OPINION: Kia Super League – Just 3 Teams Qualify For Finals Day

Tweaks to the format of the Kia Super League Finals Day have somewhat slipped under the radar this week… we can’t imagine why!

In short, as reported on Women’s Cricket Blog, just 3 of the 6 teams will make it to Finals Day, with the second and third-placed sides playing-off earlier in the day, for the right to face the first-placed team in the “actual” final later on.

It is slightly unorthodox perhaps, but there are a couple of big reasons why this is a great idea!

First, it shortens the day considerably, and if you are trying to attract families and kids, this is important. The “triple-header” format just about works for the County T20 Cup, but it makes for a long, long day even for us, and we live and breathe this game – so honestly, we had our doubts about it for KSL, but this is the perfect solution.

Second, from a sporting perspective, it helps to restore the primacy of the league.

We understand why so many sports love the idea of play-offs and a “Grand Final” – it is a big day out for the fans, and an “occasion” for the press to latch on to; not to mention that it can maintain interest in the league part of the competition for longer, because in a sense, four teams “win” the league to go through to the play offs.

But from a sporting point of view this isn’t so much a feature as a bug – you can come 4th in a 6-team League, losing as many games as you win, and still take home the trophy? Somehow, that just seems wrong!

These KSL tweaks “fix” that feeling somewhat because now only the top half of the table qualifies for Finals Day; plus actually winning the league section is now massively and deservedly advantageous, putting you straight through to the “actual” final, without the need to contest a play-off.

It feels like the right balance – there is still a grand final to hopefully get lots of “bums on seats” (and sofas?) like the FA did last Saturday with their Women’s Cup Final; but the competition which plays out in the two-and-a-half weeks which precede it matters that much more – putting some real emphasis back onto what is, after all, supposed to be a Kia Super League!

NEWS: Sarah Taylor “Taking A Break From Cricket”

The ECB have today confirmed to CRICKETher that Sarah Taylor is currently “taking a break from cricket, having decided to take some personal time away from the game.”

Taylor has already missed the first three fixtures of the county season for Sussex, and it now appears likely that she will remain absent from domestic cricket for the foreseeable future. It is as yet unclear whether she will return before England’s series against Pakistan, due to commence on 20 June.

An ECB spokesperson told CRICKETher that they were continuing to monitor the situation and that the ECB would: “support her, keep in touch and talk with her prior to selection for the Pakistan series and the start of the Kia Super League.”

Following on from the announcement of Charlotte Edwards’ retirement last week, this will come as a particular blow to an England team who are already without their best batsman and may now be facing losing their second best one as well.

It also effectively rules Sarah Taylor out of becoming the next England captain, in response to speculation in various media outlets that she was a likely candidate to succeed Edwards.

Taylor took a break from cricket six years ago, missing an Ashes tour in the process, but returned to the sport four months later to become the leading wicketkeeper batsman in the world.

MATCH REPORT: Lanning Lets Loose as Bears Batter Beavers

Aussie import Anna Lanning top-scored for Warwickshire as they beat Berkshire to stay top of the Women’s County Championship.

With Daisy Gardner out injured, Lauren Bell and Immy Brown opened the bowling for Berkshire, and both had early chances to take the wicket of Amy Jones, who was dropped by Alex Rogers at backward point off Bell and then bowled off a no ball by Brown.

Fortunately, it didn’t prove too costly, as Jones was then bowled by Bell for 1; but that brought Lanning to the crease, who built a series of partnerships through the middle order as she struck her way to a very nice 54, finding the long boundaries either side of the wicket 6 times, before being bowled by Alex Rogers.

Lanning’s fall could have spelled trouble, but Laura Crofts then took up the anchor role, making 47 as the tail wagged; before a quick-fire 20 off 19 balls from Becky Grundy finally drove Warwickshire on to exactly 200 and the 4th batting bonus point!

Berkshire’s reply started solidly enough, as Linsey Smith (40) kept pace with Heather Knight to put on 97 for the first wicket. Knight continued to look her usual assured self, but the rest of the lineup largely collapsed around her – Sherissa Gumbs (16) the only other batsman to reach double-figures, as Georgia Hennessy took 4-32. Knight (92) was last out, in the 48th over, as Warwickshire celebrated another 18-point victory, to remain out front as the only unbeaten side in the Championship.

