INTERVIEW: Southern Vipers Coach Nick Denning On Bridging The Gap

Southern Vipers Head Coach Nick Denning is a familiar and popular face around the women’s cricket scene. A former Berkshire player – a bowler who also played a handful of List A games for Essex in the early 00s – Denning had been the Berkshire Women’s coach for a number of years before taking the reins at the Vipers for the inaugural Kia Super League this season.

In some ways it was a brave appointment – although the Vipers are theoretically a partnership between Hampshire, Sussex, Berkshire and Oxfordshire, Hampshire are very much the “senior service”, and with no experience at the top level of women’s cricket, the safer option might have been to select “one of the chaps” from the men’s game. That they didn’t was to their credit… and ultimately to their advantage, as Denning led the team to the top of the group table and subsequently on to lift the trophy on Finals Day.

Speaking to Denning after that triumph, we began by asking what the key differences were from coaching a county side:

“Professionalism!” he replies emphatically. “At Berkshire we got a £2,000 grant from the ECB and then we had to find the rest of the money – a bit from Berkshire and the rest from sponsorship – to run a £13,000 program. So when you go to a program that is as good as fully funded, it just makes a huge difference.”

Denning ticks off the items one by one:

“We get our Strength and Conditioning coach; we get our physio; we get all these specialist coaches; and we get great facilities at the Ageas Bowl.”

The Super League is of course not fully professional, but for Denning the important thing is to treat it as such:

“While this competition is semi-professional, the setup has to be professional – you have got to be all-in and do it properly.”

The same applies to the players:

“We said: Look, we are here to develop you – we are not here to be a 3-week thing – we are here to help you kick your cricket onto another level.”

In selecting the overseas players to augment his side, Denning looked for those who shared these values:

“With Suzie Bates and Sara McGlashan we knew we needed batters, but we also needed good people – we needed people who were going to buy into what we were doing – be good around the changing room and help the youngsters. Morna Nielsen [who came in as a late replacement for Megan Schutt] was also somebody we’d been talking about when we were selecting the squad – she was our next-in – and they’ve all been really, really good professionals. They have been fantastic around the changing room, but they’ve also come in and developed their games – they’ve learnt – they’ve asked questions to get better.”

The established internationals have been crucial obviously, but unlike some of the other franchises, the Vipers haven’t been afraid to throw in some of their youngest players, and actually let them play (rather than “just” field) such as 17-year-old Katie George:

“Katie has played four games and she has had two very good games and two games where she has possibly shown her inexperience, but she is seventeen so I’m not going to hold that against her – she will be a very, very good cricketer.”

Vipers’ glove-butler Carla Rudd is another younger player who has impressed in Super League. After being dropped from the England Academy program last year, Rudd was appointed girls’ coach at Felsted School, which has given her the opportunity to work with their boys’ coach – former England Test batsman Jason Gallian – in particular on her batting.

“Carla has always been a good ‘keeper, but she knows that if she is going to start pushing for an England place, it is her batting that needs to improve and she has been working really hard all winter with Jason.”

Someone else who Denning singles out for working really hard is Berkshire quick bowler Daisy Gardner, who ended up missing the entire competition through injury, despite the best efforts of the medical staff at the Ageas:

“It is just bad luck, and that happens with injuries in cricket; but she is still part of our squad and she has been as professional as anyone – if some of the other players had Daisy’s drive and her attitude they could be absolute world-beaters!”

Of course the Super League has been entertaining and has brought unprecedented attention to the domestic women’s game; but the ECB’s key aims also include “bridging the gap” between county and international cricket, and Denning is perhaps better-placed than anyone to assess whether this has been achieved. However, when asked he is cautious to emphasise that “bridging the gap” is a longer-term objective:

“I don’t think you can really tell until the county competition next year,” he says. “If the girls that were pulled in – not the Academy players or the internationals, but the girls that have been talent-ID’d from county cricket – go back to play county cricket and put some of the stuff they’ve learnt into that – then yes, we are bridging the gap.”


KSL Finals Day: The Story Of Four Captains

Yesterday’s KSL Finals Day was really the story of four captains.

Captain One: Georgia Elwiss, the Loughborough Lightning leader. For some KSL teams – Southern Vipers, Western Storm – their choice of captain was obvious; but for Lightning, it was coach Salliann Briggs who decided on Elwiss, after sitting down with a number of her players to talk it through. And who can argue it was the wrong choice? Briggs knows her players inside out; and Elwiss has the intelligence required of an excellent captain.

