We caught up with the Warwickshire skipper – batsman Marie Kelly – following her match-winning half-century against Kent last weekend.
When Marie Kelly first captained Warwickshire, standing-in for Becky Grundy in 2015, the club’s status as a “Div 1” county looked precarious at best – they had survived the previous season by the skin of their teeth, thanks to an unlikely last-gasp play-off victory against Somerset; and the start of the 2015 season saw them lose their first 3 matches to leave them bottom of the Championship.
In retrospect the 4th match of the 2015 season – a nail-biting 5-run victory against Surrey – represented something of a turning point. The Bears pulled off a further two wins to avoid relegation; and by the start of the 2016 season, big changes were afoot. Warwickshire CCC took the decision to get serious about women’s cricket, and appointed Kelly as captain to take the Bears into the new era.
2016 began brightly, with the Bears topping both the 50-over and T20 tables after a string of victories; until they finally ran into the Suzie Bates-driven Kent juggernaut in both competitions, finally finishing 2nd in the T20 Cup and 3rd in the County Championship.
Ultimately, then, 2016 ended in disappointment; but looking back now, Kelly isn’t too downhearted:
“We’ve had a lot of reflection on last season – we were happy with how we played and this season we are looking to do exactly the same again if we can.”
A cancellation against Staffs, and then the long international / Super League break, meant that Warwickshire unbelievably went almost three months in 2016 with no 50-over cricket, between their initial run of victories in May and their loss to Kent at the end of August; and Kelly admits they didn’t handle it as well as they might have done:
“We just expected it to pick up from where we left off – expecting it all to just fall back in place – but we found it hard getting the momentum back.”
It is something they will try to avoid this time around, with a similar schedule in this year’s County Championship:
“Rather than having a month break without seeing each other, we’ll try and get a few friendly matches in; and then it is just about training – even if it is just bowling a few balls; hitting a few balls – doing something to keep the momentum going ready for our next games.”
For Kelly, one of the big advantages Warwickshire now have thanks to their closer relationship with the men’s club is a proper “home” at the Edgbaston Foundation Ground – a professionally curated facility they share with the men’s 2nd XI:
“We love having a home ground – somewhere we can come to and know how the pitch is going to play. It is always difficult going from ground to ground – you never know what you are going to get – whereas coming here we know exactly what we are going to get; we know exactly how it is going to play so there shouldn’t be any excuses!”
Does it give them an edge over other teams? Kelly believes so:
“100 percent it is an advantage – just to have the same changing room and the same environment – it settles you and that is one less thing to think about – you just get on with the job in hand.”
Additionally, this season Warwickshire are also providing travelling expenses and some kit upgrades:
“That’s really important – it shows that we’ve got their support – Ashley Giles, our Sporting Director, and Neil Snowball [Warwickshire CEO] are fully on board with everything, so we feel really part of the club and they are backing us.”
“We always go to the Chairman’s Lunch and we had a double-header at Edgbaston last year, and we’ve got it again this year, so it is just nice to be involved in the club like that and to know that we are fully supported.”
Having russelled-up (sic!!) a second victory against Sussex the day after our chat last weekend, Kelly’s side are repaying that support, sitting second in the Women’s County Championship table, just half a point behind the early pace-setters, Lancashire. There’s a long season ahead of course, and Warwickshire aren’t a side full of international, or even Super League, stars; but for Kelly, this is actually the point:
“At Warwickshire we’ve always been a “team” – we don’t just rely on a few people to score all the runs or take all the wickets – the team comes first. It’s a team game, and it is all about a team win, so we are just going to try and play as a team and use all of our players.”
It’s the kind of thing you’ll hear a lot of captains say, but on Sunday it was tested, as leg-spinner Nish Patel struggled with her length early-on. A different captain would have taken her off – bowled herself perhaps, to stay on the safe side – but Kelly persisted. Patel bowled out her 10 overs, but the real reward came the following day, as Patel took 3-19 to clean-up the Sussex tail and earn the win against one of their big Championship rivals.
That’s leadership; and if Warwickshire do indeed go all the way this season, Kelly’s leadership will have been a big part of why.