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.

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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)

MATCH REPORT: Bath Wanderers Power To Title In National Club Final

A huge hundred from Sophie Luff provided the platform for Bath to put an under-strength Meakins team to the sword in the national club final on Sunday.

Both Bath and Meakins had won their semi-finals convincingly the previous day – against New Farnley and Newport respectively – but Bath ultimately proved far too strong for their opponents in the final, as they finished the weekend with a 235-run victory.

On a beautiful late summer’s day at Kibworth in rural Leicestershire, Luff entered the fray early after Izzy Westbury was caught at slip in the first over. It was as close as Meakins got to being on top all game, though, as Luff – who finished on 152* – quite literally ran them ragged, calling the singles like a drill sergeant on the parade ground.

Anya Shrubsole also contributed a strongly-struck 46 before being hit on the sharp of the elbow by a throw in from the outfield – a quick trip to the local A&E thankfully revealed nothing broken; but she played no further part in the match.

In the end though, Bath – having amassed a mammoth 307-4 across their 50 overs – barely missed her, as Izzy Westbury took 6-7, with only Eve Jones (30) offering much in the way of resistance as Bath powered to the title, bowling Meakins out for 72.

However, there was no shame in defeat for a Meakins side with an average age of just 16, as injuries and unavailabilities took their toll – forcing them to field a number of fledglings.

Sunday’s effort was Luff’s third century in four innings, and Bath captain Jackie Hawker, speaking to CRICKETher after the game, was full of praise for her performances this season:

“She’s been absolutely fantastic. We couldn’t get a better number 3 for Bath. She’s just such a great player – an inspiration.”

Women’s County Championship Stats Roundup

The 2015 Division 1 County Championship batting and bowling stats have quite different looks to them, with the 3 top batsmen all members of the England squad, whilst the 3 leading bowlers are all outside the England setup.

Bowling

Veteran Surrey leg-spinner Sarah Clarke had the season of her (long) career to lead the field in the Women’s County Championship with 23 wickets. Along the way, she also notched up two remarkable centuries – passing 100 appearances for the London side and 100 county wickets. Oh… and she also became one of the first women ever to be awarded a county cap by Surrey!

The other leading wicket-takers were also both spinners: Katie Levick (another leggie) with 20 wickets, including 2 “5-fers”, was a big part of why Yorkshire won the championship; whilst Holly Colvin, who is just trying to enjoy her cricket away from the international spotlight these days, took 18 wickets in the 50 over format.

Meanwhile, the most economical bowlers this season (minimum 30 overs) were Katherine Brunt (2.2 runs / over) and Danni Wyatt (2.5 r/o) – the latter with a Championship-leading “maiden rate” of 34%.

Batting

For the second time in 3 years, Berkshire skipper Heather Knight was the County Championship’s highest run-scorer with 305, over half of which came in her final innings of the season – her mammoth 162* v Sussex.

Second in the list of run-scorers… but only just… was Middlesex’s Fran Wilson with 301. Wilson made the move from 2nd Division Somerset only this season and has flourished in the top tier with a highest score of 110, as she pushes to regain her England place.

Third in the batting lists was Yorkshire’s Lauren Winfield. Despite only playing in half their games, she smashed 270 runs at an average of… 270, thanks to 3 Not-Outs.

Two other players also deserving of mention are Middlesex’s Beth Morgan and Berkshire’s Lissy Macleod. Morgan is supposed (!) to be moving towards retirement, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped her hitting 243 runs in the 50-over format this season, putting her 4th on the list of run-scorers; whilst Macleod was the only other player to hit a Championship century this season, with 107 v Middlesex.

EXCLUSIVE: England Contract Renewals Pushed Back

The ECB has confirmed to CRICKETher that despite England’s recent drubbing by Australia in the Ashes series, all of the current 18 professional contracts – which were due to expire in October – have been extended by 3 months.

When the contracts were originally announced in May last year, they were scheduled to run until October 2015. However, in order to bring them into line with the ECB’s financial year, the end-date has now been pushed back until the end of January 2016.

Players will be informed of any change to their status by the beginning of November, allowing them 3 months to prepare for the consequences, which in some cases could be calamitous. Unlike the men, there is really no option for the women to “parachute” back into county cricket; and although next year’s Women’s Cricket Super League will pay match fees, they won’t by any stretch of the imagination be a “living wage”.

