NEWS: Australia Steamroll Ireland; Irish Take Hope For World T20s But Have Dilemmas Going Forward

Australia’s Southern Stars have plundered the Emerald Isle, winning their 3-match T20 series 3-0 in the kind of style that should make England very worried indeed as the Women’s Ashes recommence in Chelmsford on Wednesday.

Meg Lanning (43 off 38 balls in the 1st T20), Ellyse Perry (55* off 46 balls in the 3rd T20) and Elyse Villani (80 off 53 balls in the 3rd T20) all found some form with the bat.

The biggest revelation though was Grace Harris. The 21-year-old Queenslander made her debut in this series and bagged a 2-ball duck in the 1st T20. In the 2nd, coming in with 2.3 overs to go, she soon found herself on the wrong end of an on-field talking-to from vice-captain Alex Blackwell for not pushing a second run.

A response was needed… and boy did Harris respond: by hitting the first 4 balls of the final over for 4 consecutive 4s. Then in the last T20, pushed up the order to 3, she smashed 39 off just 21 balls, as Australia posted a near-record 186. Harris’ final innings left her with a series-leading Strike Rate of 193; and doubtless had England’s coaching staff scrambling around looking for plans on how to bowl to her – they are going to need them!

As for Ireland, they were well-beaten, but not totally embarrassed. Australia are the World Champions for a reason, and while the Irish maintain their official ODI status, they are really more at home in English county cricket, where they finished mid-table in this season’s Division 1 T20 Cup. Their big goal is next year’s World T20 in India, for which they seek to qualify later this year, and it will be something of a surprise if they fail to do so.

The big worry for Ireland however has to be what happens when they lose their county championship games, following the introduction of the Super League, in 2017. They have their own recently instituted Super 3s of course; but without the genuinely competitive environment which the county championship offers, they are likely to suffer going forwards.

One hope must be that some of the younger players, like promising 17-year-old leg-spinner Elena Tice, make it to Super League; but that offers its own dilemmas for Ireland – Tice was born in Basingstoke and any success she finds in Super League might just end-up with her crossing the Irish Channel on a more permanent basis.

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T20 STATS – Wyatt and Gunn Top 2015 Numbers; Adams and Colvin Close Behind

An exciting county T20 season culminated in a 3-way tie at the top of Division 1, with Sussex claiming the title on Net Run Rate ahead of Yorkshire and Kent.

We take a look at some of the numbers behind the season.

Centuries

Tammy Beaumont – 104*: The season’s highest score in was posted by Tammy Beaumont – carrying her bat for 104 not out, as Kent posted a massive 146/0 against sorry Surrey, who were already relegated having clocked-up the lowest ever total in County T20 history in the previous round – bowled out by Middlesex for 25.

Danni Wyatt – 102: June 14th 2015 is a date Danni Wyatt will want to remember. Having hit 89 from 54 balls in Nottinghamshire’s first match against Middlesex; she then went on to smash her way to 102 against a Somerset attack which included England’s Anya Shrubsole. It wasn’t a faultless innings (she was dropped a couple of times) but it showed just what she is capable of; although amazingly, Notts actually lost both games.

Runs

Danni Wyatt – 287: Despite playing only 6 of 8 games due to England commitments, Wyatt managed to outscore all-comers with 2 fifties (against Middlesex and Surrey) in addition to her century against Somerset. Scoring 287 runs in the season, she also topped the averages list with 57.

Georgia Adams – 243: Sussex’s stylish opener hit 3 fifties (against Somerset, Surrey and Notts) on her way to a total of 243 – over a quarter of Sussex’s season runs – at an average of 35.

5-Fors

Jenny Gunn 5/3: Nottinghamshire’s Jenny Gunn, who wouldn’t have even been playing had she not been ruled out of the Women’s Ashes Test earlier that week by a trapped nerve in her neck, single-handedly denied Kent the title as she hit 51* and then took 5/3 as Notts handed Kent their second defeat of the season in their penultimate match.

Wickets

Jenny Gunn – 15: Thanks to her 5-for v Kent, Gunn topped the wickets table with 15 at an average of just 7.

