OPINION: With Great Power Must Come SOME Accountability

The Loughborough power grab which has seen Paul Shaw assume sole responsibility for England team selection is far from unprecedented in the world of sport.

In football as we know, the manager invariably acts as a sporting dictator in on-field matters; and this arrangement generally works pretty well – the players know who is in charge… and so do the fans, the media and the board when the team’s performance doesn’t live up to expectations! Indeed it is this which provides a degree of accountability within the system – if England Rovers lose The Ashes Cup, the crowds chant, the press pillory… and the chairman loads the shotgun!

So whilst this may not be the way we’ve traditionally done things in cricket, preferring the more collegiate approach of a selection panel, the football-style “managerial” system now in place for England Women isn’t necessarily wrong.

However, it can only work if it is accompanied by the kind of checks and balances provided by the robust (if mostly informal) structures which are in place in football; and this is where things potentially start to get problematic.

Thus far, Paul Shaw seems to have largely avoided any degree of accountability. He managed to drift through the summer without anyone actually knowing he was in charge of selection; and the one time he sort-of-agreed to speak to the press after the defeat at Worcester, we were told this was only on the condition that we softballed him. (Such agreement was not collectively forthcoming; and it didn’t happen!)

And since The Ashes, mainstream media interest has waned to a whisper, with even the couple of ill-informed calls for resignations that we did hear focusing on the captain instead of the admiral.

Of course there is always the shotgun, which was used on Mark Lane a couple of years ago, but Clare Connor has a lot on her plate right now, with the Super League, contract renewals, World Cup planning… you name it – the last thing she wants is to have to spend valuable time looking for a new head coach against the wishes of her skipper!

In short, Paul Shaw is largely unanswerable in practice right now. Going forwards, this needs to change. Shaw needs to be made available to the press at the very least at the end of each series, and he must accept, if the team’s performance justifies it, that hard questions will be asked. Will he enjoy it? Of course not! But he has all the power now… along with it, he has to accept some accountability.

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NEWS: Ireland / Scotland Players To Get WBBL Opportunity

Players from at least three “associate” nations will have the prospect of spending time in Australia this December/ January, attached to a WBBL team under the just-launched “Associate Rookie” program.

The rookies will be selected from the teams that attend the World T20 Qualifiers in Thailand this November – so Ireland and Scotland players will be hoping to impress Aussie legend Cathryn Fitzpatrick, who will be making the selections following the tournament.

Players from Netherlands, Bangladesh, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, China and Zimbabwe will also have the chance to seize this amazing opportunity.

Team coaches, including Women’s Cricket Scotland boss Kari Carswell, will have the tough job of nominating up to three players to go forward for one of the 8 places up for grabs – one at each WBBL franchise.

Once selected, the players will spend two weeks at WBBL, training alongside the “pros”, with the possibility that they could even get a game if an injury crisis hits their team.

With so many talented players to choose from, it will be interesting to see if Fitzpatrick goes by potential – which could favour youngsters like Ireland’s Elena Tice and Scotland’s Kirstie Gordon – or by current ability, which might make Ireland’s Izzy and Cecelia Joyce likely picks.

NEWS: Counties Getting Cold Feet On Super League?

Although the ECB received a massive 27 “Expressions of Interest” in acquiring one of the 6 teams which will participate in next summer’s inaugural Women’s Cricket Super League, it has been suggested that they may struggle to translate these into actual bids when the deadline comes around at the end of this year.

Almost all of the submitted Expressions of Interest were led by existing First Class counties, who are the only ones with access to the one thing you need above all else to host a team: a ground!

(Notwithstanding the fact that educational institutions have been repeatedly posited as potential hosts, Clare Connor made it clear at the launch event that even Loughborough’s ground would not meet the required standards!)

Clearly then, the counties hold the keys to the kingdom – they have the grounds; not to mention the coaches, the indoor schools… and the actual experience of running a professional cricket team, which should not be underestimated!

However, the word around the game reveals a worrying picture of cold feet at county board level, echoing what Lizzy Ammon has written here:

“Privately some county chief executives have said to me that they are concerned about the realities of being a host team.”

Unsurprisingly, when you start to dig a little bit deeper, a lot of this seems to come down to money. With a couple of notable exceptions, the First Class counties aren’t exactly swimming in it, and Super League looks at best like a break-even exercise.

Yes, the ECB have talked big money… and to be fair, it is a lot more than the women’s county sides currently get… but it still isn’t lottery winnings, by the time you’ve annualised it and divided it around 6 teams. Back of an envelope calculations carried out by CRICKETher suggest that the Aussies are investing almost twice as much in WBBL.

Super League is also a risk, the kind of which the counties feel very nervous about pursuing in the current climate; with the suggestion being that if they could be sure they’d break even, they might go ahead; but given the impact even a fairly small loss could make upon their overall bottom lines, there are serious concerns.

