OPINION: Women’s Cricket At The Olympics – The Devil Is In The Details

Following the commercial success of the recent Women’s World Cup, the idea of bringing cricket (back) to the Olympic Games appears to be back on the table.

The idea seems to be that it would be a T20 competition, and that one of the World T20s, currently held every 2 years, would be sacrificed to make space for it in the calendar.

The key advantage would be increased funding, especially for the “Associate” nations, which could see big increases in their budgets; but elsewhere the arguments seem less clear-cut.

The suggestion that this would be an 8-team tournament, with the Caribbean nations competing separately, is particularly problematic. Although various Caribbean nations have previously competed independently in Women’s World Cups, the strength in depth just isn’t there to support them being competitive, especially given that Great Britain (which would basically be England), Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India would all be at full-strength – if you thought the West Indies v South Africa was a mismatch last month in Leicester, you ain’t seen nothing yet!!

One big winner, potentially, could be Ireland, who would on current form walk into a prospective second European qualifying spot. The increased profile it could give the game there would be fantastic; and obviously they would welcome the money; but what Ireland really need on the pitch is more regular international competition – i.e. a place in the Women’s International Championship – not a once-every-four-years chance to be smashed into smithereens by the big girls.

Even for the top sides there are potential issues – you don’t need to look further than this week’s furore over England’s women’s rugby contracts, as they struggle to balance the short-term priority of the 7-a-side Olympic game with the longer-term health of the nascent 15-a-side professional setup, to get a hint of some of the problems we might be facing down the line if this is a road we choose to go down.

Our suspicion is that this if remains a big one – although it is true that the Olympics gave a big recent fillip to women’s football in this country; the boost that it gave to women’s “soccer” after their triumph in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics proved somewhat illusory, followed as it was by a literal “bust” which left the game there basically bankrupt by 2003.

And of course all this is assuming that some of the more prosaic issues like sponsorship and TV rights, currently allocated globally and with all manner of exclusivity clauses could be sorted… though to be fair the fight between Pepsi and Coke over that one could be an Olympic sport all by itself!!

Cricket in the Olympics sounds like a nice idea – global and inclusive; but the devil is always in the details, and our guess is that once this becomes clear, it just ain’t gonna happen.

#WWC17 WORLD CUP FINAL: Talking Points

Pace bowling

Before today only Marizanne Kapp could really claim a rightful place as a pace bowler in any team of the tournament: it’s been not just a batsman’s tournament, but one dominated by spin as well. What a time for that all to change.

Two of the greats of the game today showed exactly why they are considered such: firstly Jhulan Goswami, whose spell of 3 wickets for 2 runs in 10 balls changed the course of England’s innings. Then Anya Shrubsole wreaked utter havoc, finishing with the best ever figures in a World Cup final and proving precisely why the inswinging yorker is her trademark delivery. It wasn’t even a particularly seam friendly pitch. It just proves that when you need them to, your best bowlers will come good, every time.

DRS

As the first women’s tournament where DRS has been in use, today was again a mixed bag for both sides – for England, Lauren Winfield overturned an incorrect LBW decision, but Nat Sciver later proved that it isn’t only male cricketers who will use DRS out of hope rather than good judgement. India, too, struggled: Punam Raut asking for a review but being turned down because the umpire said she had taken too long to reach her decision.

It’s been a big ask for female players to become accustomed to DRS in such a short space of time, especially when it’s only available at certain matches – it’s not like you can have a “DRS net session” – but that didn’t stop Heather Knight being pretty unequivocal about her views on its use post-match: “I think it’s a brilliant addition to the game… it’s important that it continues [being used].” I agree. Let’s hope the ICC do as well.

Bottom order contributions

“Batting is something everybody needs to do”, Mithali Raj said in the post-match press conference. She couldn’t have hit the nail on the head more if she tried. The key difference between the sides today was the fact that India’s last 7 wickets fell for 28 runs – whereas Jenny Gunn and Laura Marsh were able to put on 32 runs between Katherine Brunt being run out in the 46th over and the end of England’s innings. “The last 4 or 5 [Indian] batters couldn’t handle the pressure,” admitted Mithali.