Holly Colvin – 13: The retired England spinner is making a point of enjoying her cricket these days, which has been good news for Sussex and good news for the fans… but not quite such good news for the opposition batsmen! With best figures of 4/10 v Somerset, Colvin twirled her way to 13 wickets at an average of 11 – not bad for a player whose extensive work and charitable commitments mean she is barely able to train.

RANKINGS: India No. 1 in Women’s Tests

In the absence of official ICC Test rankings for women’s cricket, Australia seem to have unilaterally decided to declare themselves World No.1, on the basis of having beaten England in the Women’s Ashes Test.

And on cricket.com.au:

Super Stars rule in all three formats

What Australia seem to have forgotten however, is that there are actually 4 countries currently* playing women’s Test cricket – not just England and Australia, but also South Africa and India. Taking all 4 teams into account tells a significantly different story.

Team Won Drawn Lost N.R. Points
1. India 2 0 0 1 5
2. Australia 1 0 0 2 4
3. South Africa 0 0 1 2 2
4. England 0 0 2 1 1

These rankings are based on the most recent qualifying* match between each team, allocating 2 points for a win and 1 for a draw. Where no match has been played, a “No Result” is declared, which is also worth 1 point.

So… congratulations to India and commiserations to Australia. And remember, as they say on the Lotto: Playing makes it possible! So why not play a few more Tests Australia? You never know where in the rankings it may take you!

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* Past 2 years.

OPINION: Short Pitches For Women’s Cricket?

During and subsequent to the recent Women’s Ashes Test at Canterbury several people, including the respected BBC commentator Lizzy Ammon, suggested that perhaps women’s cricket should be played on shorter pitches:

Sky Sports News then followed this up with a (ahem…) scientific poll, which suggested quite a lot of people (44%) thought this was a good idea:

It should be noted that the key effect of such a change would be to make the bowling appear faster.

A ball from Katherine Brunt would reach the batsman in [back-of-an-envelope calculations] 0.7 seconds rather than the 0.8 seconds it currently does. And given that it takes the human eye 0.2 seconds to see the ball, that’s actually in reality an almost 20% increase in apparent speed.

A spinner’s ball would obviously be less effected in apparent pace, but the shorter pitch would nevertheless allow them to bowl a more accurate delivery more often.

TLDR: It massively rebalances the game in favour of the bowlers, particularly the quicker ones.

So the key question you have to ask is: Were those who voted to shorten the pitch actually watching the same match as us at Canterbury? Because the game we saw didn’t appear to need rebalancing in favour of the bowlers – if anything it was the other way around! Just one batsman posted a score of more than fifty in the match, and the average run-rates for both teams hovered around 2 for much of the 4 days.

On a more practical level, the idea is a non-starter anyway.

Firstly, it would wreck the game for the current generation of elite batsmen and bowlers, who would never truly adjust after years of playing on the longer pitch.

Secondly, it would destroy the art of swing bowling – a key weapon in the armoury of the women’s game – because those two yards are the critical ones where swing really comes into play.

Lastly, it would require the game to change at all levels of the pyramid – you can’t have girls playing for years on a 22 yard pitch, and then suddenly having to adjust to 20 yards at the elite level. And this is a non-starter – clubs won’t (and to be fair, probably can’t) maintain dedicated women’s pitches, remembering that the pitches couldn’t be shared because the women’s foot and crease marks would be located at a point in the men’s pitch that would be downright dangerous.

So, no – there are a lot of things that you might consider changing about the women’s game… but the size of the pitch ain’t one of them!

OPINION: No Easy Answers for T20s

In the wake of England’s crushing Test defeat last week, one thing that has been asked and asked again is: “Who else could England bring in for the T20s?”

It is an interesting question… and one to which there aren’t any straightforward answers; because although it is easy to say “Drop X”, unless you have a ready replacement it is also singularly unhelpful.

Did Sarah Taylor have a great Test with the bat? No! Is there a better batsman in the county system waiting to step up? No – Taylor is the second highest run-scorer in the Women’s County Championship this season, despite having played just 4 games; and the only player to have outscored her is Charlotte Edwards.