Afterwards Warwickshire skipper Marie Kelly was full of praise for their Australian superstar:

“Anna Lanning has been pure class – watching her bat today, she was unbelievable; and as a player, she has come into the squad and fitted in so well – she was the perfect addition to our team.”

And Kelly insisted Warwickshire could win the County Championship:

“Somebody just compared us to Leicester Football Club – if we can just keep going, we could hopefully get there!”

The Bears’ still have some tough fixtures to come – not least Kent, who absolutely tonked Middlesex today; but with everyone else already having lost at least one game, it could just be opening up nicely for them to cause the Championship’s biggest upset in years.

 

OPINION: James Piechowski’s Deep Cover Points – England Without Edwards:­ Analysing Robinson’s Eclipse Theory

The events of the last few days have taken many people by surprise. To say it has been an eventful week is an understatement. Whatever your own opinion on whether Edwards should have continued as captain, or at least continued playing in the England side, as by all accounts she so desperately wanted to, you have to admit that there was a growing pressure for big change. Although many had questioned her captaincy lately, the biggest criticisms seemed to emanate from the more casual observer, who are less familiar with the nuances of the team.

From that perspective, it seems unthinkable. Why would Robinson even for a minute consider forcing the person who has undoubtedly been England’s best player to exit from the side? In order to try and justify a decision which at first glance may appear ridiculous, it requires an attempt at diagnosis of the current state of affairs at the top level of England women’s cricket. Robinson has a theory, I think, and not to be too presumptive I shall call it the “eclipse theory” here, for want of a better name. Let’s start with what Edwards has said:

“Mark spoke to me quite honestly and told me how he saw the next series as an opportunity to develop players and take the team in a new direction…He said the girls are hiding behind me sometimes and that they needed to develop.”

“We have a number of younger batters who have not shown their potential at that level. Mark sees the next couple of series as an opportunity to give them a chance with a new captain as well. He thinks there is not a place for me in the team.”

George Dobell at ESPNCricinfo expressed a similar thought:

“Robinson, the coach for six months now, noted that nothing seemed to grow in (Edwards’) shade. While that is no reflection of Edwards, he knew he had to act and made what Connor, the head of women’s cricket at the ECB, called ‘a ballsy decision’.”

It’s clear that Robinson has subscribed to the theory that Edward’s excellence has prevented other players’ development. Can this theory explain the logic, if any, behind pushing Edwards out of her role?

Support for the“eclipse” theory

A good theory must at least be internally consistent and have some explanatory power. On the surface, this theory appears to be onto something. Some players have been allowed to continue playing despite not making much contribution to the side. This is my take on the theory. And please be aware, I am playing devil’s advocate for this section.

The theory goes that winning cricket matches due to many runs scored by one superb player allows other individual poor performances to be overlooked. A side without any outstanding individuals, on the other hand, relies heavily on consistency throughout the batting order for any success they achieve. The England team of recent years has benefited in the short term from a massive glut of runs from one source, and so has not needed to tap into other sources very often.

Hence, we see players with somewhat unenviable records, such as Beaumont and Wyatt, still appearing for England despite a long track record which on paper looks more akin to failure than success. The theory would say that they have only done as well as they have needed to, to stay in the squad. With England still winning most series over the past few years, there has been little opportunity for upcoming players to break into a side which has, on the surface, looked fine as it is. The introduction of professional contracts, which have seen little change since 2014, has only cemented an already static group of players. Robinson, it would appear, wants to be the irresistible force to give momentum to this immovable object.

Robinson’s theory plays heavily into a narrative that we have seen him expound from the inception of his tenure. He’s come into the training set-up and immediately noticed that there are quite a few players who should be much better than they have been. A prime example is Tammy Beaumont: a very gifted player who looks superb in the nets and yet has looked timid for England out in the middle. She has only managed averages of 17 in ODIs and 13 in T20s despite playing over 60 matches in a career stretching from 2009. The fact is, she hasn’t needed to do any better, according to this theory. Despite what’s gone before, she’s still around the team now, and with Edwards’ exit, she looks a certainty for the Pakistan series as one of very few experienced specialist batsmen left in the contracted Performance squad.