The formal player performance review process is therefore set to be completed over the next few weeks, with the players being informed of their fate towards the end of October and official announcements forthcoming thereafter.

Will there be any changes?

Two contracted players – Tammy Beaumont and Tash Farrant – played no part whatsoever in this summer’s Women’s Ashes. 19-year-old Farrant, though, is clearly seen as “one for the future”, whilst Tammy Beaumont has had an increasing role in mentoring younger players, both as Academy captain and in a coaching role with the age-group “development” squads; so the likelihood has to be that both will be retained.

However, the ECB has always made it clear that 18 isn’t a magic number, so there could well be additions to the squad. The most obvious candidate is Fran Wilson, who has had a very good domestic season for Middlesex and was selected for (but didn’t actually play in) the Ashes Test.

EXCLUSIVE: Sciver Still Up For A Bash at WBBL

When the ECB announced the names of the England players who were heading off to the Women’s Big Bash in Australia this winter, one name was conspicuous by its absence.

Nat Sciver was one of England’s few stars of the recent Women’s Ashes series, taking 9 wickets and scoring 175 runs; with Man of the Match-winning performances in the first ODI at Taunton, where she scored 66, and the final T20 in Cardiff, where she scored 47 and took 4 wickets.

So it was a big surprise to see Sciver’s name missing from the list of 7 England players who had landed WBBL contracts – Charlotte Edwards, Heather Knight, Katherine Brunt, Kate Cross, Lauren Winfield, Sarah Taylor and Danni Wyatt.

However, sources close to Sciver have confirmed to CRICKETher that she is still hoping to play in the inaugural WBBL, which begins in December. Discussions are said to be “ongoing” but everyone is optimistic that the i’s will be (Deandra) Dottined and t’s (Kate) Crossed very soon – in short… watch this space!

Clubs To Contest 2015 National Finals

Clubs from the four corners of England and Wales will contest the National Finals at Kibworth Cricket Club in Leicestershire this weekend. (Directions here – at the bottom!)

The four regional division winners – Bath, Meakin’s, Newport and New Farnley – will play semi-finals and a final to determine who will succeed last year’s winners – Wokingham – as National Champions 2015.

Bath (Winners – Southern League)

Twitter: @BathCricket

Star Player: Hard-running batsman Sophie Luff has already hit two centuries this year… another at Kibworth would be no surprise for the former England girls captain.

Meakin’s (Winners – Midlands League)

Twitter: @JGMeakinsWomen

Star Player: After a successful winter for England Academy, Eve Jones has had another strong domestic season in 2015, averaging 46, including 2 50s.

Newport (Winners – South Western League)

Twitter: @NewportCricketC

Star Player: Captain and opening batsman Lauren Parfitt has led from the front this season – the Welsh star averages 67 with a highest score of 112.

New Farnley (Winners – Northern League)

Twitter: @FarnleyLadiesCC

Star Player: England Academy all-rounder Alex Macdonald has taken 13 wickets (including a 6-fer) and hit 366 runs in 2015.

 

OPINION: WBBL Recruitment Crunch Shows 8 Teams Is Two Too Many

More evidence of a WBBL player recruitment crisis has emerged with the signing by the Adelaide Strikers of former Southern Star Shelly Nitschke.

Nitschke was a very good international player who played over 100 matches for Australia in the 00s, scoring over 3,000 runs and taking more than 150 wickets in her career.

But Nitschke is 38 years old and hasn’t played a serious competitive match since her retirement 4 years ago, in 2011 – a period in which she herself frankly admits (in this interview) that there have been “big changes”.

Of course, there is precedent from the Men’s BBL, with Shane Warne playing into his cricketing dotage; but Warne is an All Time Great™ for whom the term “Box Office” was practically invented; and with every respect to Nitschke’s significant achievements in the game, she nevertheless isn’t quite in that league.

Let’s be clear here: the Strikers can market this for all they want as a coup for the WBBL, but the truth is that it is really further evidence of a dearth of genuine talent available, as Cricket Australia wakes up to the fact that 8 teams really was two too many.