None of this is insurmountable of course; and the likelihood has to be that with 27 frogs to kiss, the ECB will still find their 6 princes… but they just might have to sign a couple of pre-nups first!

OPINION: Will the Super League succeed where the County Championship has failed?

This year’s County Championship and T20 Cup have recently concluded – in what looks set to be the last domestic season of its kind ever.

This time next year the inaugural T20 element of the Women’s Cricket Super League will have taken place – assuming all goes according to plan over the next few months.

In a recent interview Clare Connor outlined the rationale behind the Super League as follows:

“We wanted a competition that would excite and engage new players and new fans that would be a good shop window for women’s domestic cricket in this country. A competition that could eventually drive commercial income through TV and sponsorship revenues and a competition that would give us another platform other than international women’s cricket to grow the profile of the game. Women’s domestic cricket doesn’t achieve that.”

The suggestion is that the current domestic T20 competition has failed to secure the interest of the public in the same way that England Women have in recent years.

If that is the case, it is surely at least partly the fault of the ECB.

This season the following things have occurred:

1. T20 Finals Day – one of the most exciting days in the domestic calendar, which in previous years has attracted a crowd of several hundred – was cancelled ahead of this season, the winner of the T20 Cup this season being calculated simply based on who had scored the most points in the initial four rounds. No explanation was offered as to why the change was made, and CRICKETher are still not entirely clear about the rationale behind this.

2. On the final day of T20 games, it came down to a three-way tie between Yorkshire, Sussex and Kent on points, after all three won their final games. The winner would be decided by Net Run Rate… but who was it? Frantic calculations by Martin Davies from Women’s Cricket Blog initially suggested that Yorkshire had won… until the official scorecards were published on Play Cricket 24 hours later, and it was shown that Sussex were in fact the champions, by the tiniest of margins (0.02).

Was anyone from the ECB on hand to do the required calculations on Sunday evening? No – the whole situation was farcical.

3. Sussex were presented with the T20 Cup after their final 50-over game against Berkshire, by Tim Shutt of the Sussex Cricket Board. The ECB once again showed their commitment to the domestic competition, by… sending no representative to the presentation whatsoever.

This is all in addition to the ridiculous way in which the 50-over Cup was decided this season, whereby Yorkshire were able to win the entire Championship by refusing to play 3rd-placed Sussex, with nothing in the regulations to prevent this from happening.

Sadly all these things are indicative of the fact that, despite all the progress made at international level in recent years, very little attention (or finances) have been devoted to advancing the domestic game.

The Super League is an exciting prospect. If it succeeds where the County Championship has failed… if indeed it does bring in sponsorship revenue and grow crowds at domestic games… it will be at least partly because of the time, money and effort invested in it by the ECB.

It just seems a shame that it has taken this long for the domestic game to be given any kind of priority.

CLUB OF THE MONTH: Ickenham Ladies CC

Here at CRICKETher, we’re passionate about women’s cricket at all levels, including club cricket. It’s our mission to offer coverage of women’s (and girls’) club cricket wherever we can! Our ‘Club of the Month’ feature will focus on one women’s or girls’ club every month, giving you the lowdown on their highs, lows, and everything in between.

If you’d like to see your club featured here, get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!

The current Ickenham Ladies club formed back in 2002. There had been a club at Ickenham playing in a local women’s league during the 1980s, and they even won the national Knock-Out Cup, but it had disbanded. Then, in 2002, the daughter of then President of Ickenham CC (who had played friendlies at ICC as a colt) decided it was time for a new ladies team to form.

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Coached by Pete Cook, Ickenham Ladies are part of the wider Ickenham CC, which supports four Men’s Saturday and two Men’s Sunday XIs, as well as age group colts cricket from U10 upwards for boys, U13 and U15 girls teams and a busy Foundation section for boys and girls under 10. They play at the club’s home ground at Oak Avenue, Ickenham and are enjoying the club’s new refurbished Clubhouse, which opened at the beginning of the 2014 season. Since the refurb, which included reconfiguring the changing rooms, men’s and women’s cricket can now be played simultaneously at the club, which happens most Sundays in the summer.

The club initially played in friendlies, but since 2009 have been involved with the North London Women’s Cricket League. Current captain Julie Fielder, described by teammate Paula Redpath as “one of our most prolific batsmen, and our bravest (and most injury-prone) fielder”, has recently led the team to success in the North London League, and they finished as champions in both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. A number of Ickenham players have also represented Middlesex over the years.

This season Ickenham have also participated in the Women’s Cricket Southern League, and in the newly-created Middlesex Development League, a 20-over competition designed to help teams get their cricket off the ground. Their membership of these three different leagues helps fulfil their stated aim of providing cricket to all women and girls who want to play, which is at the heart of everything the club does.