Indeed, Robinson has been nothing if not consistent. A comment on the Cricinfo web site article covering Edwards’ retirement reveals how it’s very easy to not understand Robinson’s thinking. User BRUSSELSLION asks: “Only a month ago, he (Robinson) was saying that England needed more players like Edwards, now she’s surplus to requirements. What’s changed?” But actually, I’m not so sure these ideas are in direct contradiction. Robinson clearly wants players of Edwards’ skill to evolve from the existing squad; however having just one Edwards, Lottie, who so dominated the run scoring, he viewed as more of a hindrance to the other players, a roadblock to their evolution.

If Robinson could show that the average runs gained from having Edwards in the side was likely to be less than we could have expected from other “fully developed” players, he has some justification at least. But can he show that? With Edwards struggling to take quick singles and twos these days, it’s clear that some runs are being lost, not only from her own score but from her batting partners too. Quantifying this can be difficult. I think the total runs lost to this effect is unlikely to be more than 10 or 15 per T20 innings, and that assumes that Edwards batted for most of it anyway, and probably scored 60+ in the process.

Robinson cannot expect to backfill places from the development set-up as quickly as he could in men’s cricket. On the other hand there are several Academy players long overdue for a full England debut. The definition of the phrase”ready for International cricket” may have to change, because frankly (in my opinion) those in charge of selection have become too sure about certain players not being able to rise to International play. In reality, it is very difficult to be sure how well a player may adapt to it, unless they are given a good chance to show off their talents. What Robinson has done should help shake this up. Other teams blood their promising players at much younger ages. England may need to start debuting more teenagers in the near future.

Even if this is all true, I don’t necessarily agree with Robinson’s decisions to date, or his pet theory. Let’s look at some of the problems with it.

Criticism of the “eclipse” theory

There are several areas where we could criticise Robinson’s actions. Some have already been identified in articles and comments on this site. Certainly, it is a huge risk for England to lose their best player at a time where we desperately need more runs, not less. Hopes for victory in the 2017 Women’s World Cup were real and serious whilst Edwards was in the team, particularly as it would be a home series. Now, with Edwards gone, there can be little hope of that achievement, and even a semi-final seems like it would be a good result rather than an average one.

I’m sure it wasn’t Robinson’s intention but he seems to have set himself up to be able to make excuses. If England perform poorly for the rest of the year, he can always point to the fact that Edwards is not around and he needs more time with the squad. The other side of the coin is that he must be accountable for this decision, and I’m sure there will be many looking to criticise if England start to lose overall series in the next year or two. I sure will.

Those supporting Robinson’s decision have drawn comparisons with Alastair Cook’s forced exit from the ODI captaincy of the England men’s side. He scored a lot of runs, and didn’t want to go either. And Cook’s departure was followed by a complete change in approach from the rest of the team, which has led to much more exciting play and the side enjoying renewed success, really challenging the world’s best teams and indeed coming within an over of winning the WT20 final.

This argument doesn’t really work, though. The men’s team needed a change in approach only; the side already contained experienced, confident players with strong records, and fifties and hundreds in the bank, who had to adjust their mental and technical approach, but not fundamentally raise their whole game. Many of the England Women batsmen will have to do things they have never done before, set new standards, and advance their games to entirely new levels to make up for the loss of Edwards. This is, needless to say, a huge ask, and some of them may not be able to do it as well as Robinson demands.

On the flipside of the theory, a small number of players have excelled in addition to Edwards’ excellence. So this is a big problem for the theory. For example, Sarah Taylor is a player who has generally succeeded with the bat in recent years. She and Edwards stand apart from the rest. And yet Taylor was obviously not part of Robinson’s plans for “refurbishment” of the squad. It is possible, of course, that his attempts to change the status quo could prove ironically futile this summer. Maybe Taylor will score most of England’s runs now (she’s certainly done it before), and big contributions from other players will still be few and far between. In which case, Robinson has only passed the whole problem along a step, and really achieved nothing of note, all the while forcing the exit of our finest player in far from ideal circumstances.