And while both Amy Jones and Fran Wilson should in retrospect have probably played in the Test, neither are really well-suited to the shortest format, so Lauren Winfield should (and in all likelihood will) keep her spot. (Tammy Beaumont for Winfield is a possibility, but probably not one anyone (least of all Beaumont herself) should get too excited about.)

One player who has made the sort of runs at county that really ought to make the selectors to sit up and listen is Danni Wyatt; but realistically the only person she might replace is Nat Sciver, who has hit England’s highest score so far this summer (66, in the first ODI) so it seems unlikely.

Turning to the bowling, England do have a few more options. They will certainly want to bring back Jenny Gunn, fresh from a five-for (plus a bonus half-century) for Notts at the weekend; whilst Dani Hazell remains (lest we forget) the world’s No. 1 ranked T20 bowler, which surely merits her getting some sort of look-in, though England clearly consider Becky Grundy the player in possession of the spinning ball at the moment. (Personally I’d go with Alex Hartley over either of them… but England won’t in a million years, so we’ll speak no more of it!)

Missing out are likely to be Laura Marsh and Kate Cross, neither of whom performed badly with the ball in the Test, but both of whom are perhaps better-suited to the longer formats. Meanwhile Kent left-armer Tash Farrant may well make the squad, but probably not the starting XI, at least while The Ashes are theoretically alive.

So, here’s the team I think we’ll see take the field at Chelmsford:

  1. Edwards
  2. Knight
  3. Taylor
  4. Winfield
  5. Greenway
  6. Sciver
  7. Elwiss
  8. Brunt
  9. Gunn
  10. Shrubsole
  11. Grundy

If it looks a lot like the team that just got murdered in the Test, particularly the batting… that’s because it is; but unfortunately there are no easy answers for England at the moment!

OPINION: Super League Needs Its Daisy Gardners

Local girl, Slough-born Daisy Gardner has been bowling for Berkshire for 10 years now, having made her début as a 15-year-old in 2005. In that time she has become the mainstay of their pace attack, taking 62 County Championship wickets at an average of 31 – figures which actually understate her importance to the team these days, as the opposition often look to just “see her off” knowing that there are easier overs to come.

With her petite build Gardner isn’t your classic fast bowler, but she uses her stature to her advantage, delivering a piercing ball on a very flat trajectory that comes on surprisingly quickly. Now aged 25, and having never really been anywhere near the England setup, Gardner’s chances of ever playing international cricket are pretty-much zero; but she is definitely still one of the first players anyone should be looking to include in their Super League team.

However, there’s a problem.

As a first step towards a professional domestic setup, Super League intends to impose training requirements upon the players – 3 times a week, week-in-week-out. And it is true that this is needed – English domestic cricketers train a lot less than their Australian counterparts, and this might be starting to show in the results, as Australia sit-pretty at the top of the rankings in all 3 formats… albeit apparently self-appointed in Tests!

But players like Daisy Gardner – the County Pros of the women’s game – have always been amateurs, which means they need day jobs to pay the rent. They can’t just turn up to training “as and when”… and they sure can’t quit their jobs for a few hundred pounds in Super League match fees.

Of course there is an argument that: “If they really wanted to play, they could!” But in the real world, let’s face it they can’t, won’t and (to be honest) shouldn’t have to quit their jobs.

And yes, it creates a moral hazard to excuse them from training requirements. Younger players will ask why X plays when she doesn’t train; and then expect the same freedom not to train as they get older. It happens now in county cricket and it is a culture which we absolutely don’t want to carry over to the Super League.

But if the Super League right now really is going to be (as Clare Connor puts it) “the best verses the best”, then it needs its Daisy Gardners, probably more than its Daisy Gardners need it… and we need to find a way to accommodate that.

MATCH REPORTS: Sussex Victorious – Snatch Title On NRR

This article was amended after final publication of the official scorecards showing Sussex (not Yorkshire) had clinched the T20 Cup.

In the final round of the T20 season, CRICKETher was at East Grinstead to see Sussex pull-off the two wins they needed to finish level on points with Yorkshire and Kent at the top of the table, bringing it all down to Net Run Rate, with Sussex emerging victorious by the tightest of margins to take the title.

