WNCL Final – Scorpions’ Victory Taylor Made

South Australia Scorpions (264-7) bt. New South Wales Breakers (210)

A man-of-the-match century from England’s Sarah Taylor gave the South Australia Scorpions their first WNCL championship as they took on the New South Wales Breakers in this year’s final at the Hurstville Oval in Sydney.

Batting first, the Scorpions made 264 from their 50 overs – the heart of which was a 2nd-wicket partnership of 181 between Bridget Patterson (74) and Sarah Taylor, who hit her 110 off just 106 balls.

In reply, the Breakers’ innings never really quite took off. Alyssa Healy (37) made a start but was unable to push on; and wickets continued to fall as the Breakers slipped further behind the rate. Despite a late rallying 58 off 38 balls from Naomi Stalenberg coming in at 8, NSW were bowled out more than fifty runs short in the 46th over.

The Scorpions’ victory ends the New South Wales Breakers’ decade-long WNCL winning streak and avenges last year’s final defeat.

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ANALYSIS: WNCL – Livin’ In A Batsman’s Paradise?

As the 2015/16 Australian WNCL draws to a conclusion this weekend, one statistic stands out above all others: 11 centuries have been scored in 21 matches. In contrast, in this year’s Women’s County Championship (Division 1) just 3 hundreds were scored in 32 (completed) games.

It’s not just down to a couple of individuals either – 9 different players have made tons; and the team aggregates reflect a similar trend – the average innings score in the WNCL has been a shade over 200; in the WCC it was 158 – a difference of a staggering 27%.

The question is… why?

Better Batsmen? Australia are the world’s Number 1 team and much of that is down to their super-confident batting – they didn’t really outbowl England this summer; but they certainly out-batted them. However, some of the WNCL’s centurions (Alex Blackwell (twice) and Sarah Taylor) also played in the WCC without making hundreds, so there must be more to it!

Lesser Bowlers? As the batsmen are Australia’s key weapon, so the bowlers are England’s! Perhaps it is just harder to score centuries against the likes of Katherine Brunt and Holly Colvin? Although are Megan Schutt and Ellyse Perry really that much of an easier ride?

Better Pitches? Whilst the WCC is hosted mostly on club grounds maintained by part-time ground staff on very low budgets, WNCL is played largely on professionally curated “First Class” pitches, including Test grounds like the WACA and the Gabba. Inevitably, these Aussie pitches will play truer than those in England, especially when combined with…

Better Climate? Although at least one match in this year’s WNCL was played in very wet (one might even say, English!) conditions, in the main (as anyone who watches Neighbours knows) Australia is the land where the sun always shines; and the only thing that disappears faster than a beer at a BBQ, is a cricket ball to the boundary over a lightning-quick outfield. Illustratively, WNCL’s leading run-scorer, Ellyse Perry, scored 42% of her runs in 4s – significantly more than her English equivalent, Heather Knight – 36%.

More “Professional” Teams? With two fewer teams in WNCL, there’s a greater concentration of good players and maybe this creates a more competitive environment which encourages more attacking play? Also, anecdotally if not empirically, the teams certainly seem more “professionally” set up in WNCL – training harder, more regularly, and for longer, with better facilities both in and out of season, than the English county sides.

Whatever the reasons, one thing is for sure – it has made for a fantastic WNCL and it bodes well for the WBBL which begins next month. Hundreds are obviously that much harder to score in T20, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two made as we build our way towards that big, televised finale at the end of January!

OPINION: Robinson Talks The Right Talk

Two weeks on from the announcement that Sussex’s Mark Robinson has been appointed Head Coach of England Women, the dust is beginning to settle.

Robinson will now have met with captain Charlotte Edwards, and will be gearing up for his first encounter with the England squad at Loughborough before Christmas, as he meets the women whose development he will be responsible for over the coming months (well, most of them – some are already in Australia or will soon be heading that way, bound for the inaugural WBBL).

How will he fare? The worry with airlifting in a coach who has worked almost exclusively in the men’s game is always going to be that they fail to understand the unique needs and challenges of women’s cricket. But CRICKETher – as we tweeted at the time – were uniformly impressed with Robinson and are optimistic about the future with him at the helm.

Why? Because, for someone who openly admits that he knows very little about women’s cricket, Robinson’s intuitive sense about the game is spot on.

This was clear in the press conference a fortnight ago, at which some journalists – perhaps inevitably, given that Robinson has recently interviewed for the position – seemed to see his appointment as a mere stepping-stone to the “real job”, coach of the England men’s team. Robinson, though, was unequivocal in his response:

“The women’s game stands by itself now, it shouldn’t be compared. It has its own identity, its own stage of development, and I want to play my part in continuing the fantastic work that’s gone on before, the momentum.”

CRICKETher’s mission statement, from the lips of the man of the moment himself!

And Robinson’s commitment to all levels of the game is also very evident. On the day of his appointment he told CRICKETher: “Instinctively I want to help as much as I can where I can…We’ve got to make sure that [the hundreds of coaches round the country] feel joined up to the top as well. I’ve got to do my bit to make sure that the women’s game keeps moving in the right direction.”

