Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes 3rd T20

Dead Rubber Bump

Dead rubbers are funny things – sometimes they bounce, as the Southern Stars did in their last series against England in Australia, where they romped home in the last two T20s despite having lost the Women’s Ashes; and other times they don’t, as when a clearly exhausted Australian team collapsed to one of their heaviest ever T20 defeats in Durham at the end of the 2013 tour.

Yet if this was a bounce, it wasn’t a very convincing one – really more of a bump. England’s openers bowled very well once again; but the batting was as fragile as ever and if anyone really believes this lumbering victory gives them Momentum Going Into The World T20™ then I’m afraid they need their head examined.

Lauren Can’t Win-Field

Lauren Winfield is a fine batsman who has scored oodles of runs at county, averaging 63 in domestic cricket this season. Obviously she is clearly struggling in an England shirt, but her tame (virtually identikit) dismissals at Chelmsford and Hove were indicative of mental not technical flaws in her game.

England seem to wonder why players like Winfield and Amy Jones bat at international level like they are afraid to say boo to a mouse; but maybe it is because they constantly stand on the precipice of being dropped, and that’s a scary place to be!

So cutting Winfield today was the worst thing England could possibly have done – reinforcing all those negative preconceptions going on in her head; and perpetuating the cycle of mental failure which bedogs her. It England man-management at its absolute worst; and especially crazy given the dead rubber nature of this game.

Sciver Owes Shrubsole

Nat Sciver took home career-best figures with both bat and ball today; but in the latter case she really owes a lot to Anya Shrubsole. England’s swing-star set the trap for the Aussies with her opening 4-over spell of 4/11, leaving them under severe pressure. Sciver then reaped the rewards as the Southern Stars looked to hit out, as first Ellyse Perry played-on off a pretty nothing delivery, and then Blackwell, Harris and Coyte all got caught as they attempted to force the pace through the final third of the innings.

Perry Ms Consistent

Ellyse Perry scored 16 off 21 balls today and took 1 wicket – it certainly wasn’t a match-winning performance. In fact, looking back over the whole series, Perry didn’t really produce the archetypal “match winning performance” at all. Her best displays were either overshadowed by others – Lanning in the ODIs and Jonassen in the Test – or in a losing cause, at Taunton.

And yet when all the numbers had been totted-up, there she was – at the top of the table with both bat and ball, having scored more runs (264) and bagged more wickets (16) than anyone else, to take the Player of the Women’s Ashes Series award for a second consecutive time.

Being a great all-rounder isn’t actually about the “great” performance – it is about consistency; and that is what Perry brings in bottles to this Australian team. The ICC are shortly supposed to be publishing new “combined” rankings for women’s cricket – if Ellyse Perry’s name isn’t at the top of the all-rounders list… then there is something wrong with the list!

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REPORT: Scotland Castled as Essex Continue “Operation No Relegation”

A five-fer from Kelly Castle saw Essex continue their late-season bid to remain in Division 2 of the county championship, as they bowled Scotland out for 116 to win by 34 runs.

It was a day for the bowlers, as Hannah Jeffery also had cause to celebrate, becoming the first ever woman to take 100 1st XI wickets for Essex.

Scotland struggled in conditions which became ever more overcast as the afternoon progressed, losing 3 quick wickets early on, all to the accuracy of Castle (5-18), who bowled Rachel Scholes and then trapped both Kathryn Bryce and Kari Anderson lbw.

Jeffery, who had been keeping her team on tenterhooks, then at last had the chance to celebrate her 100th wicket as she bowled Kirstie Gordon for a duck, leaving Scotland 36-5 after 18 overs.

Scotland rallied with a 42-run partnership between skipper Abbi Aitken (22) and Sarah Bryce (11), but when the two were dismissed in successive overs just after drinks – Aitken caught at silly point attempting to punish the bowling of Essex captain Hannah Courtnell – Scotland slid further towards the point of no return.

Sam “Haggis” Haggo lived up to her nickname, playing with heart for a late-order 25*. But she was left stranded as Castle wrapped up a successful day for herself and her side with two more quick wickets to finish Scotland off in the 37th over.

Earlier, having won the toss, Scotland had elected to field first on a green wicket, but Essex got off to a flier, reaching 31-0 after 5 overs.

The introduction of left-arm spinner Gordon (3-16) to the attack helped peg Essex back, but a quick-fire 23 from Mady Villiers, batting in conjunction with her captain, clawed it back for the home side and allowed them to reach a fair total of 150.