Sussex v Berkshire

In a low-scoring game first up, Berkshire fell just 4 short of their 96-run target, though in fact they were perhaps fortunate to get so close after a flurry of wickets left them well behind the rate from early on in their chase.

The initial damage was done by Freya Davies (4-18), who took wickets in each over of her opening spell, including the dangerous Lissy Macleod (6) as Alexia Walker took a good low catch at mid-on. Corinne Hall was also sent back early, caught behind on 0 wafting at a wide one outside off stump.

Alex Rogers (in form after half-centuries in each of the two previous rounds of T20s) looked dangerous until Holly Colvin took a great catch looking over her shoulder running back at point off the bowling of Ellen Burt and she was out for 20. Only Carla Rudd (23) offered greater resistance, until she was bowled swinging at a straight ball of Paige Scholfield’s (2-6 off her 2 overs).

Fi Morris and Daisy Gardner were left at the crease needing 13 off the last over, but their valiant efforts could not quite see Berkshire over the line.

Earlier, Sussex had struggled to post 100 as a fine fielding display by Berkshire, in particular 14-year-old Lauren Bell, helped restrict the run rate. The powerplay overs yielded just 22 runs, as well as the wickets of Walker (1) and Georgia Adams (12). Oddly, leading strike bowler Gardner did not feature until the 16th over, with her first over a double wicket maiden. Some good strokes from Abbey Freeborn (25*) though, helped pull it back for the Prawns towards the end of their innings.

Berkshire v Somerset

An assured 48 off 49 balls from Sophie Luff set up Somerset to wallop Berkshire by 47 runs in the day’s second game.

Somerset got off to something of a flier, hitting 42 off the first 6 overs with Luff, who came in at 3 after Georgina Adcock had been well-caught on the deep extra cover boundary by Fi Morris, knocking it all around the wicket.

Although Somerset were pegged-back slightly in the middle overs after the introduction of the always-threatening Daisy Gardner, they got their motors on again towards the end of the innings. Luff was eventually stumped by Carla Rudd in the penultimate over, but Moira Comfort’s last-ditch 9 off 6 balls drove them to a total of 127-4.

A hill quickly became a mountain for the Beavers as Comfort, opening the bowling, reduced them to 2-0 in the first over, with Harris and Macleod both departing Leg Before Wicket. Bowling her 4 overs on the bounce, Comfort then added the scalps of Corinne Hall and Alex Rogers before the 8th over, to leave Berkshire reeling at 26-4.

There was really no way back from there, and though Carla Rudd (22) again offered some resistance, once she was bowled by Nicole Richards, Berkshire collapsed to 80 all out, as young No. 11 Lauren Bell – a real prospect with the ball and in the field – lopped a simple return catch to Kate Randall to end the Beaver’s T20 season on a disappointing low.

Sussex v Somerset

In an exciting final game which was a must-win for Sussex in their T20 title challenge, they successfully chased down the 128-run target set for them by Somerset with 2 overs to spare.

Once again Somerset’s batsmen played with freedom, with openers Georgina Adcock and Gwenan Davies both tonking it around the park, including a huge six from Davies over deep midwicket – the only maximum of the day. By the time of the introduction of Colvin in the 8th over they were 56-0, though she helped to stem the flow of runs, conceding just 11 runs off her 4 overs and removing both openers – Adock bowled round her legs for 25, and Davies stumped for 38.

Colvin finished with figures of 4-11 after two further stumpings in a quadruple-wicket final over, which also included 2 run outs. Nonetheless, Somerset’s total looked a formidable one; and one that they must have been fairly confident of defending.

They had reckoned without Sussex opener Georgia Adams, who found her best form of the season at just the right moment to keep her side in the hunt for the T20 cup. She raced to 60 off 54 balls, including 9 fours, well-backed up by Paige Scholfield (31), before being caught by Nicole Richards at backward point in the 14th over.

It was left to Hannah Phelps to hit the winning boundary off the last ball of the 18th over, as Sussex celebrated their victory.

It was however another 24 hours before they could celebrate winning the T20 Cup, as final publication of the official scorecards showed they’d pipped Yorkshire on Net Run Rate by just two-hundredths of a run.