He had already spent time working with Sussex girls alongside coach Charlotte Burton – whose commitment to the game he praised effusively in his first press conference – and will no doubt be looking to her for some advice about his new role.

While much of the critique of the ECB from those involved in the women’s game has come from those at grassroots level, it seems they can be reassured by Robinson’s attitude. CRICKETher certainly is.

If Robinson has not yet had to walk the walk –  that will have to wait until England’s arrival in South Africa in February, and beyond that the World Twenty20 in India – he certainly talks the right talk…and that is a pretty good start!

OPINION: The Helmet Debate – Healy Was Lucky… If We Don’t Act, One Day Someone Won’t Be

As Cricinfo’s George Dobell reported only the other week, the ECB are considering making the wearing of helmets compulsory for batsmen and close fielders playing in (men’s) county cricket.

It is unstated whether this would also apply to women’s county cricket and the new Super League, though one would hope and assume so; but we need to ask if it might not be better for the ICC to step in and legislate globally?

The recent injury to Southern Stars and New South Wales Breakers glove-butler Alyssa Healy shows why.

The above tweet from Cricket Australia makes light of her injury, as did the player herself in subsequent posts on social media; but the fact is that she was hit hard enough for the ball to bounce several yards in the opposite direction – the kind of blow that could so easily have resulted in a career-ending, or even life-threatening, injury.

Of course, helmets are hot, uncomfortable and restrictive. Unsurprisingly, no one likes wearing one. But this is exactly why the ICC needs to legislate, to create a level and safe playing-field for everyone.

Because the truth is that Healy was extremely lucky to get away with “just” a very nasty bruise. So let’s take some responsibility now as a game, before the next player to be hit isn’t quite so fortunate.

WNCL Debrief – Breakers & Scorpions Win As Sarah Taylor & Laura Marsh Head To Final

Defending champions, Laura Marsh’s New South Wales Breakers will come up against Sarah Taylor’s South Australia Scorpions in next weekend’s final, in a repeat of last year, as the Breakers look to win their 11th straight title.

Danni Wyatt’s Vic Spirit could still have qualified going into today’s final round, but they needed a big win and that isn’t quite how it panned-out…

New South Wales Breakers (134-0) bt. Vic Spirit (132)

Emma Inglis (34) top scored for the Spirit as they plodded to 132 all out off 45.2 overs, after having collapsed from 65-2 to 69-5, including a 3-ball duck for Danni Wyatt, with Sarah Aley taking 3-21.

It took Rachel Haynes (63) and Alyssa Healy (65) just 25 overs to make the runs without losing a wicket, as the Breakers sealed their place in the final yet again. (Since the competition began in its current format in 1996, they have qualified for every single final, winning all but two of them!)

South Australia Scorpions (191-8) bt. Tasmania Roar (160)

The Scorpions had their middle-order to thank for a respectable total. Having been 15-3 at an early stage, they recovered to post 191 thanks to Tahlia McGrath (58) and Sarah Coyte (45), with Heather Knight and Julie Hunter taking 3 wickets apiece for the Roar.

In reply The Roar kept well up with the rate, but couldn’t keep their wickets intact and were eventually bowled out 32 runs short in the 45th over.

Queensland Fire (242-9) bt. Western Australia Fury (224-9)

Coming in in the middle-order, Grace Harris smashed 97 off 91 balls, including 3 sixes and 8 fours, as the Fire set the Fury 243 to win.

Fifties from Elyse Villani (79) and Heather Graham (52*) weren’t quite enough as the Fire prevailed by 18 runs.

WNCL Debrief – Blackwell & Perry Go Large To Break(er) Meteors

Entering the final furlong of the WNCL, it is looking like a Scorpions v Breakers final; but Vic Spirit could still qualify if they thrash the Breakers tomorrow; while the Scorpions need a victory against the winless Roar to be certain.

Here’s how it all went down today…

South Australian Scorpions (146-9) bt. Queensland Fire (145)

After finding themselves 0-2 just 3 balls in, as Megan Schutt dispatched Grace Harris and Kirby Short for ducks in the first over, it was always going to be an uphill struggle for the Fire to put runs on the board; and so it proved – Schutt finishing with 3-23 and Amanda-Jade Wellington with 3-26, as the Fire were bowled out for 145.

It proved a close-run thing however. Thanks to a 5-for performance from Delissa Kimmince, it came down to the last wicket, with Wellington and Katelyn Pope both on 0, the Scorps needing 1 run to win. Pope patiently faced-out a maiden from Jess Jonassen before Wellington finally hit the winning run in the 43rd over.

New South Wales Breakers (312-6) bt. ACT Meteors

A massive 232-run 3rd-wicket partnership between Alex Blackwell (107) and Ellyse Perry (126) saw the Breakers set the Meteors a daunting target of 313.