In fact, since their loss to India in game one, England haven’t been bowled out in this tournament, and that’s been crucial to their success. In the Australia match it was Gunn and Katherine Brunt putting on 85 for the 7th wicket which dragged them up to a competitive total – in the semi-final against South Africa Gunn and Fran Wilson put on 40 for the same. Most teams say they bat deep. England actually do.

New England

New England still get things wrong: Sarah Taylor does, occasionally, miss stumpings; Heather Knight does drop catches (and so does Jenny Gunn). But they also never give up. They looked absolutely dead in the water today, and then the miracle happened. One minute I’m eating scones at the back of the press box, the next Anya Shrubsole is on fire and the game is turning on its head. Amazing to watch. Frankly, all the tributes in the world aren’t enough for Mark Robinson, who has somehow transformed this side into world-beaters.

And finally…

What a day! What a match! The atmosphere. The roar from the crowd that went up as Goswami bowled her first ball. The ticket touts lining the streets from the tube station to the ground. The queues at the gate to get in. The flags, the drummers, the kids wrapped in Indian and English flags. Whether you’re an England fan or not – what a magical, magical day for women’s cricket.

Mark Robinson: World Champion!

Wow!

Three months ago, when asked if England could win the up-coming World Cup, Mark Robinson was a bit non-committal:

“You want to win it,” he said, clearly more in hope than expectation.

Now, his New England are World Champions!

And they did it the hard way.

England didn’t dominate the tournament – the Australia game was close… the South Africa semi-final was closer… the final against India was closer still.

With two overs to go, the sensible money was still on India, needing less than a run-a-ball with two wickets in hand. But that reckoned without Anya Shrubsole, holding her nerve for the second time in the knock-out stages: against South Africa, they needed runs – Anya Shrubsole got ’em; against India, they needed wickets – she got ’em! In the end, in a batsman’s tournament, it was a bowler who stood tall at the crucial moments and grabbed hold of the trophy with her Player of the Match performance.

It is truly remarkable – the way that Mark Robinson has, in just 18 months, coaxed England to a whole new level of fitness, of professionalism, of self-belief, of sheer will to win. That has been the difference between England and the other sides – they held their nerve through mini-collapses and dropped catches; they still believed the could do it; their heads didn’t drop, and this is their reward – their World Cup.

But they have Mark Robinson to thank for it.

#WWC17 England v India – Player Rankings Suggest a Batting v Bowling Final

Impressionistically, the 2017 Women’s World Cup has been a batsman’s tournament, with the bowlers suffering 14 hundreds scored by 13 different players.

Looking just at England v India, we have had four centurions in each team: Nat Sciver, Sarah Taylor, Tammy Beaumont, and Heather Knight for England; and Harmanpreet Kaur, Mithali Raj, Smriti Mandhana, and Punam Raut for India.

However, the numbers overall hint that this might be a Batting versus Bowling final.

In the 8 matches played, England have the batting edge – they’ve scored 2,039 runs at an average strike rate of 89; to India’s 1,723 runs at 74.

But India have the bowling wind at their backs – their bowlers have taken 58 wickets at an average economy rate of 4.37; whereas England’s have taken only 51 wickets at an economy of 4.53. In the field, India have also effected more run outs – 8, to England’s 5.

Of course – they haven’t been playing on the same pitches, so it might not be wise to read too much into this. Our inside info on the pitch at Lords suggests there should be good runs in it; but as for who will prevail on the day, as the Australia v India semi-final showed, all it takes sometimes is one special performance – it could be anybody’s game!