Meanwhile Somerset captain Sophie Luff reflected upon a tough season in Division 1, admitting that it is a big step up from Division 2:

“There is a difference, but the round-robin thing has been really good – we’ve had chances and chances to keep coming back.”

“We’ve had some disappointing results, but this was our most all-round performance of the season – to beat Berkshire and come up close against Sussex was just outstanding.”

OPINION: Super League Player Selection Process Needs Careful Consideration

The Women’s Cricket Super League is a massive step in the right direction by the ECB and we are really excited by it. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential pitfalls and a big one is the player selection process.

There are basically 3 “pools” of players: England; overseas and The Rest.

The ECB have already said that they will allocate the 18 contracted England players around the 6 teams – that’s 3 each, if my maths serves; whilst teams will “bid” for The Rest!

Even leaving aside the overseas stars for a moment, there are already two interesting issues here.

The first is so blindingly obvious that I’m sure it won’t actually be a problem: the England players have to be fully assigned before the bidding process for The Rest gets underway, or you risk a scenario where (for example) a franchise selects England Academy glove-butler Carla Rudd, only to find they also get allocated Sarah Taylor from the contracted pool. Result: Rudd spends a lot of time carrying drinks, which isn’t going to do much good for her development as Taylor’s long-term replacement behind the stumps for England!

The second is that the process really needs to be round-robin, like the “draft” systems in place for US sports like NFL and basketball – essentially the equivalent of the old playground line-up where captains take turns to choose.

Anything else, however well you try to manage it, essentially becomes a free-for-all where the Best of The Rest all head in just one direction, preordaining the champions whilst everyone else is left fighting it out not to come last; which might be fun if you’re part of That Team, but will ruin Super League both as a vigorous competition for the players and as an exciting spectacle for the fans.

(It is worth adding here too that a glammed-up, draft-style “bidding day” would be a huge media event by-and-of itself; and could be a great way to launch the competition perhaps?)

So far, the issues we’ve brought to light are all within the capacity of the ECB to solve; but it is regarding the overseas stars that things start to become a bit tricky.

Firstly, their identities won’t be known until quite late in the day, so we will have the Rudd-Taylor problem described above all over again.

Secondly, however carefully balanced the draft system, a couple of overseas signings could seriously unbalance things again very quickly. A team with Charlotte Edwards and Anya Shrubsole and Lydia Greenway would be one thing… a team with those three plus Ellyse Perry plus Dane van Niekerk? Everyone else might as well just go home now!

But this will be especially tricky to manage because the overseas stars (being “stars”) will have demands which will have to be managed: “I’m not playing with X because she sledged me at the World Cup!” “I’m not moving to Y because it’s too far away from my girlfriend!” etc. etc. (Both of these have happened in the past two years in the Women’s County Championship – and in both cases it resulted in the signing falling-through.)

So it won’t be easy for the ECB’s newly appointed Super League General Manager, Jo Kirk. But she is an experienced sports administrator who knows her cricket, so hopes are high and we wish her luck!

OPINION: Three Things To Improve Women’s Cricket

Last night, we were asked on Twitter:

Well…

Super League

The Women’s County Championship has provided sterling service over the past twenty years, despite being played and run on a shoestring by an (amazing) army of volunteers and demi-semi-professionals. However, it has significant problems, the most glaring of which is that the best players are spread far too thinly around the 18 teams that make up Divisions 1 & 2.

The ECB tried to address this via a “loan” system, which attempted to concentrate all the very best players in Division 1, but this has been only partially successful, often because amateur players won’t (or to be fair can’t) just up-and-move at the will of an ECB pen.

This is why we’ve been calling for years for a new* elite tier to be created between county and country – a semi-professional “Super League”, which would have fewer teams and create a more competitive environment  for the very best players.

And… amazingly… this is exactly what the ECB announced earlier this year.

Super League is going to make a huge difference – it is going to shake things up and ruffle some feathers; and I do genuinely feel for those who have strived so hard to make the county system work, and whose efforts are now to be superseded… but it is what we need, and it is what is happening.

Abolish The Academy

Okay… okay – this sounds crazy; but bear with me – I’m not talking about tomorrow, or even next year; but ultimately we want to create a situation where we can abolish the Academy.

