – as did the total lack of food/drink facilities available on site. Sort it out please!

ANALYSIS: England Women Domestic Form Guide

The women’s Ashes starts in just a few days time – but how have the England squad been shaping up this season for their counties? Here at CRICKETher we’ve created a handy Form Guide, based on performances in the county championship this season, to tell you everything you need to know.

Charlotte Edwards (Kent): Runs: 220; Average: 55.00; Wickets: 1 at 50.00

Has been (unsurprisingly) prolific with the bat, and with a highest score of 88* against Yorkshire is currently the leading run-scorer in division 1 of the championship. Her running between the wickets has also looked particularly solid, which is a positive for England as it suggests that her knees will hold up well during the forthcoming series.

Heather Knight (Berkshire): Runs: 311; Average: 44.43; Wickets: 3 at 57.00

Has played county cricket more recently than any other England player due to Berkshire’s rearranged fixture against Middlesex last weekend, in which she made 28. Hasn’t performed spectacularly with the bat, aside from one score of 65 against Surrey back in May, but has opened the bowling several times and still seems to have the ability to beguile county players with her new-found talent for spin – suggesting we might well see Edwards utilising her against the Aussies.

Katherine Brunt (Yorkshire): Wickets: 6 at 9.83; BBI: 3-23

The amount that Brunt is allowed to bowl is still being carefully controlled – she hasn’t got through her full allocation of 10 overs in any game yet this season – which suggests that England might not want to risk her in the Test. However, her economy rate (2.64) has been exceptionally good, and her 3-23 in Yorkshire’s recent win against Middlesex (who had previously been unbeaten this season and were looking like challengers for the title) showed she is getting back to her best.

Kate Cross (Lancashire): Wickets: 3 at 30.00; BBI: 2-15

Having been promoted at the end of last season, Lancashire have struggled hugely to compete in division 1 – they haven’t won a single game this season – and Cross’s poor showing reflects that. She’s had to bear the brunt of the batting for her side, and has often had very low totals to bowl at to boot. Whether this will affect her England chances remains to be seen.

Georgia Elwiss (Sussex): Runs: 57; Average: 19.00; Wickets: 3 at 26.33; BBI: 2-43

Were the England selectors basing their choices on county performances alone – something which we at CRICKETher find rather doubtful! – it’s unlikely that Elwiss would have made it into the squad. Opening the batting for Sussex this season, her highest score has been 27, and even that looked scratchy. Her bowling has also been expensive and yielded little in the way of wickets. However, her recent showings for the Academy might still save her when it comes to selection for the ODIs.

Lydia Greenway (Kent): Runs: 106; Average: 35.33

With scores of 13*, 8, 23*, 57 and 5, it’s been a mixed season for Greenway. Nonetheless, her 57 against Nottinghamshire – made when her team most needed it, coming in at 3 after both Edwards and Tammy Beaumont had been dismissed cheaply – showed her quality. Her fielding is also still far and away the best in the championship.

Becky Grundy (Warwickshire): Wickets: 6 at 21.33; BBI: 2-24

2-24 against Surrey is Grundy’s best performance to date, which helped take her team to victory. However, she’ll be disappointed both with her lack of wickets and the fact that her bowling (usually so tight) has been relatively expensive.

Jenny Gunn (Nottinghamshire): Runs: 125; Average: 31.25; Wickets: 8 at 15.12; BBI: 2-18

Has bowled a lot of overs for Notts and done so in her usual economical fashion (her economy rate to date is 2.95). Has also looked every inch the all-rounder, top-scoring for Notts twice in 5 matches, including 52* against Berkshire as the rest of her team collapsed around her.

Amy Jones (Warwickshire): Runs: 35; Average: 11.66

As the stats suggest, it’s been a bit of a poor season for Jones, whose highest score is only 19. It makes her chances of playing in the ODIs look remote, barring an injury to Sarah Taylor.

Laura Marsh (Kent): Runs: 63; Average: 31.50; Wickets: 9 at 8.22; BBI: 5-15

Marsh’s 58 and 5-15 against Notts at Canterbury back in May well illustrate the reasons for her inclusion in the England squad: a bowler who can also be trusted with the bat. 5-15 also happens to be the second-best bowling performance in the top division of the championship this season (the best, though, was the non-selected Dani Hazell’s 6-28 against Berkshire…ahem).