Perhaps the biggest issue I have with Robinson’s decision and explanation, though, is that he has already disproved it with his first few months in the job. The South Africa series saw a more attacking approach from the batting line-up, with the likes of Jones in ODIs, and Beaumont in the WWT20, coming to the fore. If anyone had been previously eclipsed by Edwards, it was Beaumont. Except, by hook or by crook, the situation seems to have been turned around for her, and quickly – with Edwards still there. If Beaumont had done as well for England since 2009 as she had in the last few months, her record would be quite impressive. If we could see the same effect for some of the other underachieving players, this whole problem suddenly evaporates and along with it, Robinson’s entire justification.

So is it possible that this whole debacle could turn out to be a complete folly after all, even stretching into the long term? Perhaps.

Let’s look at some specific details. One way to identify players who have not been subject to any eclipsing effect is by looking at who has performed well when Edwards did not. So I have checked the scores made by our main batsmen in T20Is and ODIs since the start of 2014 (to roughly coincide with “professionalism” and also because going back further starts to look pretty desperate). The scores are only counted when Edwards scored less than 20 in a T20, and less than 40 in an ODI, and the player in question scored more than 20. There are less entries than you may think. As a rule of thumb, the more a player features in these lists, the less sense the “eclipsing”argument makes for them specifically.

England T20I Cricket from 2014 onwards: Edwards scores 19 or less, batsman scores 20+

# 20+ scores Batsman Runs Strike Rate
6 Taylor 246 115
5 Knight 131 120
3 Greenway 71 79
2 Winfield 122 103
2 Sciver 75 97
2 Beaumont 41 121

Edwards scored 19 or less in 12 out of 26 matches since 2014. England’s record in these games: won 8, lost 4 (67% win ratio). England’s overall T20 win ratio is 73% (source WCB)

So this is not a particularly good start for the theory. England’s win ratio when Edwards gets a sub-20 score is not much worse than their overall win ratio. This shows that the other players, overall, are largely making up for this deficit. We see no Jones, Gunn or Wyatt in the list, however, which shows that these players have not done it for England in T20Is when needed the most.

England ODI Cricket from 2014 onwards: Edwards scores 39 or less, batsman scores 20+

# 20+ scores Batsman Runs Strike Rate
5 Taylor 295 97
5 Knight 243 69
5 Sciver 231 93
3 Greenway 148 65
2 Elwiss 86 99

(Brunt, Jones and Shrubsole also feature once each in this list, but I’ve not included them in the table.)

Edwards scored 39 or less in 8 out of 16 matches since 2014. England’s record in these games: won 4, lost 4 (50% win ratio). England’s overall ODI win ratio is 69% (source WCB)

The results from the ODI analysis support the theory better, which is strange as Robinson made his decision after a T20 competition. I had to increase the range of Edwards’ scores for ODI, as there were so few entries in the list if you go much lower! The team record is significantly poorer when Edwards did not score heavily, which shows how vital she was to England in ODIs. However, I think we can say that Sciver, Taylor and Knight have not been negatively affected, as all tended to contribute when Edwards didn’t, and all have decent overall ODI records. Indeed Sciver’s performances for England have often outmatched those for Surrey.

The effect is only slight for Greenway, and Elwiss hasn’t played enough games to make any conclusions – a problem in the selectors’ hands and not Edwards’. Jones is in the same situation. The only remaining players who could have been eclipsed by Edwards are Gunn, Winfield and Wyatt. (I have already discussed Beaumont.) Is the development of just these 3 players really worth getting rid of Edwards for?

The only justification left for Robinson would be the idea that the likes of Beaumont, Knight and Winfield would be getting hundreds every other week had they been developed correctly. They should be absolutely superb players. To prove that, you’d have to show that their batting trend lines (average, strike rate) have been decreasing since coming into the England team. That is a statistical minefield, though, as any decline is more likely to be due to improving opposition than anything else. I’m left with the distinct impression that Robinson’s decision, and the eclipse theory, has more to do with a vague feeling than any hard data. It is merely a smokescreen for bringing about the change he wants. He wants a fresh start, and is placing too much faith in the hope that players can develop far further than we have seen. Let’s hope he knows something we don’t.