But she is also one of the least experienced captains in the competition – and inexperience, in a pressure situation, can find you out. There was one odd decision in particular that stood out: with Storm chasing 125, Elwiss chose to open the bowling with seamer Beth Langston, who conceded just 1 run off her first 2 overs – and then never came back on, even when Storm appeared to be cruising to their target.

“My gut instinct was to keep changing the bowlers around,” Elwiss said by way of explanation after the semi-final. It’s probably not the best maxim to live by. By contrast, Vipers bowled Arran Brindle for four overs straight in the final simply because she was clearly making life difficult for the batsmen.

Captain Two: England’s own Heather Knight. It was, of course, her fifty which guided Storm’s chase in the semi-final; and credit to her for that. But equally, after Storm had lost Stafanie Taylor halfway through their innings in the final, it was probably her responsibility to hang around and see them to a good total. She failed to do that, pulling the ball straight to Katie George at deep backward square leg in the 15th over, and you could tell from the way she slammed her bat as she walked off that she was furious with herself.

Then, after Vipers lost Edwards and Bates, Knight had the opportunity to turn the screw on her opponents as they slowly edged towards their target. With 3 overs to go, they still needed 20 runs, and they also needed their captain to keep her cool. But on the second ball of Anya Shrubsole’s over Knight picked up the ball and, without hope of achieving very much, shied at the stumps, earning Sara McGlashan and Lydia Greenway an overthrow. It was the mark of a captain who seemed to be out of options, and wasn’t quite sure what to do.

Shrubsole’s over went for 14 runs and Vipers surged to victory.

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Vipers lift the trophy. Photo credit: Ruth Conchie

Captain Three: Charlotte Edwards – a legend if ever there was one; a player who captained England over 200 times, more than anyone else is ever likely to; a player who is used to captaining on the big stage. Edwards downplayed her own role in the post-match press conference – “This team runs itself; I just pull a few strings”, she said – but she also, tellingly, stressed that “I’ve really sensed the team behind me [during the tournament]”. Only the best captains inspire that kind of loyalty.

Edwards’ knowledge and experience mattered twice-over in yesterday’s final. Firstly, she made the decision to bring Arran Brindle into the attack in the 9th over, and bowl her for four overs straight – a spell in which she conceded just 15 runs, and removed both Stafanie Taylor and Knight from the reckoning. It turned things in the Vipers favour. Another captain might have hesitated to bowl Brindle; might have turned elsewhere. Edwards – good friends with her for so many years now – knew exactly what she was capable of.

And then, of course, there was her 24 off 18 balls to lay the foundations for Vipers’ successful run chase. While Edwards hasn’t shone with the bat during Super League, it showed what she so often displayed for England – that on the days when it really matters, she will come through. “I kept backing myself,” she said, after raising the trophy aloft. “I really enjoyed today. This is what I miss playing in and I love these sort of occasions.”

It’s not that Edwards was seeking revenge – she has said repeatedly that she is not bitter about Mark Robinson’s decision – but if she was, winning the inaugural KSL wouldn’t be a bad way to show Robinson and everyone else that she has damn well still got it. Just in case we ever doubted it.

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The Victorious Captain. Photo Credit: Ruth Conchie

But I said four captains – and no, I didn’t lose count! Because Vipers didn’t just have one captain out there on the field yesterday, they had two.

Suzie Bates was instrumental in Vipers’ path to the final, both with the bat – with scores of 25, 15, 45*, 57 and 38 – and in the way she so calmly stepped into Edwards’ shoes halfway through the first game, even when Vipers had just seen their captain limping off the pitch with a likely concussion. Even since she returned to resume the captain’s mantle in the third game, we’ve seen the unfamiliar sight of Edwards – not the most collaborative of captains towards the end of her England reign – being instructed where to field not by a bowler, but by the current New Zealand skipper.

“When you’ve got experience around you,” Edwards said, paying tribute to Bates after the final concluded, “that’s what really helps.” Bates might have been just pipped by Stafanie Taylor for Player of the Tournament, but it was a close run thing. Vipers will surely be hoping that she’ll be back in orange for next year’s Super League.

Final Thoughts: KSL Finals Day

Both this morning’s semi-final and this afternoon’s final followed a similar pattern – the targets set (124 in the semi-final and 140 in the final) looked slightly light, as the chasing side got off to a strong start; but wickets offered a glimmer of hope for the defending team… only to see that hope fall away at the end.

The semi-final was maybe a little scrappy as nervous players batted with perhaps slightly less positivity than we might have expected – for the Lightning, only Ellyse Perry, and Thea Brookes coming in right at the end, posted strike-rates in excess of 100.