Natalie Sciver (Surrey): Runs: 111; Average: 22.20; Wickets: 17 at 19.28; BBI: 5-27

Has had a mixed season with the bat – with two golden ducks (against Warwickshire and Berkshire), but a top score of 67 against Sussex back at the start of May. Her bowling has been better – though it’s questionable whether her performance with the ball actually matters to the selectors, given that England seem to now see her as a batsman who bowls, rather than a true all-rounder.

Anya Shrubsole (Somerset): Wickets: 9 at 6.33; BBI: 4-18

As the only player in the squad currently playing in division 2, we perhaps need to look upon Shrubsole’s bowling figures with caution. Nonetheless, you can only bowl at the batsmen in front of you, and you can’t ask for much more than figures of 2-9, 3-30 and 4-18, at an economy rate of 2.28.

Sarah Taylor (Sussex): Runs: 216; Average: 54.00

With 216 runs at a strike rate of 99.53, this season has gone exactly as we would have expected for the supremely talented Sarah Taylor. Watching her bat at Billingshurst against Notts (she made 39, and Sussex won by 5 wickets) was an absolute delight.

Lauren Winfield (Yorkshire): Runs: 205; Average: 205.00

Yorkshire’s brilliant (and somewhat unexpected) recent performances in division 1 of the county championship – with mammoth victories against Middlesex (by 9 wickets), Berkshire (also by 9 wickets) and Warwickshire (by 86 runs) – have been largely a result of their explosive captain. Her average is simply ridiculous, particularly for an opening batsman. She may be disappointed to have finished on 99* against Middlesex in her most recent championship innings – but she’s unlikely to be so when the team sheet is announced for the first ODI next week.

OPINION: Was 6 points for the Ashes Test “unfair”?

It seems that the war of words in the Ashes has begun this week. A piece on cricket.com.au has new Southern Stars’ coach, Matthew Mott, speaking out against the points system which took England to victory in 2014 – whereby the single Test match was worth 6 points, compared with 2 points for each ODI and T20.

This series, the Test has been downgraded to 4 points, and Mott is reported as saying“I think it’s a fairer system looking at it, the weighting of it is just about right. Whether you win or lose that Test match, it doesn’t really disadvantage or advantage you in the whole scheme of things.”

It’s a view that seems to be held by many people – in particular since England retained the Ashes in 2014 despite losing both the ODI and the T20 components of the series 2-1 to Australia. Presumably this is the main reason for the downgrading of the Test match this time around.

But was 6 points for the one Test really “unfair”, as Mott believes? When the multi-format points Ashes was first announced back in 2013, the Test was awarded 6 points in order to place it on an equal footing with the other two formats, which were (and still are) both worth 6 points each in total (2 points per game).

It’s worth remembering that the Ashes had previously always been contested only across the Test format, just as they are in the men’s game. It therefore made sense to consider the Test equally valuable to the ODIs and T20s.

Why the change? The main argument in favour of making the Test worth 4 points, as compared to 6, seems to be that it means that neither side can gain a huge advantage if they win the Test. It’s perceived that winning one game shouldn’t put you further ahead on points than winning two ODIs/T20s does.

Of course, you have to wonder if Cricket Australia (for I strongly suspect it was CA who pushed for the downgrading of the Test to 4 points), not to mention Mott himself, would still think that 6 points for a victory in the Test was “unfair” if Australia had won at Perth (which they could so easily have done), and taken a 6-0 lead in the series last time around.

Leaving that aside…while I can see that downgrading the Test does have the potential to keep the series alive longer, especially now that it’s being played between the ODIs and T20s, I’m still not sure I agree that the Test should only be worth 4 points.

Test cricket was so-called for a reason – because it was felt to be the ultimate test of cricketing superiority, and for good reason. It’s much harder to sustain cricketing excellence across 4 (or 5 in TOG*) days than it is across 40 or even 100 overs. Anything can happen in a T20. That’s not the case in a Test.

And despite the fact that the commercial focus in women’s cricket from the ICC and the boards now seems to be on the T20 and ODI formats, Test cricket is still considered the pinnacle by pretty much every female cricketer in the world. It’s surely a problem if winning in the pinnacle format, as Mott himself says, “doesn’t really disadvantage or advantage you in the whole scheme of things”.

