NEWS: England Beaten By The Rain… Again… In Brisbane

With the Women’s Ashes starting on Sunday, England suffered another exasperating day in Brisbane, as their second ODI warm-up was rained-off without a ball being bowled.

Following Monday’s severely curtailed match against a young Australia XI, England were due to take on the local WNCL team – the Queensland Fire – but the rain meant the players were unable to take the field.

Head Coach Mark Robinson said: “It’s obviously hugely frustrating but there isn’t much you can do about the weather. We’re itching to be out on grass and be competitive.”

England’s only consolation is that Australia’s own preparations have been similarly affected, as they too have struggled to get time in the middle, with their match against the Fire also totally washed-out, and then their game against the youngsters abandoned after 30 overs.

We are told England are still hopeful of scheduling another warm-up prior to Sunday’s 1st ODI, which starts at just after midnight UK time.

NEWS: England Warm-Up Abandoned Due To Rain

The first of England’s two “official” Women’s Ashes ODI warm-ups – against a young “Cricket Australia XI” – was abandoned due to rain in Brisbane.

England named 12 players – adding Sophie Ecclestone to the XI they fielded in the World Cup final at Lords – but Ecclestone didn’t even get a chance to bowl a ball, as the match was rained-off after just 18.1 overs.

With Australia having won the toss and chosen to bat, Katherine Brunt took the early wickets of Sophie Molineux and Katie Mack, before Georgia Redmayne and Heather Graham dug-in to take the Aussies to 67-2. Graham was Caught & Bowled by Laura Marsh for 28, bringing Nicola Carey to the crease, but not for long, as the rain set in and play was abandoned, with Australia on 77-3.

England will get another warm-up chance on Wednesday against the same opposition, prior to the 1st ODI next Sunday.

THE GREAT DEBATE: Women’s Tests – The Case In Favour

Heather Knight has just won a World Cup. But if you ask her to tell you about her favourite innings for England, she will tell you straight: it was making 157 in the 2013 Ashes Test match at Wormsley. “It was the making of me as a player,” she told me in a recent interview.

There are many reasons not to abandon women’s Test match cricket. I have previously articulated them here. TLDR:

  1. Multi-day cricket provides a tactical and physical challenge different to any other format. When else will female players get the chance to bat for an entire day?
  2. Women’s Tests have been played since 1934 – ODIs have only been played since 1973, T20Is since 2004. History matters in women’s cricket just as much as in the men’s version.
  3. Are you a fan of men’s Tests? If we let women’s Test cricket die, you can bet that men’s Test cricket won’t be far behind. England, Australia and New Zealand Women have all been playing Test cricket far longer than men’s teams from Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

But perhaps the most important reason is the attitude of the players themselves.

Mithali Raj recently captained her team to the final of a World Cup, but even at an event celebrating that very fact, she was quoted as saying the following: “Test matches are the ultimate test for cricketers, whether it is your temperament, skill or endurance… I feel Test matches should be played as frequently as limited over games because they churn out quality players.”

Suzie Bates, one of the most talented female cricketers there has ever been, made her debut back in 2006; she has played in global finals, was Player of the Tournament at the 2013 World Cup, but when she retires there is one thing she will rue, despite everything: “Probably as I’ve got older I feel a bit cheated that I haven’t had the opportunity to play in a Test… Test matches are the pinnacle of cricket.”

If you get the chance, just ask any of the players in the England Ashes squad right now – a squad who have just won a World Cup – what it is that they are most excited about this winter. They will all tell you the same thing: the four-day encounter against the old enemy at the North Sydney Oval. Putting on that white shirt with the three lions. That’s what they will all be hoping they get to do.

Richard Clark makes an excellent point: the players know limited overs cricket far better than they know Test match cricket. But the answer isn’t to throw away the oldest – the pinnacle – format. The answer is to play more Tests.

Over to you, ICC.

THE GREAT DEBATE: Women’s Tests – The Case Against

By Richard Clark

With the Kia Super League done and dusted, all eyes are now turning to this winter’s Women’s Ashes in Australia, and the prospects of Mark Robinson’s squad regaining the trophy Australia took on these shores in 2015 to sit nicely on the mantelpiece alongside the World Cup.

As with the last three Ashes battles, the series will be decided over a multi-format campaign, involving three One-Day Internationals, followed by a four-day Test Match, and ending with three T20 games.

It’s a format that may be considered “tried and tested” to a point, albeit with some tweaks along the way – the Test Match has been moved from the beginning to the middle of the programme since it was first introduced in 2013, and has also been “downgraded” from six points to four to decrease the emphasis on one match.

The question that occurs to me, however, is “Why?”

Why is there a Test Match?

England’s women cricketers play nothing other than “short form cricket” – be it for their clubs, counties or internationally – other than during the Ashes (barring the one-off Test against India in 2014). Likewise the Australians, as far as I am aware. Whilst Tests are still considered (rightly) to be the pinnacle of the men’s game, they are virtually alien to the women’s version.

For any player making her debut in this winter’s Test – and there will be a few on both sides – this will almost certainly be their first experience of coming back the next day (and the next, and the next) to continue a match. It will be the first time they field all day, or attempt to play a “long” innings. And that’s before we throw in the floodlit aspect, too!