The fact is, we don’t know how any of these players would have performed had Edwards not been part of the team. But that’s the problem Robinson has. We don’t know how they will do going forward either, and that is a huge risk to take when you know you could have had Edwards still playing, particularly in ODIs, for the next couple of years. The number of players potentially eclipsed by her excellence is too small, and the effect too slight, to base any big decisions on. The transition option, with Edwards still in the ODI team (and possibly the T20 team as well) but not as captain, still seems more favourable to me.

NEWS: Coyte and Beams Head to Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Cricket Association has announced that Southern Stars Sarah Coyte and Kristen Beams are set to play two matches in the Hong Kong Women’s Premier League later this month.

The WPL is an on-going elite competition, akin to something like a “Super Twos”; and as well as playing in two games, Coyte and Beams will also participate in a 10-day training camp with Hong Kong’s national team.

The project is part of an initiative between Cricket Australia and the HKCA which also sees Michael Clarke playing men’s T20 cricket in the territory later this month.

The ICC see Hong Kong and China as a massive opportunity, particularly for the women’s game. Both participated in the 2014 Asian Games, ultimately won by Pakistan – China coming 4th and Hong Kong being knocked out in the first round proper.

Thanks to Seargent Awesome on Twitter for the tip!

 

 

OPINION: Robinson Risks It All On England Reboot

If you had asked me just two weeks ago whether I’d now be writing this story, I’d have said you were mad; and the table below shows exactly why:

Past 12 Months (ODI + T20) Runs Average
Edwards 486 30
Taylor 427 28
Knight 338 28
Greenway 192 27
Beaumont 164 23
Sciver 219 22
Winfield 31 5

In the past 12 months, which has included an Ashes and a T20 World Cup, Charlotte Edwards scored more ODI + T20 runs for England, at a higher average, than anyone else. Hence my instinct that she would remain a part of the team (and indeed would continue as captain) because her runs were just too important to let go.

Of course, this isn’t to deny that there were problems. I’m actually not convinced by the argument that the team “as a collective” was unfit, though certain players have perhaps arguably over-fixated on strength rather than conditioning recently. But it was undeniable that England had lost their edge; and Mark Robinson saw this too – concluding that, like a superhero movie franchise that had fallen flat under an ageing lead, what England needed was a “reboot”.

Robinson, however, clearly then faced a dilemma – he wanted to “reboot” the team under new leadership; but he realised that Edwards’ towering presence in the dressing room meant that it would have been very tough for any successor to step out of her shadow had she continued as a player.

So the coach did what he is, after all, paid the big bucks to do – he made the call of his life, and signed the skipper’s execution papers, wagering that what it cost him in gravitas and experience, he’d get back in vigour and renewed vision.

It is a huge gamble.

The World Cup is right around the corner – not just “any” World Cup, but one hosted at home in England – and England have sacked their iconic captain and most reliable player.

Robinson now has just 12 months to build a new team around a new captain.

If he succeeds… if Heather Knight (or Sarah Taylor… or even Sophie Luff?) lifts that trophy at Lords next July… it will be a triumph unmatched in the history of the women’s game.

But if he fails, there can be no hiding place – we all know where the buck stops now.

Charlotte Edwards Retirement: How Events Unfolded

When the England team returned from the T20 World Cup in India a little over a month ago, they had no inkling of events which were shortly to unfold, culminating in Charlotte Edwards’ tearful retirement at Lords today. The players were under no illusions – they knew they had let themselves down and there were “hard yards” ahead to improve their batting, their fielding, and most especially their general levels of fitness. But nonetheless, everyone still expected Edwards to remain at the wheel today… tomorrow… and through to the World Cup in 2017.

Coach Mark Robinson was, however, starting to come to the conclusion that something a bit more radical than a few extra trips to the gym might be necessary if England were going to reverse their slow decline.

