Laura MacLeod: A Pro At Last

On a wet Thursday evening at Bowdon Cricket Club a group of cricket loving children and adults descended on the ground to see the launch of the Lancashire County Cricket Club Thunder & Lightning Roadshow.

As part of the evening there was a question and answer session hosted by former Lancashire captain and wicket keeper Warren Hegg, himself a former international cricketer.

Hegg interviewed man-of-the-moment Liam Livingstone, a product of the Lancashire youth system who has made a sparkling start to his first class career this summer.

Seated next to Livingstone on the stage was another cricketer who, thanks to the Kia Super League, can now also be deemed to be a professional player.

Whilst all of the children present knew of Livingstone thanks to his early season exploits there were fewer that would readily have recognised his colleague on the panel despite the fact that she is a veteran of 73 One Day Internationals for England as well as 13 Test Matches.

This week in fact marks the first time that Laura MacLeod, previously Newton, has had sight of a contract that will mean that she is paid to play cricket despite the service that she has given to her country on cricket grounds all across the world.

Refreshing then that, following the questions with Hegg and during the autograph session that followed, MacLeod found herself signing as many, if not more, autographs than Livingstone.

A contemporary of recently departed England captain Charlotte Edwards, 38 year old MacLeod left international cricket in 2007 aged just 29 due to the pressures of being an amateur playing in an increasingly professional environment.

Earlier this week MacLeod found herself in the nets at Emirates Old Trafford batting alongside current England players Danni Wyatt and Kate Cross who will be two of her teammates in the Lancashire Thunder squad later this summer.

Incredibly it was the first time outside of an international fixture that the former Lancashire and England star had actually trained in the facilities at the ground.

Her teammates in the Thunder squad are, happily, growing up in a time when their presence at such venues and in the presence of coaches such as Gary Keedy is becoming normalised. MacLeod, an outstanding coach in her own right, probably appreciates the opportunity that is being presented more than most.

Her impact upon the Kia Super League is as yet unclear but whilst the competition presents an exciting road ahead for the young stars of tomorrow it is already presenting opportunities for players like MacLeod to finally get the recognition they have deserved.

Just ask those kids that were at Bowdon who their new hero is.

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NEWS: Ireland “A” To Play England Academy + South Africa Fixtures Confirmed

An Ireland “A” side will play England Academy in 4 50-over matches at Loughborough next month. Although this is an “A” side, it still looks a pretty strong team, led by new skipper Laura Delany and including her predecessor Izzy Joyce; and they will provide a good test for the Academy girls looking to turn the eye of Head Coach Mark Robinson as he adjusts to life without Charlotte Edwards and (for the moment) Sarah Taylor.

Cricket Ireland have also reconfirmed a slightly rejigged series against South Africa later in the summer. The fixtures clash with Super League, so South Africa will be without some of their biggest stars, which means it should be a competitive tour.

Ireland v South Africa Tour

01-Aug T20 YMCA
03-Aug T20 YMCA
05-Aug ODI Merrion
07-Aug ODI YMCA
09-Aug ODI Malahide
11-Aug ODI The Hills

(For those considering travelling, all of the above fixtures are in the Dublin region.)

NEWS: Knight Looks To Wilson & Jones To Replace Edwards & Taylor

Sounding very-much like a captain-elect, Heather Knight has tipped Fran Wilson and Amy Jones to step into the roles vacated by Charlotte Edwards and Sarah Taylor this summer.

Speaking to @SWLondoner at a Royal London event to launch the One Day season, Knight is quoted as saying:

“There will be spaces in the line-up and the order will look very different but there is some real talent in our squad at the moment… Amy Jones is a big one with a hell of a lot of potential and it will be a big year for her, and Fran [Wilson] as well.”

Wilson for Edwards is in many ways a like-for-like replacement – they are both unflashy, but highly reliable, “accumulators”.

Jones meanwhile has been Taylor’s “under-glove-butler” for some years now, and is the only member of the current squad who does the job regularly at county.

Perhaps a more interesting question is whether England will bring in someone else to cover Jones. The current Academy glove-butler – Ellie Threlkeld – is just 17, which has led to suggestions that Berkshire’s Carla Rudd or Surrey’s Kirsty White may get a call-up. Of the two, Rudd is undoubtedly the better keeper, but has always struggled for runs at county. White, on the other hand, has had an excellent start to the season with the bat, averaging 49.

Alternatively, England could turn back to Tammy Beaumont, who actually made her England debut behind the stumps back in 2009; but who does not currently keep even at county.

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.