While Scotland were sharp in the field – with three good run-outs, including a throw-in from Scholes to end Villiers’ innings – their bowlers did struggle at times to find the right line, with “Wides” (29) finishing the day as top-scorer for Essex.

Essex have labelled their late-season fixtures “Operation No Relegation”, after a poor start to the season left them languishing second from bottom of Division 2. Captain Hannah Courtnell, speaking to CRICKETher after the game, praised her team for their recent two wins, but emphasised how important it is that they finish the season well:

“We’ve gone down last year from Division 1 and that hit us hard, and we’re in a phase now where we’re trying to rebuild. We’re finding our game now, we’re finding what’s right for us.”

“We know we’re bottom of the table, and we know how tight it is, and we don’t want to go down.”

This year there are no county championship play-offs, meaning that the two teams who finish bottom of Division 2 – currently Essex and Scotland – will face automatic relegation. Essex’s final two fixtures of the season – against Staffordshire today, and Durham on 13 September – will thus be crucial in determining whether Courtnell’s team can do as they are hoping to and succeed in Operation No Relegation.

Connor Draws Line In The Sand on Women’s Tests

Women’s Test cricket is under attack – and this time not just from the usual trolls on Twitter; but from influential voices within the men’s game.

The Guardian’s Cricket Correspondent, former Test bowler Mike Selvey, who has almost 25,000 followers on Twitter, described the recent Women’s Ashes Test as “the worst possible advertisement” for the women’s game and called upon those who support the concept of women’s Tests to “think again… [and] let go.”

Meanwhile in The Times, Sky presenter and ex-England captain Mike Atherton (over 100,000 Twitter followers) called the Test “tedious viewing” which had “set back the cause of women’s cricket”.

It is obviously very disappointing to see the likes of Selvey and Atherton use their pulpits in the national press to publish such destructive attacks on the women’s game, especially given the likelihood that not only is this the only column each will write on the  subject this year, but probably also the only such piece many of their congregation will read.

Fortunately, any decisions on the future of women’s Tests will be made not by members of the Third Estate, but by those responsible for the custodianship of the women’s game at the ECB, Cricket Australia and the BCCI in India – among which none are more influential than the Head of Women’s Cricket at  the ECB, and chair of the ICC’s Women’s Cricket Committee, Clare Connor.

And Connor is making a stand.

Asked by CRICKETher about her commitment to the longest form of the Women’s game, she drew a clear line in the sand:

“I would never want to be part of an administration that strikes a line through Test cricket. I would hate that.”

And regarding the Test’s place in the Women’s Ashes points format:

“We’ve kept [women’s Test cricket] alive by this bigger scenario; and I will fight to continue to do that.”

But it was when asked “Why?” that Connor’s true passion rang through:

“[It’s for] the players – it’s sacred for them – it’s one of their proudest moments.”

An administrator she may be these days, but like the child, the player inside never dies… and the player inside Clare Connor is alive and kicking and ready to fight for women’s Test cricket.

Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes 2nd T20

Bowling Like Goblins

As at Fortress Chelmsford, having won the toss Charlotte Edwards handed her bowlers and fielders the responsibility of trying to hold-back the fearsome artillery barrage of the Australian batting line-up. And once again they bowled like goblins.

Anya Shrubsole was in especially malevolent mood, going for just 2.5 runs per over and taking two crucial wickets – Ellyse Perry for 7 in her first spell; and Grace Harris in her second.

Harris in particular was looking very threatening. As she almost effortlessly swept Hazell so far over cow corner that the farmer was starting to worry about his windows, we tweeted that England needed her gone… shortly after which Lauren Winfield dropped her at mid off – a fairly regulation chance made actually very difficult as it went straight through the beam of the floodlight. So it was a massive fillip for England going into the final overs when Shrubsole removed her LBW.

A word too about Heather Knight – asked to bowl just the penultimate over, after it looked suspiciously like Edwards had miscalculated, and having been a bit expensive in Chelmsford, Heather conceded just the five singles to Jess Cameron, who showed in the final over just how dangerous she can be – taking Nat Sciver for 13 and somewhat spoiling the all-rounder’s figures in the process.

Batting Like Gnomes

Meg Lanning conceded afterwards that the Aussies felt in the innings break that 107 was going to be very difficult to defend; and moreover their decision to drop a spinner (Osborne) in favour of a seamer (Rene Farrell) was possibly looking very questionable at that stage.

But if the Southern Stars were worried, they’d reckoned without the ineptitude of England’s top-order, who batted with all the elegance of garden gnomes who’d spent one too many long summer days sitting out in the beach-bleached Brighton sun.