Over the following few weeks, Robinson held a number of meetings with his boss – Clare Connor – having decided that England could only get the fresh start they needed with a new skipper at the helm.

For Edwards meanwhile, life was starting to get back to normal. Assuming that if she was going to be fired it would have been immediately, she appears to have genuinely thought her position was secure, as she prepared for the new season, getting things underway with a match-winning innings of 79 for Kent in the first round of the Women’s County Championship.

The following day, Kent played Sussex at Eastbourne. As is normal, Sussex encouraged their age-group girls to attend the game if possible, and one who did so was Ellie Robinson… accompanied by her father, Mark. During a 3 hour rain delay, with all the teams, press and spectators huddled into the tiny pavilion, Robinson warmly greeted all of his players… or rather almost all of them – there appearing to be one conspicuous exception to the general atmosphere of camaraderie.

In retrospect, it is hard to believe that this wasn’t playing on Edwards’ mind as she was bowled by Tara Norris for 1 off 5 balls in the second over.

Then, the following day, Edwards received a fateful text message from Clare Connor, the substance of which was simply: “We need to talk.”

The “talk”, Connor admitted today, was the hardest of her professional life – the pair had worked hand-in-hand for over two decades – Edwards was the person to whom Connor had handed over the England captaincy ten years previously; and it was now Connor’s duty to tell her friend that the decision had been made and that she had led England on to the field for the last time back in that semi-final in India.

But worse was to come.

Edwards understood and accepted the need for new leadership, but believed that she still had a lot to offer as a player. Indeed, why wouldn’t she? England might not have performed “as a team”, but Edwards herself had made 202 runs in the tournament (one more than Meg Lanning) including 2 fifties, at a Strike Rate of 115. She might not lead England into 2017, but she would still be there as a player!

However, her hopes were to be shattered as Robinson informed her that she was not part of his plans to rebuild the team, and she would not be considered for selection in the summer or autumn squads.

Devastated, Edwards realised that the time had come to face reality and begin the painful process of signing off. After informing Robinson and Connor of this, a press conference was hastily convened at Lords. Meanwhile, Edwards composed an email to her England teammates, which was sent yesterday evening – the first any of them were to find out about the situation.

Then, selfless to the last, she set off to attend a university awards evening in Southampton, to play her role as guest of honour; whilst unbeknown to her, the news of her retirement was sadly leaking on Twitter, achieving nothing but heaping extra indignity upon her situation.

Charlotte Edwards – an England “great” if ever there was one – deserved better than that.

We really will not see her like again.

NEWS: England Announce West Indies Tour Dates

The ECB have announced the dates for England’s Women’s International Championship ODI series v West Indies this autumn.

The 5-match series will take place in Jamaica in October, at Trelawny Stadium and Sabina Park, with the vital “WIC” points up for grabs in the final 3 games. England currently sit 6th in the Women’s International Championship standings, but with 3 games “in hand” against Pakistan, will hope to have returned to one of the top 4 World Cup qualifying positions by the time October rolls around.

Date Match Venue
8th October 1st ODI Trelawny Stadium, Trelawny
10th October 2nd ODI Trelawny Stadium, Trelawny
14th October 3rd ODI * Sabina Park, Kingston
16th October 4th ODI * Sabina Park, Kingston
19th October 5th ODI * Sabina Park, Kingston

Ruth Prideaux: A Remarkable Lady

Driving through Eastbourne on Monday on the way to see Sussex play Kent, I remembered the last time I had been there, almost two years ago. I remembered knocking on a door in a sunny street, and my knock being answered by a white-haired old lady.

Her name was Ruth Prideaux.

I was there to interview her as part of my PhD – to hear her memories of her time playing and coaching England. Of the many interviews I conducted, they sometimes went well, sometimes not quite so well. And some stick in the memory more than others.

This one? One of the most enjoyable, most memorable, of all. It was impossible not to warm to Ruth in the two hours or so that I spent with her, drinking tea and listening to her memories of playing and coaching the sport she loved. It was also impossible – even at the age of 83 – not to feel slightly in awe of her; and to get a sense of why the players she coached were in awe of her, too.