Batting Team Matches Runs Strike Rate
1. Nat Sciver England 8 318 115.63
2. Sarah Taylor England 8 351 103.84
3. Harmanpreet Kaur India 8 308 104.05
4. Tammy Beaumont England 8 387 78.02
5. Heather Knight England 8 363 81.57
6. Mithali Raj India 8 392 71.01
7. Smriti Mandhana India 8 232 95.86
8. Punam Raut India 8 295 65.55
9. Fran Wilson England 7 159 103.24
10. Veda Krishnamurthy India 5 118 115.68
11. Deepti Sharma India 8 202 57.54
12. Katherine Brunt England 8 117 80.68
13. Danni Wyatt England 5 81 112.5
14. Jenny Gunn England 6 100 76.92
15. Lauren Winfield England 6 93 61.18
16. Laura Marsh England 4 37 142.3
17. Sushma Verma India 8 51 87.93
18. Jhulan Goswami India 8 68 53.54
19. Anya Shrubsole England 8 27 128.57
20. Ekta Bisht India 6 14 87.5
21. Mona Meshram India 3 24 35.82
22. Shikha Pandey India 6 7 77.77
23. Mansi Joshi India 2 6 60
24. Poonam Yadav India 8 6 54.54
25. Dani Hazell England 5 4 50
26. Alex Hartley England 7 2 28.57

Batting Ranking = Runs * Strike Rate

Bowling Team Matches Wickets Economy
1. Deepti Sharma India 8 12 4.75
2. Poonam Yadav India 8 9 3.90
3. Shikha Pandey India 6 8 3.69
4. Ekta Bisht India 6 9 4.39
5. Alex Hartley England 7 8 3.93
6. Heather Knight England 8 8 4.81
7. Jhulan Goswami India 8 7 4.48
8. Laura Marsh England 4 6 4.00
9. Nat Sciver England 8 7 4.83
10. Katherine Brunt England 8 5 3.78
11. Anya Shrubsole England 8 6 4.60
12. Rajeshwari Gayakwad India 2 6 4.66
13. Dani Hazell England 5 6 5.54
14. Jenny Gunn England 6 5 4.75
15. Harmanpreet Kaur India 8 5 5.12
16. Mansi Joshi India 2 2 4.02

Bowling Ranking = Wickets / Economy

WORLD CUP FINAL: How Big A Deal Is The Sell-Out At Lords?

Yesterday, during one of the most nail-biting games of cricket I have ever seen, it was announced that this World Cup will culminate in a sell-out final at Lord’s.

It’s being proclaimed as a “record-breaking finale” for the tournament. But just how big a deal is it for the women’s game?

Here’s some statistics to put it into perspective:

1. Attendance at previous World Cup finals held in England:

  • 1973 at Edgbaston: 1500 spectators
  • 1993 at Lords: 5000 spectators

2. Previous women’s internationals held in England which have sold out:

  • 2013 and 2015 England v Australia T20s at Chelmsford: 6500 spectators
  • 2015 England v Australia T20 at Hove: 7000 spectators

3. Previous highest attendance at a women’s international match in England:

  • 1951 England v Australia Test match at The Oval: 15,000 spectators

4. The record attendance at a Women’s World Cup match:

  • 1997 World Cup final: 80,000 spectators*
  • (*But it should be noted that these were not all paying spectators. Most of them had been bussed in by the Sports Minister of West Bengal in a specially commandeered fleet of 1600 buses.)

5. Lords 2017:

  • Overall, more than 26,500 spectators are expected to be in attendance on Sunday. England will be playing either Australia or India in front of a sell-out crowd – the majority of whom have purchased tickets in order to be able to attend.

Just take a minute to digest that.

It’s a very, very big deal.

T20 CUP: Berkshire v Middlesex v Surrey

On a warm day that threatened showers at North Maidenhead Cricket Club, Surrey fought hard to remain out of the T20 Cup relegation zone, coming away with two wins, while home team Berkshire struggled to stay in contention.

Berkshire v Middlesex

In the first game of the day Middlesex beat Berkshire easily by 56 runs after Beth Morgan starred with the bat, scoring 53.

Berkshire, having won the toss and chosen to field, had made early inroads thanks to some excellent fielding – a great low catch by Ashley Muttitt at midwicket sending Tash Miles packing in the third over of the day, with fellow opener Naomi Dattani falling two overs later for 14, run out by a direct hit from Emily Cunningham at mid on.

But that brought Morgan to the crease, and she was not slow to get going, hitting Berkshire captain Lissy Macleod’s two overs for 10 and 11 runs respectively. By the time she was dismissed in the 20th over, driving a ball of Emma Walker’s straight to Macleod at mid on, she had hit 53 off 41 balls – the only player to finish with a strike rate of over 100. Her partnership of 42 with Amara Carr for the 5th wicket formed the backbone of the Middlesex innings, and ensured they finished on 140-7.