In reply, the Storm appeared to be cruising, but perhaps it was all looking a little too easy, as losses of concentration saw a mini-collapse with 3 wickets falling in 9 balls. With 4 balls left, Georgia Hennessy and Sophie Luff were both on 0 from 0 balls with the scores level. Hope. But thankfully for the Storm, Hennessy had the one shot in her, and kept her head to drive them into the final with a 4 through midwicket.

The final began quietly for the Storm – just 2 runs apiece from the first 2 overs, as Stafanie Taylor (later to be named Player of the Tournament) played it cool before looking to accelerate later on. Such a tactic, however, only works if you are still there to accelerate later on, and once the Storm lost Taylor the run rate began to slow and the momentum never really came, at least partly down to Arran Brindle bowling her 4 overs straight for just 15 runs.

Nevertheless, the Storm’s total of 140 was a deal more than had won the earlier game, so there was hope there, even as Charlotte Edwards and Suzie Bates reached 78 without loss. The Storm needed wickets badly and they got them, with Edwards and Bates falling in quick succession. Again, hope. But with Sara McGlashan and Lydia Greenway coming to the crease together, with over 400 international caps between them, the experience was there in spades to guide the Vipers home.

Afterwards Charlotte Edwards reflected on a summer that began in the most difficult circumstances with the loss of the England captaincy, but has ended with her lifting the Super League trophy:

“I’ve had to deal with quite a lot this summer but the girls have backed me 110%. You hope you get to Finals Day and then put in a performance like that. I think it’s been brilliant to be part of this group for the last 3 or 4 months and watch them grow and develop as players and people has been really special. I’m sure we’ll enjoy tonight celebrating what was a brilliant win.”


STATS: KSL All-Rounder Rankings

Player Runs Wickets
1. Stafanie Taylor (WS) 220 8
2. Suzie Bates (SV) 180 7
3. Heather Knight (WS) 141 6
4. Dane van Niekerk (LL) 112 5
5. Nat Sciver (SS) 181 3
6. Deandra Dottin (LT) 87 7
7. Katherine Brunt (YD) 71 6
8. Ellyse Perry (LL) 126 3
9. Sophie Devine (LL) 71 5
10. Arran Brindle (SV) 91 3

Ranking = Runs * Strike Rate * Wickets / Economy

In the battle of the international captains, it is West Indies’ Stafanie Taylor who comes out ahead of New Zealand’s Suzie Bates at the top of our All-Rounder Rankings. Taylor has scored more runs than Bates, at a higher Strike Rate, and has taken more wickets, though the New Zealander has a better economy rate.

With Heather Knight coming in at 3 on the leaderboard, maybe it is time for the nay-sayers to accept that she really is a genuine all-rounder, not just a batsman who has gotten a bit lucky with the ball since an injury forced her to trade her medium-pacers for off-spin a couple of years ago.

Also worth a mention are Katherine Brunt – a player whose ability to consistently crack off a few runs quickly makes her a real asset in Twenty20; and Arran Brindle – the only non-current-international on the list, who hasn’t quite “come out of retirement” to play in the KSL (she has continued to play (men’s) league cricket since her England retirement) but who has reminded us all why she is much-missed around these parts!

One final point… Loughborough Lightning clearly did some astute business in selecting their overseas stars – all three of them make the all-rounders list, and we suspect this isn’t a coincidence – perhaps showing the value in having a head coach who has been part of the England “Performance” setup for a number of years, and therefore knows the form-book better than anyone else?

STATS: KSL Bowling Rankings

Player Wickets Economy
1. Linsey Smith (SV) 8 4.33
2. Anya Shrubsole (WS) 8 5.42
3. Hayley Matthews (LT) 8 5.44
4. Alex Hartley (SS) 8 5.50
5. Suzie Bates (SV) 7 5.33
6. Danni Hazell (YD) 7 5.36
7. Becky Grundy (LL) 8 6.13
8. Stafanie Taylor (WS) 8 6.78
9. Katherine Brunt (YD) 6 5.35
10. Heather Knight (WS) 6 5.40

Ranking = Wickets / Economy

Whilst our Batting Rankings were dominated by the overseas stars, there are a few more home-grown players in our KSL Bowling Rankings, and they don’t come much more home grown at the top of the list than Berkshire’s Linsey Smith, who is the only player in the Top 10 not to have played international cricket. Smith has also played one fewer match than all the rest of the leaderboard, having only come into the tournament as a late replacement, making her achievement all the more impressive.

(Smith is not only the joint-highest wicket taker in the group stages, but she also has the best economy figure overall – only two other bowlers (both also Vipers – Morna Nielsen and Katie George) have economy rates under 5.)