Ruth sadly passed away last month. I am thankful I was able to meet her before she died. She deserves all the plaudits in the world.

———

Ruth Prideaux (nee Westbrook) was a formidable lady because she had had to be. Born in Greenhithe, Kent in 1930, she learned cricket at Gravesend Grammar School, before attending Anstey College of Physical Education to train as a PE teacher. All this came after an early battle of wills with her father about the sport she loved. “My father was not pleased,” she told me. “I had three brothers at that time, and he thought they should be playing cricket and not me. He didn’t like the idea of his daughter playing cricket. And I was the only one that really wanted to!” What happened in the end? “He had to put up with it,” she recalled, her blue eyes twinkling.

By the time she was selected for England, to tour Australia and New Zealand in 1957/8, he had come round to her way of thinking! She described that tour as “wonderful” – but it was yet another struggle, both to gain leave from her teaching job, and then suffering the financial burden of having to forfeit six months of her salary (the length of Australasian tours in those days, thanks partly to the month-long boat ride there and back).

Then there was her coaching career. In 1962 – as the Times reported in their obituary – Ruth and Mary Duggan became the first women to attend an MCC coaching course, passing the advanced certificate with ease. Several male first-class county players failed. And yet when she was interviewed for the England Women coaching job in 1988 – the first time such an appointment had ever taken place – she told one of her daughters, in full knowledge that she was the best qualified candidate: “I’ll never get the job, because men always do.”

Contrary to her own expectations, she did indeed get the job.

———

That was not the end of the battle, though. By the time of her appointment, Ruth was working as a lecturer in the Sports Science department of Chelsea College of Physical Education, with radical new ideas about the way she wanted the England team to progress. She secured funding from the National Coaching Foundation for a five-year intensive training programme from 1989 to 1993, which incorporated both sport psychology and physiological testing.

Steve Bull, a colleague at Chelsea, became the team’s official sport psychologist, and worked closely with Ruth to plan the programme, which aimed to increase confidence, develop positive thinking skills, and provide team cohesiveness. There was also an intensive focus on both nutrition and physical fitness.

Ruth recalled in our interview:

I was quite determined that the whole squad, they wouldn’t be a member of the squad if they weren’t fit. And we worked a lot on fitness. They used to run up and down the beach [at  Eastbourne], on the shingle, which was tough…And then we started to introduce the importance of diet. That particular aspect was not popular, because they were very fish-and-chip girls!”

Ruth’s coaching programme was years ahead of its time; no other sport, including men’s cricket, had utilised sports psychology before. And much of Ruth’s work in these years now serves as the foundation for the elite coaching techniques which are used within both men’s and women’s cricket.

Yet it did not initially sit well with the traditionalists within the Women’s Cricket Association. It was reported in The Cricketer in 1988 that “the decision to appoint Prideaux…did not meet with universal approval within the WCA fraternity”. She recalled that:

“the [England] selectors were not a bit supportive. They thought it was all wrong. They expected them always to be doing something on the cricket line as it were, with the activities of batting, or bowling, or fielding. But they were not in any way supportive of that type of [fitness] work. So that was quite difficult.”

Yet Ruth persisted.

———

Fast forward five years to Lord’s, August 1st 1993. Jan Brittin takes the winning catch, New Zealand are all out for 128, and Karen Smithies and her team lift the World Cup, hugging each other and shedding tears of joy.

That white-haired figure looks on from the balcony, quietly satisfied at what she has achieved with her team. She knew they could do it before they could.

“We were in Australia for the semi-finals of the World Cup in 1988,” she recalled in our interview, “and we lost to Australia. And I said to the players, ‘we will NOT lose the next World Cup. We’ll beat everybody, and we’ll win it.’ They all felt, ‘oh, she’s off again!’ But actually, we did.”

It was a win that would never have been possible without Ruth’s confidence in both her innovative new coaching techniques, and in her squad of players – a confidence she instilled in a variety of ways. One of my favourite stories was about the team’s arrival at Wellington College, where the teams were put up for the duration of the tournament:

“When we arrived we arrived as a squad before anybody else, and they’d put us on the ground floor and the Australians were upstairs, above us. And I said, ‘well we’re not having that’. So before the Australians came, we settled ourselves above them, and I said, ‘remember we’re on the top here!’ 