The tragedy, as Edwards admitted in the press conference, is that we know these players can bat. We’ve seen Lauren Winfield play for Yorkshire this season, smashing it all over the shop against bowlers who aren’t Ellyse Perry admittedly, but aren’t trundling mugs either. But here she was once again tamely caught, playing an outfield shot into the infield, in an almost identical manner (albeit the other side of the wicket) to her dismissal at Chelmsford – hitting out without the “hitting” bit.

Only Danni Wyatt’s all-too-brief cameo displayed the positivity that England have been talking about all summer – looking for the scoring strokes and scampering between the wickets, like an open-topped roadster roaring down the highway, leaving the soccer mums in their minivans for dust; and the way she got out was desperately unlucky, given how rarely her chances seem to come around.

Heads In Places

For England fans, it was deja-vu all over again. Unless Edwards or Taylor make runs, we are so often left with Lydia Greenway shepherding the tail – a job she has done so successfully that she is now England’s highest run-scorer in this series; but it betrays huge problems further up the order.

When asked what new head coach Matthew Mott brought to the Southern Stars, Meg Lanning credited him with getting their heads in the right places.

England’s aren’t; and that’s the real story here.

OPINION: First Thoughts on Death of a Gentleman

We were at the Gate Picture House in Notting Hill last night to see Death of a Gentleman and hear a passionate Q&A by writer-director Sam Collins.

Although it focuses exclusively on men’s cricket, Death of a Gentleman offers a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of food-for-thought on the state of the game and its governance.

Perhaps somewhat incongruously, women’s Test cricket is actually in a slightly better state right now than it has been for some years. There were 3 Tests played in 2014, involving four different countries – England, Australia, South Africa and (amazingly, given the general attitude of their governing board to both the women’s game and Test cricket in general) India.

2015 will probably see just one Test – the much derided recent encounter in England – but at least the multi-format Women’s Ashes seems to have secured some sort of future for women’s Test cricket in the medium term, as the points system appears to have already acquired for itself the aura of a tradition which will hopefully insulate it against the base commercial pressures it is nonetheless certain to face.

Nevertheless, it is clear that if men’s Test cricket is a ship awash upon an ocean of troubles, the women’s equivalent is more of an open lifeboat in a gale-force storm, the ship having long-since sunk. The Women’s Ashes alone can’t sustain the format as anything more than a quaint anachronism.

To be fair, the ECB, the BCCI and CA have shown that they don’t want the format to die completely, having all played Tests in the past year. The challenge now is to begin to rebuild – for Australia and India to schedule a Test when they meet next Easter; for England to invite Pakistan to play a 4-dayer when they are here in 2016; and for the ICC to set up the redistributive mechanisms which can bring the game back to the smaller nations.

Because if men’s Test cricket is worth saving, so is women’s – we need to change our cricket too!

Random Thoughts: Women’s Ashes 1st T20

Less Swagger More Dagger

This wasn’t a swaggering victory of the kind we saw in the 1st ODI, but it was in a way more convincing. There at Taunton England won with 9% of their balls remaining, which is a good margin to-be-sure, but they were 6 wickets down at the end and it they’d lost another one it would have been touch and go. Here at Chelmsford, they cruised over the line with a whopping 13% of their innings to spare, loosing just 3 wickets along the way, with Knight, Greenway and Wyatt all still in the traps.

Won & Lost In The Field

England bowled well to restrict the Aussies to what was by their own (very high) standards a below-par score; and they batted well too of course. But it was the fielding that was the real difference between the teams. Danni Wyatt set the tone early on with an excellent stop on the edge of the circle, and from there England were at the top of their game, as testified by 4 catches, 3 run-outs and the concession of just 9 boundaries against the biggest-hitting unit in the business.

In contrast, Australia were poor between the wickets. Grace Harris appeared to make the rookie error of assuming the ball was dead; while Erin Osborne got into such a mess with Jess Cameron that Sarah Taylor had time to stop and tease her before she removed the bails.

Then in the field the Southern Stars made fumble after fumble. Elyse Villani missed a fairly straightforward chance to run out Charlotte Edwards early on; and then when presented with a golden opportunity for redemption, dropped the England skipper at mid off. Late in the innings, not one but two Aussies got easily to a ball that was almost trickling to the boundary; but each seemed to think the other would actually field it – in the end neither did, and it popped over the rope for 4.

Wyatt Whyatt?