The club also host their own 6-a-side tournament at the beginning of every season, on a Bank Holiday Monday, a well-attended event which consists of two leagues playing round robin matches, and finished with a final. Breakfast, a BBQ lunch and a bar are all provided. This year Hursley Park won the tournament, and donations were also made to two charities: CURA and Cricket Without Boundaries.

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Ickenham have gone on club tours every year since 2007 and have visited Amsterdam, Madrid, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Wales, Devon and Skegness. The tours are purely team bonding exercises, with no cricket involved, and when asked about the highlights, club member Paula (mysteriously!) told CRICKETher that it was probably best not to mention “the iron fairground horse, baby Dave, cooo-eeeeee, Martin, or Tour Tourette’s”!!

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The club have been supported excellently over the years by their umpire Michele O’Grady, their dedicated scorer Jo Potter, Fixtures Secretary Pax, all-round behind-the-scenes organiser Geoff and the women behind the club’s admin, Tracey, Julie and Peeeee.

Overall, Paula describes it as “a very exciting time at ICC. We are lucky to have a lot of girls playing age group county cricket and starting to become the mainstays of the ladies team. It is a pleasure to see how all the different players and ages mix together and the way they all encourage each other.”

More info about Ickenham can be found on the club’s website, www.ickenhamcc.com and in particular their women’s page.

Congratulations on everything you have achieved, Ickenham, and keep it up!

EXCLUSIVE: England Selectors De-Selected

In a somewhat incredible centralising move, CRICKETher have discovered that prior to the recent Women’s Ashes, the entire England Women’s Selection Panel was completely abolished. Instead as of this summer, responsibility for squad selection has rested entirely with the Head of England Women’s Performance, Paul Shaw.

All of the existing selectors – including the Chair, Sarah Pickford – received an email back in June informing them that they were dismissed with immediate effect.

Additionally, the England Women’s Academy Head Coach (until last week, Lisa Keightley) was given sole responsibility for the selection of EWA squads.

While the ECB are currently seeking to appoint a team of senior and development scouts, led by a new Head of Scouting, the post of “England Selector” has been permanently abolished. Shaw will now, according to the ECB, “work closely with a group of key stakeholders” (selected by himself) to make all selectorial decisions. Meanwhile Sarah Pickford – who had been an England selector for 8 years – is likely to have no further involvement in the selection process whatsoever.

Previously, the England Women’s selection processes have always aligned with that of their male counterparts, whereby an independent chair, alongside several senior selectors and the coach, meet prior to every series to decide on the final squad selection. However, power now seems to be largely concentrated in the hands of the Head of Performance – who, it is alleged, failed to attend several selection meetings prior to the changes being implemented.

The ECB have stated that the new system makes the selection process “more robust and resourced than ever before”. However, a source who was previously involved in the selection process has told CRICKETher that they believe the changes to be “a re-invention of the wheel and thoroughly misguided”.

NEWS: Night of Long Knives At Academy as Keightley Departs

In what must have been pretty-much her last act as England Academy coach, Lisa Keightley has culled almost a quarter of last year’s class in announcing this year’s expanded intake.

Sonia Odedra, Carla Rudd and Paige Scholfield have all been dropped; and whilst the door has been left open for Georgia Hennessy, she has also not been included at this time.

For 27-year-old Odedra, who was technically in the full ‘Performance’ squad and who has been part of the Academy setup since 2009, this looks likely to close the door on her England career. She may have only a single Test cap to her name; but it is one more Test cap than most of the rest of us will ever have, and it is something that she should remember with pride as she moves on.

Rudd and Scholfield have both been victims of other’s successes rather than their own failures – namely budding Lancashire glove butler Ellie Threlkeld and Middlesex tonker Sophia Dunkley. However, both Rudd and Scholfield should keep heart and look to the opportunities that next year’s new Super League will provide to get their cricketing careers back on track.

Warwickshire’s Hennessy is also not named in the current squad, after dropping out of the Academy program this summer with personal issues. However, an ECB source has told CRICKETher that the way is open for a possible return in future.

Finally, one other person not returning this winter is Academy Head Coach Lisa Keightley herself, who is going back to her native Australia to take up a job with the Western Australia Cricket Association in Perth.

England Academy – Winter 2015/16:

  • Georgia Adams (Sussex)
  • Hollie Armitage (Yorkshire)
  • Ellen Burt (Sussex)
  • Stephanie Butler (Staffordshire)
  • Freya Davies (Sussex)
  • Sophia Dunkley (Middlesex)
  • Sophie Ecclestone (Cheshire / Lancashire)
  • Katie George (Hampshire)
  • Alex Hartley (Middlesex)
  • Evelyn Jones (Staffordshire)
  • Emma Lamb (Lancashire)
  • Sophie Luff (Somerset)
  • Alex MacDonald (Yorkshire)
  • Bryony Smith (Surrey)
  • Eleanor Threlkeld (Lancashire)