INTERVIEW: Ashley Giles On His Vision For Warwickshire Women’s Cricket – “We’re All One Club”

You don’t see many county cricket directors in attendance at women’s county matches, but Ashley Giles isn’t just talking the talk when it comes to women’s cricket – in his new role at Warwickshire CCC as Sport Director, he’s walking the walk too. We meet him at the Edgbaston Foundation Ground, where he has turned up to watch Warwickshire’s first match of the Women’s County Championship, against reigning champions Kent.

“If we’re serious about women’s cricket – and we are – then I need to have an input, I need to come and watch, and see what’s going on,” he says. It’s great to see such commitment to the women’s game from someone so senior. What’s more, this isn’t just a one-off. “I was here the other day for one of the women’s pre-season days,” he tells us, “and presented to them my philosophies and my beliefs and explained what we’re doing at the top end. I need to be there to support [Warwickshire Women coach] Darren Franklin and his team and all the girls.”

What is his vision for Warwickshire women’s cricket? “Women’s cricket is in my job description, and that shouldn’t be a token gesture,” he says. “We need to be joined up – we’re all one club. I’d expect the behaviours and the culture to be similar, as similar as it can be, to what we do with the men. In Warwickshire these girls [the county team] are our ambassadors. They’ve got a big role to play.”

“We need to try and offer as much support as we can to our teams. And keep trying to improve the standard. If we can do that, it becomes a better spectacle, which becomes more marketable, which ultimately brings more money in.”

Giles freely admits that women’s cricket is “still very much the poor relation to the men”, but is already working to change that. This season he has overseen the introduction of meal money and travel expenses for the Warwickshire women’s side, something he says is long overdue. “It’s right. These girls are wearing the Bear. They’re playing for Warwickshire.”

He also highlights the importance of the provision of top-quality facilities, including new grass nets at Edgbaston and the new Foundation Ground at Portland Road, opened in 2015, where most of the women’s 1st XI home matches are now played. He makes clear that he wants to shore up the support on offer for coach Franklin and his team: “hopefully my experience as a player and a coach can be of benefit. And if we can in some way get other coaching support, or even some of our men’s players coming down from the first and second team, to support the ladies, then great.”

The benefits of the joined-up approach are already apparent: Warwickshire captain Marie Kelly sung Giles’ praises in a recent interview with CRICKETher. “We feel really part of the club,” she told us. “It is nice to be involved in the club and to know that we are fully supported.”

For Giles, a focus on the women’s game is important not just from a competitive point of view, but from a participation angle: “We want more girls playing cricket,” he says. He has personal experience of the difficulties involved in expanding opportunities: “My daughter played cricket at school, and went for Worcester trials. But I remember her going to a club to join in at nets and because she hadn’t realised there was practice on and she’d gone straight from school, she didn’t have her kit. She turned up in jeans and gets told to sit down, she can’t participate, because she’s not got the right kit.”

“Now that for me is just totally blocking playing cricket. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing – just play cricket! I hope most clubs aren’t like that, but we need to make sure that girls are getting opportunities.”

One important point he does highlight is the need to make women’s cricket more available to watch – “that’s the way you get interested in something: by saying ‘I want to be more like them’.” It follows, then, that a key part of Giles’ joined-up vision for the club is double-headers: the Bears hosted two county T20 double headers at Edgbaston last season and will be doing so again this year (on 16 July). He is also hopeful that Warwickshire – who were disappointed to miss out on being awarded one of the six Super League franchises – will have a major role to play in the new men’s city franchise competition, which will start in 2020, and that this can provide more double header opportunities for the club.

Ultimately, for Giles, it’s about working towards a level playing field in women’s cricket. When I ask if that will, at some stage, involve contracts for Marie Kelly and co., he is cautious but optimistic. “That would be a great end game if we could get to that point. That’s going to take a lot more investment, but it would be brilliant if, by the time I finish this role, we’d got contracted female cricketers at Warwickshire.” Until then? “It’s all about those small steps.”

“I don’t think it’s going to be revolution,” he concludes. “But evolution? Certainly.”

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NEWS: Heather Knight Injured But Expected To Return Before World Cup

Captain Heather Knight has sustained a small metatarsal stress fracture to her left foot, and is expected to be out of action for up to 6 weeks.

She will need to wear a specially designed boot for the first 2-3 weeks of her recovery and will then spend 2-3 weeks building back up to full fitness.

While the injury will certainly be a concern for England as they prepare for their home World Cup campaign, Knight is at this stage expected to be fit in time for England’s World Cup warm-up matches, which begin against Sri Lanka on June 19.

INTERVIEW: Warwickshire Captain Marie Kelly

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.

MATCH REPORT: Warwickshire Russell Up Second Win Of The Weekend

In a rain-reduced 40-over game at Edgbaston, Warwickshire made it two from two across the first weekend of the Championship, racking up a 6-wicket win against Sussex thanks to some skilful tandem bowling from Liz Russell (4-12) and Kathryn Bryce (2-22).

Play did not begin until 2.20pm, at which point – the covers having moved in and out like a fiddlers elbow – an 80 over game looked a big ask, but the weather eventually held long enough for the reduced game to reach its conclusion, with the Bears the beneficiaries.

Put in to bat by Warwickshire captain Marie Kelly, Sussex started solidly, reaching 28 without loss after 8 overs, but the dual introduction of Russell and Bryce to the attack in the 8th over changed the course of the game. Russell began with a double-wicket maiden – both Ariana Dowse and Beth Tagg falling LBW, at either end of the over.

Sussex continued to exemplify the idea that “one brings two” as Bryce, too, managed two wickets in an over (and narrowly missed out on a hat trick), having Abbey Freeborn caught at point and Ellen Burt bowled in successive deliveries. Russell meanwhile claimed her 3rd and 4th wickets of the day in the 17th and 19th overs, as both Paige Scholfield (17) and Tara Norris (0) misjudged her line and were bowled. By the end of the Russell-Bryce middle-overs onslaught Sussex were 60-6.

Kelly subsequently proved her own tactical astuteness, deliberately tempting Linsey Smith (joint top-scorer for Sussex, making 17) into trying to hit Nish Patel over the top – straight into Kelly’s waiting hands at long on. Sussex were eventually all out for 85 in the 38th over.

In reply, Warwickshire rode their luck early on, with Mina Zahoor surviving some close LBW appeals and Georgia Hennessy (who went on to make 16) dropped by Scholfield at cover while still on 0. Wickets did eventually come Sussex’s way – 17-year-old Nancy Harman did well to remove both Hennessy (bowled) and Kelly (lbw for 19) – but by the time Kelly fell in the 24th over she had already stabilised proceedings and it was a case of too little, too late for the visitors. Ultimately it was a wayward wide ball making its way across the boundary which sealed the 6-wicket victory.

Afterwards, Liz Russell told CRICKETher:

“Waiting around for the rain is never good, I don’t really suit that, so I was actually shocked to do so well today! The pitch did a lot, and I also bowled some good variation – a couple of slower balls.”

“We were expecting two tough games this weekend so we’re very happy with how they’ve gone – there was a massive team performance on both days. To beat Sussex is something we’ve never done, so to be a part of that was really good.”