In 3 T20 series since the last Women’s Ashes in Austrlia, Danni Wyatt’s batting record now reads as follows:

DNB, DNB, 0, DNB, DNB, DNB, DNB

That’s 6 “Did Not Bats”, and one sort-of* duck incurred when she was looking to hit out as she came in with just 7 balls remaining against South Africa in Birmingham last September. (* She ran a leg bye of her first ball to retain the strike going into the final over… which I sometimes think on occasions like this should count for something!)

To be fair, she has of course bowled in that time… one over, against New Zealand in the winter.

I’m sure that if you asked her, she’d say she’d rather be playing than not, especially when the team is winning; but England need to be careful how they manage their asset here – it is exactly this kind of treatment that made the highly talented Susie Rowe shrug her shoulders in despair and go back to hockey.

Wyatt doesn’t have that particular option, but she might find herself with an interesting dilemma come next January: star in the final of the WBBL… or come back to England to prepare for a tour to South Africa where her contribution is likely to be equally minimal, if indeed she is picked at all. Under such, it would be difficult to blame her if she then told the England management just exactly where they can stick their not-very-central contract.

3 Reasons England Can Still Retain The Women’s Ashes

The Women’s Ashes resumes in Chelmsford tonight with England needing to win all 3 T20s to retain the trophy for a 3rd consecutive time.

We admit the odds are very-much against England, in favour of the double-World Champion Australians; but here are 3 reasons England can still do this:

The Lights

The first two T20s are being staged under lights at Chelmsford and Hove. Playing night cricket really is a change-up, particularly in the field where the ball can be coming out of a dark sky only to jump at the last moment into the dazzling glare of the floodlights – the last time England and Australia played at Chelmsford there were several dropped catches!

So it will be a whole different ball-game out there under the lights, which could give an edge to the more experienced side – and that side is England, whose big players have many, many more matches under their belts than the younger Australians.

The Crowd

England Women have played an annual T20 fixture at “Fortress Chelmsford” every year since 2010 and they have never lost there – beating New Zealand (twice), India, Australia and South Africa. A big part of the reason for this? The crowd!

The crowds at both Chelmsford and Hove are likely to be big (Chelmsford is a sell-out, and Hove all-but) and highly partisan. The Australians aren’t used to playing in front of crowds at all, let alone hostile ones; so the Southern Stars won’t just be taking on 11 English… they’ll be taking on 3,000 of them!

The Bowlers

Although England have underperformed with the bat for most of this series, their form with the ball has been pretty good. In their armoury: Katherine Brunt, who bowled what Aussie opener Nicole Bolton described as the fastest, most hostile spell she had ever faced in the Test; Anya Shrubsole, the player of the tournament from the last World T20; Dani Hazel, the ICC’s official No. 1 ranked T20 bowler in the world; and Jenny Gunn, the second-most capped international T20 player of all time.

In contrast, while their batsmen excelled, Australia’s bowlers looked innocuous last week against Ireland – failing to bowl out the Irish (who lest we forget, play in the second division of the English county championship*) in any of the 3 matches.

Can We?

So can we do it? The odds are against us; but perhaps England fans can take faith from the immortal words of Bob The Builder:

“YES WE CAN!”

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* To clarify, Ireland do now play in the first division of the T20 County Cup, while remaining in the second division for the 50-over Women’s County Championship.

REPORT: Appleton Crowned Cheshire Women’s League Champions

Martin Saxon reports

With one week of its most closely fought season to go, the Cheshire Women’s League has crowned Appleton as its 2015 champions. The Warrington-based club had previously won the league on three successive occasions between 2010 and 2012, and had finished runners-up in the last two seasons.

Appleton now have an unassailable lead after a day when all matches started but were eventually abandoned due to rain. They did however have time to produce another miserly bowling display to demonstrate what worthy champions they are. 2014 champions Oakmere will finish as runners-up.

Appleton’s fourth title success was a genuine team effort, but it has been a superb season for opening bowler Annie Rashid, with more than 20 wickets at just two runs per over. Sami Fowler has made major contributions with bat and ball, Kathryn Jackson has made huge strides as a bowler this year and the ever-dependable captain Emma Barlow has again averaged over 30 in her opening bat position.

The other sides have not made life easy for Appleton this year. Any match between the top eight can genuinely go either way on the day, illustrated by one of Appleton’s defeats against second division champions Didsbury. The League has an innovative format where in the top two divisions, each team plays the others in their division at home and away, plus one fixture against each of the teams in the other division, making 13 matches in total. One up one down promotion and relegation will apply between the two divisions.