That won’t necessarily make for a poor match, of course. The 2013/14 Test – played in Perth – was a captivating tussle. Lowish scoring, perhaps, but fiercely contested, and in doubt until the final morning. It ebbed and flowed as Test Match cricket should, and there were key performances from Kate Cross and Nat Sciver that “announced” their arrivals.

The Test at Canterbury in 2015, however, was (and I’m a fan of women’s cricket, remember) fairly awful to watch, and to describe it as a poor advertisement for the game would be a kindness. It seemed clear that England in particular looked rudderless in their approach the game. Whilst some of the blame for that could be laid at the coach’s door, that only tells part of the story. Sheer inexperience paid a huge part.

So why play Tests? I can think of only two reasons. Firstly, because it’s what we’ve always done – the Women’s Ashes were exclusively Test-based until 2011, and a Test has been part of the three series since. Secondly, the multi-format series is the “USP” – it’s what marks the Women’s Ashes out from ANY other cricket contest, men’s or women’s (yes, I know the men have used it but it was largely ignored as a concept by all and sundry).

Are either of those arguments enough? I can’t think of another sport that uses such an alien format in one of its highest profile contests – apart, perhaps, from the foursomes segment of Golf’s Ryder Cup. Nobody would expect footballers to turn up every four years and play five-a-side for the World Cup!

It would undoubtedly be a huge shame not to see a Test Match on the calendar, but if we really want the players to produce a contest befitting the Trophy then surely they should be playing what they know best, and that is limited overs cricket.

(Tomorrow Raf Nicholson will present The Case In Favour).

INTERVIEW: Western Storm and Wales’ Claire Nicholas Reflects On KSL Victory

Ffion Wynne talks to Claire Nicholas.

Claire Nicholas was quite a remarkable and unique find of the second edition of the KSL – at 30 years old, a professional contract at such a late stage of her career came completely out of the blue, but the opportunity was one that she simply could not turn down. Nicholas, who has played all of her county cricket for Wales, comments upon the instrumental role of Western Storm’s Head Coach Trevor Griffin in her experience, due to his understanding of her different lifestyle to the other members of the squad. ‘I found fitting in training, conditioning and gym work all very challenging,’ she explains, ‘mainly due to the fact that I was holding down a full time job and bringing up a young family.’ This challenge did not restrict Nicholas, however, as she was trusted with the new ball by captain Heather Knight and finished with 5 wickets at an impressive economy of 5.92.

This responsibility of opening the bowling was described by Nicholas as her biggest challenge during the competition, due to the calibre of the players to whom she bowled (Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine and Hayley Matthews, to name a few!) and the fact that it was a very new role for her to fulfil. Nicholas names Devine (Yorkshire Diamonds) as the most difficult batsman she came up against during the competition, as she was dispatched for two consecutive sixes during her early spell, but the leadership of Knight allowed her to demonstrate resilience, change her plans and control the situation much more effectively.

The influence of the international stars, combined with the support of the coaching staff, also had a vital impact upon Nicholas’ performances, demonstrating the significance of the KSL in developing county players and providing them with an incredible opportunity to play with and against the world’s leading cricketers. ‘They brought so much experience, professionalism and character to the squad,’ Nicholas describes, ‘and I had to pinch myself during my first training session when I bowled at the likes of Heather Knight, Stafanie Taylor and Rachel Priest. They really inspired us non-international players to raise our own games to compete with them, and I have learnt so much that I hope to pass on to players in Wales.’

The inclusion of two Welsh players in the Storm squad (batsman Lauren Parfitt was also involved in their winning campaign) gives Nicholas great hope for the future of the county as she aims to inspire the younger generation to follow in their footsteps. ‘Cricket Wales is fantastic in its setup and the level of coaching that we receive as players is second to none. Now that Lauren and I have made that vital step into KSL cricket, it paves the way for others to do the same and I have no doubt we will see plenty more Welsh players involved in the future.’

The whole experience was surreal from start to finish for Nicholas, having been initially astonished to be given the opportunity to play professional cricket to finishing eventual winners, and playing a vital part in that success nonetheless. After their initial thrashing at the hands of 2016 winners Southern Vipers (having been bowled out for just 70), very few would have predicted that Storm would eventually win the competition, claiming revenge against Vipers in the process. Nicholas commends Knight’s strong leadership for the turnaround, highlighting her decision-making and the faith that she showed in all her players in difficult situations as the deciding factor in their victory, alongside monumental performances from Rachel Priest and Stafanie Taylor,

Storm’s county players also played a significant role in the team’s victory. ‘We all had to raise our game to contribute to the team’s success. From Sophie Luff’s countless dives on the boundary to save valuable runs, to Georgia Hennessy’s crowd-pleasing sixes, we all chipped in at some point to get us over the line,’ Nicholas states. ‘Away from cricket, we all got on so well as a team, which I also think was instrumental in our success. We grew as a team, and this allowed Trevor and the coaching staff to get the best out of us as a unit.’

After such a successful first taste of professional cricket, Nicholas is already looking forward to the challenges that next season will bring. Let’s hope that the next edition of the KSL will draw attention to plenty more county players aiming to make their mark in the competition.