It seems to me that the real solution is to play two Tests, worth 3 points each. That way, the Test format would still have equal weighting across the series as a whole, but we could avoid the accusation that, by gaining 6 points from just one game, a team didn’t really deserve to win the Ashes.

Whether the boards – in particular CA, who have resisted a two-Test Ashes series for almost a decade now – are amenable to considering this next time around is, of course, another story.

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*TOG – The Other Game (aka men’s cricket)

MATCH REPORT: MacLeod Stars in Berkshire Victory

An excellent all-round performance from Berkshire’s Lissy MacLeod, who top-scored with 61 and took 4-26, saw her team to a 37-run victory in their rearranged match against Middlesex on Saturday.

Chasing 202, Middlesex suffered from early set-backs as Berkshire achieved two run-outs – the first a brilliant direct hit from Sherissa Gumbs at mid-on to dismiss Sophia Dunkley – leaving them 42-2 after 11 overs.

The introduction of Linsey Smith (3-24) to the attack in the 9th over saw Middlesex further pegged back as they struggled to achieve the required rate of just above 4 an over, in the face of Smith’s tight and accurate left-arm spin, including 3 maidens. Fran Wilson, looking dangerous with 16 off 12 balls, was Smith’s first victim, hitting it straight back into the bowler’s hands. She then had Anna Nicholls caught by Corinne Hall at silly mid-off in her very next over.

MacLeod, introduced to the attack in the 16th over, took a wicket with her first ball of the day, having Cath Dalton – back into the side after a month-long absence from injury – caught by Georgina Dean at point.

At 51-5, it was always going to be difficult for Middlesex. A 41-run partnership between Izzy Westbury (16) and Beth Morgan (56) was a valiant but fruitless attempt to get near a total that looked increasingly out of reach.

Westbury was out lbw in the 28th over attempting to sweep MacLeod; MacLeod then helped finish off the Middlesex lower-order, bowling Naomi Dattani for 1 and trapping India Whitty lbw for 0 with a good yorker.

Morgan was the last wicket to fall, run out in the 46th over, as Middlesex were bowled out for 165 – 38 runs short of their target.

Earlier, Berkshire had won the toss and elected to bat in sunny conditions on a good pitch. Alex Rogers was dismissed early, bowled by Dattani for a duck. But MacLeod then shared two 50-partnerships with Heather Knight (28) and Hall (35) to set the scene for a solid Berkshire total.

Macleod again

MacLeod was finally dismissed in the 29th over by Danni Warren (2-33), caught by Wilson at mid-on. But hard-hitting cameos from Emily Gerke (26) and Smith (23) allowed Berkshire to set a total in excess of 200.

Berkshire’s victory came in spite of the absence of both their opening bowlers, Daisy Gardner and Imogen Brown, and speaking to CRICKETher after the game MacLeod said that her team took heart from their team effort.

“It was a good performance. We didn’t lose wickets in clusters and we built partnerships when we were batting, which we were really happy with. Everyone pulled through.”

Speaking about her season-best 61, she added: “I was a bit scratchy at the start but it was good! I’m loving batting at the moment.”

Photographs copyright Ruth Conch and Sam Gibbs

OPINION: WBBL Marketing Sets Standard

There might not have really been much actual substance in today’s WBBL announcement – just one player per team was unveiled, plus the dates and a (somewhat disappointing) TV schedule. But as a the marketing around the event gets serious, the Women’s Big Bash is already looking set to be the Women’s Big SPLASH!

Cricket Australia have form here – the Men’s Big Bash is a tightly coordinated exercise, run under close central control, under the American model of sports franchising, which emphasises the collective health of the competition as a whole, over and above that of individual teams.

And that is one advantage the WBBL has in being a ‘spin off’ of the (M)BBL – the team uniforms look amazing, and are a million miles away from the “50 Shades of Black” we’ve currently got going on in our Women’s County Championship.

Plus CA clearly realises how important it is to show a human side to the corporate identity of the teams. So the Twitter feeds (because… OF COURSE they all have Twitter feeds… and OF COURSE they all look AWESOME) carefully balance the WBBL logo, the team badge and the faces of the key players announced thus far.

All in all, Cricket Australia have done a fantastic job. They realise that WBBL is first and foremost a BUSINESS which needs to be successful in engaging their potential CUSTOMERS – i.e. the fans – and they’ve set the standard which the ECB’s new Women’s Cricket Super League is going to have a hell of a job to follow.