West Indies’ all-rounder Hayley Matthews has had a nightmare KSL with the bat, averaging just 4 from 5 innings; but she has made up for it with the ball, coming in at number 3 in our rankings, with 8 wickets at 5.44; just pipping England’s Alex Hartley, who took 8 wickets at 5.50, showing once again that she really does have what it takes to compete at the very highest levels of the game, and hopefully sealing her selection for England’s overseas tours this autumn.

STATS: KSL Batting Rankings

Player Runs Strike Rate
1. Stafanie Taylor (WS) 220 128
2. Nat Sciver (SS) 181 134
3. Suzie Bates (SV) 180 113
4. Heather Knight (WS) 141 123
5. Amy Satterthwaite (LT) 146 103
6. Tammy Beaumont (SS) 139 103
7. Ellyse Perry (LL) 126 113
8. Dane van Niekerk (LL) 112 123
9. Alex Blackwell (YD) 111 116
10. Emma Lamb (LT) 122 104

Ranking = Runs * Strike Rate

It is no surprise to see our batting rankings dominated by the big international stars, including the captains of West Indies, New Zealand, England and South Africa.

Stafanie Taylor leads the field, though she actually started the competition slowly with scores of 14 and 9 against the Thunder and the Lightning; before following that up with two huge half-centuries (74* and 78*) against the Stars and the Vipers, and a 45 versus the Diamonds.

The only non-international player to make the Top 10 is Lancashire Thunder’s Emma Lamb. Her highest score in the KSL was “just” 34, but she has made the list because she was very consistent – she had just one score below 25 in the whole competition, and even that was a “double figures” – a 10 v the Diamonds.

INTERVIEW: Ireland All-Rounder Kim Garth Gunning for England 2017

Fast-bowling all-rounder Kim Garth was always destined to play international cricket – both her mother (Anne-Marie) and her father (Jonathan) represented Ireland in their time, and Kim made her debut in 2010, aged just 14. Now 20 years old, she has played 53 internationals. Having scored 761 runs with the bat, at an average of 22, and taken 48 wickets with the ball, at an average of 24, she is an increasingly important cog in the Irish machine.

Following the World T20 qualifiers at the tail-end of last year, she was selected for the WBBL’s Associate Rookie program, where she spent six weeks in Hobart with the Hurricanes and their legendary coach Julia Price, who she credits with recent improvements in her batting:

“[Hobart] was pretty intense – it was training four or five times a week plus gym work [and] I got a good opportunity to work quite closely with Julia Price, who is a brilliant coach, so I did a lot of one-on-one with her on my [batting] technique.”

Garth admits that things “didn’t go so well” at the World T20 in India which followed – Ireland disappointed, failing to win a game, and only coming remotely close against Sri Lanka, where they fell 14 short chasing 129.

But this season has seen a change of tack for Ireland – they pulled out of the English Women’s County Championship and opted instead to focus their budget on two full international series, against South Africa, which finished last week, and Bangladesh later in the summer.

It is an opportunity Garth has seized – despite suffering from a side-strain which inhibited her bowling, she has been Ireland’s leading wicket-taker against South Africa, with 11 wickets; and their second-highest run-scorer, with 181 runs, including her highest international score – 72* in the 1st ODI. And Ireland impressed as a team against much higher-ranked opposition sharing the T20 series 1-1 and winning the final match of 4 in the ODI series.

(Yes, South Africa were weakened by the absence of leading players at KSL; but they still had Mignon du Preez, Trisha Chetty, Sune Luus, and Chloe Tryon… not to mention their new teenage batting sensation, Laura Wolvaardt, who made her first international hundred at Malahide.)

“Having the opportunity to play these ‘top nation’ teams in 6 games is absolutely fantastic,” says Garth. “You can see each game that we are improving and it does a huge amount for our cricket – we are definitely on the step forward.”

Having played almost exclusively Twenty20 cricket for the past couple of years, leading up to the World T20, coach Aaron Hamilton is now redirecting Ireland’s focus towards the 50-over game, looking to qualify for the World Cup in England next year.

“It is tough going from the Twenty20 mindset to 50-over, but we are making good progress,” says Garth.

Just 4 teams from February’s qualifiers will head to England next summer, so it won’t be easy; but can they do it?

“Absolutely!” replies Garth with confidence. “We will have to beat teams like Pakistan and Sri Lanka which I think we are 100% capable of doing. We’ve got a very young team but we are a hard working team and we are progressing, so hopefully we’ll get it right by the time February comes around.”