It was too much, and despite a late 50 from Meteors glove-butler Bec Maher, they were bowled out 120 runs short, ending their hopes of final qualification.

Western Australia Fury (192-9) bt. Tasmania Roar (185)

Jess Cameron top-scored with 51 off 67 balls as the Fury posted 192-9, with Meg Phillips taking 4-16 for the Roar.

At 118-7 a first victory of the season for the Roar looked most unlikely, but a late rally led by Emma Thompson (50) got them close… but not quite close enough, as they were bowled out just 8 runs shy.

NEWS: Scorchers Sign Dottin As Cover For Bates NOT Katherine Brunt

After some confusion overnight, Perth Scorchers have confirmed that West Indies’ Deandra Dottin has been signed for the WBBL for 6 matches as cover for New Zealand captain Susie Bates – not as initially reported, England’s Katherine Brunt.

On her day, Dottin is one of the most devastating T20 players in the world – she was the first women ever to score a T20 international century – but her form has slumped a little of late, and she averaged just 18 in the recent series against Pakistan, with a best of 38*.

NEWS: Warwickshire Upgraded To First

Warwickshire CCC have announced that all their home fixtures next season will be played at the new Edgbaston Foundation Community Ground in Smethwick, just west of Birmingham.

The ground, which was re-opened earlier this year after extensive refurbishment, is also the home of Warwickshire’s Men’s 2nd XI, and so is prepared to full First Class standards.

This represents a big upgrade from the club grounds which generally host the Women’s County Championship, which despite the best efforts of their ground staff (often, it has to be said, working voluntarily) are sometimes overused and underprepared for top-level cricket.

Warwickshire’s full 2016 fixture list can be found here.

INTERVIEW: Clare Connor On Paul Shaw, Mark Robinson & The New Head Coach’s Role

Although Mark Robinson has been appointed this week to replace Paul Shaw at the England helm, this is very much not a like-for-like switch. Paul Shaw’s formal title was “Head of Performance”, reflecting a wider remit of responsibilities than just the England XI; whilst Robinson has the more traditional title of “Head Coach”.

So how will the roles differ in practice? CRICKETher caught up with Clare Connor at Lords earlier this week to get some answers!

Asked about Paul Shaw’s appointment, in the wake of the (relative) disappointment of the 2013 World Cup, Connor explains:

“When we appointed Paul, we knew that professionalism wasn’t far off, so we needed someone who had the skills to build a foundation for that program; so Paul’s role was more of a Performance Director role – it was to manage the team and set up a high performance culture and environment.”

But Connor reveals that they always saw Shaw’s role as a transitional one:

“Paul and I spoke very openly before the Women’s Ashes and we knew that he wouldn’t go all the way through to the 2017 World Cup and that a high calibre Head Coach would be the right thing for a group of professional cricketers.”

Unlike Paul Shaw, Mark Robinson will have no direct responsibility for the Academy; but Connor emphasises that he still has a role to play:

“Mark’s responsibility is for the England Women’s Performance Squad [i.e. “The” England squad] but the Academy program is critical to the long term future of that squad; so Mark will be working with those coaches in terms of how best those players can fill the shoes of Charlotte Edwards and Lydia Greenway and Jenny Gunn when they retire.”

Will Mark Robinson be responsible for selection, as Paul Shaw was, or might we go back to a more traditional “Selection Panel”? It seems the latter might be on the cards:

“That selection protocol and structure is still to be decided. Mark will definitely have a say, and will probably be a named selector; but he doesn’t have the breadth of knowledge about the players yet that Paul had.”

Robinson doesn’t officially start work until January, and won’t meet some of the players – those who are flying directly from WBBL in Australia to the international series in South Africa – until February; but Connor concludes by talking about the upside of being able to conduct a proper handover:

“We are in a really good position there – we’ve got Paul leading the program still until the end of the year; but with Sussex’s permission we’ve got flexibility to use Mark and introduce him to the players and the staff. Very rarely do you have that ability to transition.”

Perhaps the most telling thing of all, however, isn’t so much what Clare Connor has to say as how she says it. She is clearly thrilled with Mark Robinson’s appointment and very much looking forward to working with him – getting on with the job of writing the next chapter in England’s story!

WNCL Debrief – Perry In The Runs As Breakers Go Top

New South Wales Breakers (273-5) bt. Tasmania Roar (240)

Ellyse Perry led the way for the Breakers, hitting 86 off 84 balls before being caught & bowled by Heather Knight, making her first WNCL appearance of the season for the Roar. Perry was strongly backed by Nicola Carey (65 off 52) and a late cameo from Laura Marsh (22* off 19).

In reply, Knight top-scored with 48, as no fewer than four Roar batsmen failed to get through the 40s; and the Roar were already falling well short when Lauren Smith cleaned up the tail, taking 3-10 in 3.1 overs as they were bowled out in the 50th.

The result puts the Breakers on top of the table with 14 points, though just one point separates first from fourth in the race to finish in the top two and make the final later this month.