It was always going to be a tough ask for Berkshire to chase down the runs, and they did not help themselves, with two suicidal run outs in the first three overs. Carla Rudd (25) was the only Berkshire batsman to really look comfortable at the crease, but the runs were slow to come – Berkshire not reaching 50 until the 14th over – and, with Middlesex’s Sophia Dunkley (3-7) mopping up the tail, the home side ultimately fell way short of their target.

Middlesex v Surrey

An all-round performance from Hannah Jones carried Surrey to victory against Middlesex in the second match of the day.

Having been put in to bat, Middlesex’s Tash Miles made a solid start on her way to top-scoring with 29, but Naomi Dattani struggled to get bat on ball, eventually dismissed for 2 off 10 balls. Hannah Jones then entered the fray to take the crucial wickets of Sophia Dunkley and Beth Morgan, the latter to a brilliant one-handed catch by Cecily Scutt. A quick 20 off 16 balls from Maia Boucher took Middlesex past 100… just… as they finished on 102-6.

Surrey were soon in trouble as birthday-girl Sophia Dunkley reduced them to 5-2 in the very first over; but a brief interruption for rain handed Surrey a crucial advantage as, with no Duckworth Lewis, the target was reduced by 5 without having to account for wickets. The fight-back was on, led by Jones who finished 26*, supported by Amy Gordon (16 off 17 balls), as Surrey reached the revised target with 1 ball to spare.

Speaking after the game, Morgan praised the “sensible approach” of Hannah Jones, and said that her side had mixed feelings about the day overall:

“We’re very happy with how we played in the first game, but we know we under-performed against Surrey, despite the rain helping us – it made the ball skid on a little bit.”

“We’re disappointed – we probably should have gone away with two wins, but Hannah Jones batted very sensibly.”

— Syd Egan

Berkshire v Surrey

In the final game of the day, a dominant Surrey strode to victory by 10 wickets within the space of 10 overs despite the best efforts of Carla Rudd (41).

Rudd, opening in place of Sherisa Gumbs – who had retired hurt after diving to try to make her ground in the first game – once again carried the team’s batting, with none of her teammates making it into double figures. It meant that Berkshire struggled to post a competitive total, finishing on 83-6 in their 20 overs.

For Surrey, victory was always well within their sights, and so it proved. While Bryony Smith experienced some good fortune – dropped at midwicket while still on 0*, and caught off a Lauren Bell no-ball – the efforts of the Berkshire bowlers were ultimately fruitless, with both Smith (34*) and opening partner Kirstie White (27*) seeing Surrey safely home.

Afterwards Surrey captain Cecily Scutt said that she had been pleased with her team’s performance:

“We stuck to our plans today and with the bowling especially, executed them. Batting, we had talked a bit about partnerships, and we’re starting to see some of the younger girls coming in and doing a bit.

Hannah [Jones] has been bowling really well, and taking lots of wickets. She’s tight, she sticks to her line and plays really positively with the bat – she’s starting to enjoy it a lot, which is really good to see.”

The final round of T20s takes place on July 30th.

OPINION: Australia Have An Ellyse Perry Problem

I never thought I’d say this, but… Australia have an Ellyse Perry Problem.

Perry with the bat: superb, glorious, a run-machine. Batting at number 4 for Australia she averages 83.83.

Perry with the ball: nothing special. She has 5 wickets so far in this World Cup, all of which came against West Indies and Sri Lanka. Against New Zealand, Pakistan and England her figures were 0-58, 0-24 and 0-31 respectively.

Four years ago, at the 2013 World Cup, Perry was Australia’s star bowler. Her 3 wickets for 19 runs in the final, as she limped in to give everything for her side, were crucial. As recently as the 2015 women’s Ashes series, she was their leading wicket taker.

She is no longer the same bowler.

This Ellyse Perry can only bowl in 3-over spells. This Ellyse Perry has to bat at 4, sometimes (like yesterday) even at 3, and she is tired. Too often since she was promoted up the order the weight has been entirely on her shoulders: opening the bowling, and then coming in when the openers have both been dismissed cheaply, and doing the hard graft.