(For those who don’t know, the Academy is the “Women’s Lions” – a Loughborough-based tier which sits below the full England team – a young squad of future England stars, who train and tour together.)

The problem with the Academy is that it is monolithic – one program, one set of coaches, one way of playing. Currently, it is the only pathway to the England team, and if you don’t fit in, you’re out!

If the Super League is successful, it will create six localised centres of elite excellence, which all become “Mini-Academies”. There will be competition among coaches and coaching methods, and if a player doesn’t fit in at “A” she can move to “B”, where they might have a different approach. Diamonds will be found in the rough; the most talented stars will shine through; and tomorrow’s England will reap the rewards.

YOU!

Finally… one more thing that can improve the domestic game – YOU – by coming to watch a county match! (There are several on tomorrow – see the calendar here!) Then write a blog post and we’ll retweet it; or write a match report and we’ll publish it.

The additional scrutiny alone will make a genuine difference. Yes, the players (and their parents) will occasionally have to feel the sting of criticism, some of them for the first time; but they will also feel more driven because they’ll know people are rooting for them; they’ll feel the adulation that little bit more intensely when they win; and ultimately they will be better England players for it.

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* Technically, we’ve actually had such a competition all along – the “Super 4s” – but nobody paid it much attention, and more recently it has evolved into little more than a private training camp.

Random Thoughts – Women’s Ashes Test Day 4

Jess Jonassen

Jonassen was named Man of the Match for her knocks of 99 and 54, ahead of Ellyse Perry’s 6-for; and although Perry’s name will be “On The Board” and Jonassen’s won’t, having tantalisingly missed-out on her hundred, it was still the right call because Jonassen really was the difference between the two teams – her innings totalling 153 were 95% of the margin of Australia’s 161-run victory.

Shockers All Round

From an England perspective, there were shockers all round today. In the right conditions earlier in the Test, Brunt and Shrubsole had looked super-human; but this morning with a little bit of sunshine creeping through, they suddenly seemed toothless and England quickly went on the defensive – first moving the field back and then turning full-on negative – calling on the spinners, even though Australia were hardly scoring at a rate faster than at any other point in the match.

When it came to the time to bat and Heather Knight hit the first ball for four, England fans might have allowed themselves a moment of belief; but the overly defensive mindset soon came roaring back in the period before lunch. And actually this could have been fine if (like Alex Blackwell) they had scored at 2/ over and kept their wickets intact; but they didn’t, and ultimately there was probably never going to be a way back after going into lunch 2-down.

Ultimately, no one exactly covered themselves in glory. Knight, Taylor, Edwards and Winfield all failed to deliver. Georgia Elwiss made a very pretty 46 – but unfortunately it was still only 46 – nothing like enough to save the game for England.

England’s Batting Order

You have to ask again about the batting order! Not batting Edwards “up top” means you are more likely to lose an early wicket, which brings in Taylor far too early in the innings, and none-down has become two-down in less time than it takes to make a cup of tea.

I do understand the logic of batting Edwards in a position where she feels more comfortable… but if it just leads to everyone else being more uncomfortable, that probably isn’t a win overall; and so it has proved, twice in the space of 4 days.

Australia Weren’t That Good

Australia will obviously be getting all the plaudits in the mainstream press, but… whisper it… the most depressing thing is that throughout this match, they weren’t actually very good either.

The superstars Lanning and Perry both failed twice with the bat; Perry got 9 wickets in the match, but she wasn’t able to generate much pace with the ball and England largely got themselves out to her. (Overall Schutt bowled better, albeit with less reward.) And ultimately, no Southern Star made more than England’s top scorer (Elwiss, with her 46) except Jonassen, which just emphasises that she really was the difference.

England Aren’t That Bad

If Australia weren’t that good, that can only mean one thing: England were really, really bad, especially with the bat.

And yet they are not a bad team. They can bowl, as we’ve seen; and they can bat, which we haven’t seen here, but we have seen all season, away from the spotlight at county and for the Academy.

Perhaps it is the pressure of that television spotlight that is the key to understanding England’s performance? To mangle a line from Joey in Friends:

England aren’t a bad team… they just seem to play like one on television!