So that was another thing that, although it sounds little, was a great contribution to their belief in themselves.”

Sure enough, England were actually left needing to beat their old enemy, Australia, in order to reach the final – and they did so in spectacular fashion, thanks to a wonderful innings from Carole Hodges, who finished on 105*.

Ultimately, England’s World Cup victory in August 1993 was largely the fruit of Ruth’s labour. Steve Bull reported that, by the time he concluded his work with the squad, “a feeling existed [among players] that success would not have been achieved without the provision of sport psychology support”.

Her pride at the achievement was still evident in our interview, 20 years after the event, as she recalled the tournament, eyes shining. It is an achievement made all the more impressive by the fact that in all her years working with the England team, she was never paid a penny.

———

Ruth retired as coach in the wake of the World Cup, but remained involved in women’s cricket, going on to become the Chairman of Sussex Women’s Cricket Association. What of her legacy? Certainly that 1993 victory helped begin to change attitudes to the women’s game in England. A few days afterward the final, then President of MCC, Dennis Silk, wrote to the Chairman of the Women’s Cricket Association: “It was the best day’s cricket at Lord’s this year and between you all, you created a magical atmosphere. You have done the whole of English cricket a great service.”

There were awards, of course – the National Coaching Foundation’s England Coach of the Year in 1993 being just one – and yet somehow I wonder if Ruth ever quite got the recognition she so deserved. Had she been a man – had she won a men’s World Cup – the whole world would know her name. Did anyone realise, I wondered as I left her house after our interview, that one of cricket’s greatest ever coaches was at that moment living in a little corner of sunny Eastbourne?

It is just one more reflection of the battle Ruth fought her whole life – the battle against being told she couldn’t do it because she was a woman.

———

The battle continues – and the impact of Ruth’s approach is still being felt within women’s cricket. I put it to her in our interview that what she had really been trying to do was bring professionalisation to an amateur game. “Yes,” she concurred. “But you wouldn’t put it like that.”

Why wouldn’t you put it like that? “Well, it would be far removed from anybody’s expectation. I mean, to become a professional was unheard of.”

Not any longer. And as Ruth herself recognised, she is partly responsible for that transformation.

“I think we supplied a good grounding for women’s cricket to develop,” she told me. “And set an example of what can be achieved. Which was all good, because it meant everything moved forward.”

That is quite some legacy, I told her. “Yes,” she agreed.

“I’d rather leave that legacy than any other.”

OPINION: Could England ‘Pass The Torch’ For Pakistan T20s?

England’s international series against Pakistan is still some 6 weeks away, but no doubt coach Mark Robinson is already considering his options for the squad… or squads… he will select.

The ODI series is a “must win” with England currently 6th in the Women’s International Championship table, albeit with 3 games “in hand”; so they have to field their strongest side as they look towards the 2017 World Cup.

But the T20 series is a different matter, perhaps? The next big T20 event is two years away, and the England that take the field then are likely to be a very different team, with a number of current players expected to retire after the World Cup.

With this in mind, one crazy suggestion might be to “pass the torch” for the T20 series – field a young side, with both eyes on the future – not just for the next year, but for the next decade.

What might such a team, with a five to ten years of cricket ahead of it, look like?

  1. Eve Jones
  2. Georgia Adams
  3. Fran Wilson
  4. Sophie Luff*
  5. Cordelia Griffith
  6. Sophia Dunkley
  7. Ellie Threlkeld+
  8. Steph Butler
  9. Freya Davies
  10. Tash Farrant
  11. Alex Hartley

Will this happen? Of course not – it is too crazy… by a lot more than half! But it would be nice to think that the management have got their eyes on one or two of these players for the Pakistan T20 series… and by “one or two”, I don’t mean the “one or two” who are already part of the squad – they are a given!

(The ones in bold are the ones outside the current contracted squad that I think they should be seriously considering – one batsman (Luff), one fast bowler (Davies) and one spinner (Hartley).)