Meg Lanning – the consummate professional in press conferences – denies there is a problem. “She can bowl long spells definitely,” she says. “[Bowling her in short spells] is more about the game situation really… It’s just the way that it’s panned out so far.”

Wrong. There is a problem, and Lanning knows it.

Yesterday, bowling in the nets before the England match, Perry couldn’t even muster a run up – she just stepped in off two paces to deliver the ball.

Yesterday, Perry went for 31 runs. She only bowled 7 overs – the last one the 34th, when she was tonked for six by Tammy Beaumont.

Does it matter? It hadn’t before yesterday. Australia had 4 wins from 4 games at this World Cup. But it is starting to.

Australia’s weakness coming into this World Cup was always going to be their pace bowling. Lanning may deny it, but the retirement of Rene Farrell in April and the injury to 18-year-old Lauren Cheatle means they are not exactly overrun with pace options right now. Effectively, with Perry struggling, they are one pace bowler short – quite a burden for Megan Schutt, who wasn’t even selected against Pakistan.

Who are Australia left with? Elyse Villani, apparently, who in the match against England yesterday leaked 42 runs from her 5 overs. Out of options, Lanning even brought her on to bowl the 50th. It went for 13 runs (including 2 wides).

Elyse Villani is a part-time, couple-of-overs-in-the-middle if you want a bit of a change bowler. She is not, and never will be in a million years, a death bowler. Using her as one frankly suggests that all is not rosy in the Australian camp.

So what’s the answer?

Of course you don’t drop Ellyse Perry. If there was one rule of thumb in women’s cricket, it would be: you never drop Ellyse Perry. But why not play her as a batsman only? As Lanning herself acknowledges: “She’d hold her own in the side as a batter.”

It may mean bringing in Sarah Aley, who is probably good enough to enjoy a late-onset international career. It may mean bringing in Belinda Vakarewa. Maybe it means focusing on spin, at the expense of pace. It does mean that you stop tasking Perry with something which she isn’t doing very well anymore. Something which just seems to be making her tired.

The loss to England should tell Australia something important: if they’re going to go on and win this World Cup, they need to sort out their Ellyse Perry problem.

And they need to do it soon.

#WWC17 Half Term Report Cards

At the half-way(ish) point in this World Cup, who’s top of the class… and who is in the corner with the dunce’s cap?

Team Played Won N/R Points NRR
Australia 4 4 0 8 1.35
India 4 4 0 8 0.91
England 4 3 0 6 1.51
New Zealand 4 2 1 5 1.52
South Africa 4 2 1 5 1.17
Sri Lanka 4 0 0 0 -1.17
Pakistan 4 0 0 0 -2.05
West Indies 4 0 0 0 -2.71

Australia
The Southern Stars head the table, having won all their games, but somehow without ever looking entirely convincing. Their saving grace is their long batting line-up – even if they find themselves 5-down, they’ve still got Alyssa Healy to come in and smash a half century at a Strike Rate of over 150, as she did against Pakistan; but sooner or later they are going to come up against someone who won’t let them off the hook for scoring just 18 runs in the powerplay, as Pakistan did that day. In fact if I was an Australian fan, I might actually be hoping that they lose to England this weekend, because this team have a loss in them somewhere, and if it isn’t now, it might just be at Lords in two Sundays time!
Grade: A

India
India played 14 ODIs in the 12 months leading into this World Cup, losing just one of them, and it shows! Yes, they were mainly against lower-ranked sides, including 3 hammerings of a very young Ireland team in South Africa; but winning is a habit, and one that has continued here, as their opening victory against England has set the tone for 4 wins and no losses. Then there is Smriti Mandhana – she only played 3 of those 14 ODIs, due to injury, but she has come back with some big, classical runs; and if anyone looks ready to grace “The Home of Cricket” in that final, it is this 20-year-old prodigy.
Grade: A

