Guest reporter Ben Gardner was at Blackpool last Friday to see Southern Vipers defeat Lancashire Thunder.
It was a shame really. This pitch, a used wicket, was slow and low, the kind that encourages neither extravagant strokeplay nor fast bowling. It took spin, allowing Hayley Matthews in particular to showcase her skills. But for crowds wanting to see a run-filled Twenty20, and for organisers wanting to showcase the women’s game, it was a disappointment. It was impressive that even 250 runs were scored in the match.
Still, for the convert, there is something in every pitch to be enjoyed, and it is part of the joy of the game that the surface can have such an impact. To see how players handle such a situation might be a lesser thrill, but a thrill nonetheless. And, for a tournament which aims to develop the younger generation of England stars, the manner in which three of the more experienced Southern Vipers players dealt with the challenge should provide a valuable template.
It was not that Sara McGlashan, Lydia Greenway, and Arran Brindle had greater ability to deal with what Lancashire Thunder were throwing at them; the former in particular struggled at first, and was tied down by the spin of Sophie Ecclestone and the impressive Hayley Matthews. At one point she was just 7 off 17. But she stuck at the task, refusing to give her wicket away, and eventually found a method to make runs. She would finish with 54 off 50 balls: the highest score of the tournament up to that point, as well as the longest innings.
This was a lesson in nous rather than technique, and how these three players adjusted and then met expectations was impressive. With a combined age of 98 years, they will surely have faced such challenges before, and it needed all their know-how to find a solution. McGlashan afterwards said that they “got to about 6-8 overs left and realised around 120/130 would probably be alright. So then it was a matter of just trying to be disciplined, not hit out too much, just work on 5s and 6s through singles.” Coming up with the plan is noteworthy enough, but sticking to it, trusting your assessment of the pitch and not going after balls that are not there to be hit, is worthy of special praise.
Another point of McGlashan’s innings that is worth highlighting was her ability to find a release shot when required. The most eye-catching was the elegant six over long on, off Kate Cross, but equally impressive was the manner in which she and Arran Brindle took Ecclestone’s last two overs for 22; her first two had gone for just 10. This was calculated, intelligent batting of the highest order. A lesser team would have surely folded for nearer to 100.
In the Super League so far, many of the most eye-catching performances have come from some of the youngest players. The likes of Georgia Adams, Katie George, and Bryony Smith have proved that this tournament can reveal players of quality, perhaps even future internationals. But on this occasion it was experience that dragged Vipers to what ended up being a winning total, and gave a prime example to all those watching of how to bat in difficult conditions.