With all of the League’s showpiece occasions so far this year having been affected by rain, the League is genuinely hoping for better luck this coming Sunday when the Cup and Plate Finals of the T20 Divisional Competition are scheduled to be played at Alderley Edge CC, widely regarded as one of Cheshire’s very best grounds.

Oakmere Kats will play Trafford MV in the Plate Final at 11.30, a repeat of the 2010 Plate Final when Oakmere won. A victory would be Oakmere’s third Plate success, while Trafford are seeking to win the trophy for the second time.

Laura Newton and her Wistaston Swans team mates defend their crown in the Cup Final at 15.00, and once again face Chester Boughton Hall Deemons, after Wistaston’s resounding victory in last year’s final. Chester have won this competition on four previous occasions though.

Sadly, the League’s recent annual fixture versus MCC was also cancelled due to rain. Newton was due to captain the Cheshire Women’s League XI, with Claire Taylor in the MCC team.

MATCH REPORT: Wanderers Win Sets Bath Up For Title

A convincing 8-wicket win by Bath Wanderers yesterday in their match against Wokingham Ridgeway at Wokingham CC took them one step closer to their goal of winning the Women’s Cricket Southern Premier League title.

CRICKETher were there to see the match, which was reduced to 35 overs a side after two hours of play were lost to rain.

A 10-player Ridgeway, batting first, lasted for all bar one ball of their 35 overs, but managed to accumulate just 70 runs in that time, with only Corinne Hall (11) and Lissy MacLeod (15) offering many scoring strokes. Both were eventually out caught on the leg side trying to slog the ball, as Kate Randall finished with figures of 4-14.

Bath showed their intent from the outset, with Fran Wilson (who top-scored with 30) hitting three boundaries off the first over of their innings, as they raced to their target in just 12 and a half overs. Only Sarah Clarke (2-16) was able to stem the flow, removing both openers before Sophie Luff hit the winning run off Clark’s sixth over of the day.

Bath chased down the runs just in time, with more rain arriving shortly after the players trudged off the pitch.

It puts them at the top of the Southern Premier League table with just one round of Championship matches left to be played, on 6 September. Bath’s game against second-placed Hursley Park CC, who are behind (but only just) with an average of 16.42 to Bath’s 16.69*, will be a decisive one in determining whether they can retain their place at the top of the Premier League at the end of the season.

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* As in the women’s county championship, the number of points a team accumulates is averaged out, based on the number of completed games, and the winner of the Premier League is the team with the highest average at the end of the season.

Hazell and Wyatt Return For Ashes T20s

The ECB have today announced the squad which will contest the three Ashes T20s against Australia, beginning on August 26 at Chelmsford.

There are two changes from the Test squad, with Danielle Wyatt and Danielle Hazell replacing Kate Cross and Fran Wilson.

Hazell was the surprise omission from the initial ODI squad and, as current number 1-ranked bowler in the world in T20s, must surely be in contention to start for England at Chelmsford.

Wyatt is presumably back into the squad at least partly on the back of her unrivalled season with the bat at county level, having hit 287 runs at an average of 57, including a century against Somerset back in June.

Meanwhile Jenny Gunn, after sitting the Test out due to the flaring up of an old neck injury on the first morning, is evidently back to full match fitness – fresh from hitting 51* and taking 5-3 against Kent last weekend to deny them the county T20 title.

The only real surprise is the non-selection of Kent’s Tash Farrant, who has not featured in any of England’s squads this summer. Given that the ECB’s central contracts are up for renewal in October, this perhaps does not bode well for her prospects of retaining her place in the elite 18.

The series is of vital importance for England, who need to win all three games in order to draw the series on points and thus retain the Ashes. Meanwhile, even a no-result due to bad weather (worth 1 point apiece) would see Australia win an Ashes series in England for the first time since 2001.

The full T20 squad is as follows:

  • Charlotte Edwards (Kent)
  • Katherine Brunt (Yorkshire)
  • Georgia Elwiss (Sussex)
  • Lydia Greenway (Kent)
  • Becky Grundy (Warwickshire)
  • Jenny Gunn (Nottinghamshire)
  • Danielle Hazell (Yorkshire)
  • Heather Knight (Berkshire)
  • Laura Marsh (Kent)
  • Nat Sciver (Surrey)
  • Anya Shrubsole (Somerset)
  • Sarah Taylor (Sussex)
  • Lauren Winfield (Yorkshire)
  • Danielle Wyatt (Nottinghamshire)