England
England were lucky with the program after the opening loss to India allowed them to regroup with matches against the two weakest sides coming into the tournament, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The real test was South Africa, and their batsmen passed it with ease – plundering 373 runs from their world-leading bowling attack. But… but… their bowlers then proceeded to allow South Africa’s most-definitely not world-leading batting lineup to take over 300 off them in return; and it is clear that overall the bowling – particularly the much-vaunted opening partnership of Shrubsole and Brunt – is not quite hitting the high notes for whatever reason, and that has to be a worry when it comes to the crunch.
Grade: B

New Zealand
After a slightly scratchy opening win against Sri Lanka, where they looked rusty in particular in the field, New Zealand are starting to come together. Yes, they lost to Australia, but it was a close-run thing in the end, and there were big positives to take from that game: the bowling of Amelia Kerr – no one will ever play her without a little trepidation again, after the way she did Meg Lanning and Elyse Villani; and then their win against the West Indies, where Rachel Priest got things back on track with the big, quick runs that the White Ferns need from her.
Grade: B

South Africa
The Women Proteas are another side who have played a lot of ODIs in the past year – a whopping 31 of them prior to #WWC17. (England played just 9 in the same period.) They have a bowling attack which actually merits the word “attack” and their slaughter of the West Indies for 48 has shown that you can’t underestimate them; but are they the unlucky team that have the best bowling unit in a batsman’s World Cup? The weather gods probably did them a favour by handing them a draw against New Zealand, but New Zealand have already ground-down the NRR advantage the big win against West Indies gave them, and they still have Australia and India yet to play, so a semi-final spot remains a big ask; but what they have done here already is prove that they indeed belong among the “Top” sides.
Grade: B

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka… if they were honest with themselves… probably expected to be bottom at this stage of the tournament, so in a way they have definitely over-performed, despite not winning a match. Chamari Atapattu hit a half-century to make a game of it versus New Zealand, and then followed-up with that huge 178* against Australia – currently the biggest knock of #WWC17. They put on 200 against England, and then came closer than India would have liked to causing an upset in their match, finishing just 16 short.
Grade: D

Pakistan
After coming close to taking advantage of South Africa’s batting fragilities in their opening game – the closest match of the tournament so far – they have struggled. They are very, very dependent on Sana Mir to prop things up with both the bat and the ball, but at 31 she won’t go on for ever, and what they do then… goodness only knows!
Grade: E

West Indies
Who could have predicted that the West Indies would be taking an early flight home from #WWC17? Well… to be fair… anyone who looked at their recent stats, which make the World T20 win look more like a blip than the start of something – and so it is proving here. Their stars – Stafanie Taylor, Deandra Dottin and Hayley Matthews – aren’t firing – none of their batsmen has hit a 50 yet; whilst their bowlers can’t buy a wicket – they have taken just 7 in the tournament so far.
Grade: F

OPINION: Should I Stay Or Should I Go? Career Opportunities In The Women’s Game

In the past year or so, we’ve heard quite a lot about the new opportunities available in women’s cricket – players are paid to play and can now have a career in the game.

Some of the recent discussion has focused on a certain young South African – just finishing school – who has ambitions to be a doctor: cricket, it has been suggested, now offers her a real career choice… but does it?

That player could go to medical school now and have the guarantee of a settled, extremely well-paid job for the rest of her life.

On the other hand, she could choose cricket. She would have 10-12 years playing the game she loves, and she’d be earning a salary, but unless things take another dramatic turn for the better not a huge one, so she probably wouldn’t be able to save much over that time. She’d reach the age of 30 with very little in the bank, and the opportunities she once had at 18 long closed-off.

The problem is that what cricket currently offers women is really a “living” not a “career” – and whilst it is true that professional sport is always a bit of a roll of the dice, at least in the men’s game those who roll a three or a four will have several years of earning a substantial salary – not a fortune, but enough to buy a house outright and nurture a little nest-egg for their families; whilst those who roll a six and make it to their national teams or the IPL will never need to work again.

The women’s game is still an entire tier below that – of the current generation of players, you can count the number who will never need to work again on the fingers of one finger – it is literally one – whilst the rest, including all the other top internationals, will leave the field in their early 30s with very little but memories to pay the rent.

The opportunity to earn a living playing cricket is an amazing privilege; but it is still a choice – cricket or a career – it isn’t… yet… a career in cricket.