OPINION: The 100 Is English Cricket’s Vietnam

“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,” an American general is reported to have said in the wake of the annihilation of the city of Ben Tre during the Vietnam War in 1968.

There were really two disclosures made yesterday by the ECB, as they revealed details of The 100 – the new City “T20”.

  1. The 100-ball format
  2. The disbanding of the Kia Super League

The second of these announcements had been widely expected – the news last September that Kia’s sponsorship of the competition would be extended only until 2019 was an omen which was effectively confirmed by a job description posted on the ECB’s web site in December. The suggestion that one of the KSL coaches didn’t know anything about it is frankly bizarre, considering that players in New Zealand did.

However, on a personal level, this official confirmation is still massively disappointing. We invested in the Super League – with our time, our hearts – and now it is being torn up in our faces.

It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.

Did it?

Time will tell, but try saying that to the Western Storm fans and the Loughborough Lightning fans as you try to get them excited about teams that simply won’t exist any more in two years time.

If the KSL had been a failure – if it had gotten county-sized crowds and no wider coverage – we could understand.

But it wasn’t a failure – it was a fantastic success. The atmosphere at Hove for Finals Day last year was positively bubbling. With three-and-a-half thousand people packed into the county ground, the pressure was so great that it actually broke one of the players; and there were correspondents there from the BBC, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Times and more.

This is really something, I remember thinking – this is what top level sport is – not the sleepy village of county cricket, but the hustling and bustling of a city filled with life!

And now…?

It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.

But if we thought the the disbanding of the KSL was a kick in the guts, we were really not prepared for “The 100” – the 100-ball format, which doesn’t divide into any number of overs, and leaves 10 “mystery” balls to be distributed somehow, like baubles on a TV game-show.

The concept is so bizarre that when we first read the headline, we assumed it was about a new recreational format – some sort of Last Man Standing / Prosecco Cricket affair to try to get the grass-roots buzzing.

And then the reality sank in – this isn’t a late April Fool; they are actually serious. They want to literally break cricket – re-write the laws which require 6-ball overs; re-write the scoreboards; re-write the statistics; and re-write history… until it just isn’t cricket any more.

It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.

Really?

Call me old-fashioned – the ECB will – but there are certain elements to cricket which are sacrosanct. Yes, we’ve had 4 ball overs in the distant past, and I actually remember 8 ball overs. [So… the distant past too? Ed.] But 6 has been the more general consensus for a long time now, and never have there been different lengths in the same game.

And what did cricket need saving from, anyway? The game itself isn’t the problem – look at the IPL and the BBL/WBBL for models of success, without changing one of the most fundamental rules.

It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.

Well… the Americans did destroy the town… and then another town… and then another… to “save” them.

But they failed.

And this will too… possibly taking the whole game with it.

See also: 100-Ball Cricket A Nuclear Disaster For The Women’s Game

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OPINION: 100-Ball Cricket A Nuclear Disaster For The Women’s Game

Today the ECB have announced that what we thought would be the new city T20 franchise league will actually be an 8-team domestic competition played according to the totally-not-tried-and-tested format of 100-ball cricket.

Today the ECB have not only thrown common sense to the winds but appear to have entirely ditched their commitment to developing women’s cricket.

We already knew that the end of the Kia Super League was probably nigh: the lure of a brand new T20 competition, to be played in an aligned way with the new men’s franchises according to the BBL / WBBL model that has been so successful in Australia, was too strong to resist.

In itself that hurt. We – and by that I mean not just CRICKETher but the administrators, the fans, the coaches and the players – had poured our hearts and souls into the KSL. We wanted to make it work, and it did: audiences in their thousands, including nearly 3500 spectators at last year’s Hove Finals Day, were finally paying attention to domestic cricket.

But we could deal with the hurt, because we thought that maybe something better, or at least equally good, was coming.

How wrong we were.

This new 100-ball format, the ECB says, will provide “clear differentiation from other competitions” and be “distinct from the popular Vitality Blast”. The fact that the new competition will blast a nuclear hole through the women’s domestic pathway in England is not so much glossed over as ignored completely.

KSL is the only top-level T20 cricket that our domestic players get. There is a county T20 tournament, but the two competitions are frankly incomparable. The Super League is a paid competition which features the best players from all over the world. The women’s county T20 competition is amateur, unpaid, and short-lived, with each side playing a maximum of 7 games a season. For that reason it tends not to attract overseas players.

And yet this, from 2020, is what we will be left with: all players below England level having 7 T20 games a season to learn the format that is at the fundamental heart of women’s international cricket. It is farcical.

Clare Connor states in the press release that for women players this competition represents “an exciting stage upon which to display their talent”. But will players like Sophie Devine and Meg Lanning really want to come to England to play “100-ball cricket”? Why would they? Do the ICC have plans to introduce a 100-ball World Cup?

3 years ago, when plans for the Super League were first announced, I was so excited. I wrote that there was “much to celebrate, and much to look forward to”. It felt like the development of the women’s game was being made a priority.

Today, as I read incredulously through the ECB’s press release, all I could see was the total lack of consideration that those high up making these decisions have given to the women’s game. Make no mistake: for women’s cricket, 100-ball cricket is a nuclear disaster waiting to happen.

See also: The 100 Is English Cricket’s Vietnam

Chestertons Give-Away – 1,000 Tickets for Middlesex v MCC at Lord’s

Chestertons, one of London’s top estate agents, is giving away 1,000 tickets to see a historic match at Lord’s Cricket Ground to celebrate its new sponsorship of women’s cricket at Middlesex Cricket.

On Tuesday 24 April Middlesex Women will play a Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) side captained by former England skipper Charlotte Edwards at Lord’s. It will be the first time in their history that Middlesex Women have played on the main ground at Lord’s – ‘The Home of Cricket’ – and fans are being given the chance to claim one of the thousand tickets that Chestertons has pledged to give out.

The 1,000 tickets will be given to the first people to visit: http://bit.ly/chestertons-womens-cricket and enter their details. They will join what is expected to be the biggest ever audience of a domestic women’s cricket match in England. The current (modern*) record stands at 3,413 but over 5,000 are expected at Lord’s on the 24 April, including thousands of children from local schools.

Middlesex Women is the latest team to benefit from Chestertons’ support of women’s sport. In 2015, the agent announced sponsorship of London Welsh Women and in 2017 it was instrumental in securing the first female captain of an England polo team, Hazel Jackson, at Chestertons Polo in the Park.

Giles Milner, Head of Marketing and Sponsorships, commented: “We’re very excited to be sponsoring women’s cricket, a fast emerging sport that had a huge boost last summer when England won the ICC Women’s World Cup at Lord’s. The tide has definitely turned for women’s sport in general, with attendance, publicity and awareness growing quickly, and we are proud to be at the front of it in London.”

Over recent years, Chestertons has emerged as one of the most diverse supporters of sport, culture and charity in London, sponsoring a range of events, teams, institutions and initiatives from Chestertons Polo in the Park, now the biggest three-day polo tournament in the world; the Royal Academy of Arts and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Richmond Cricket Club; St Mungo’s homeless charity; and has even started curating its own programme of niche art events, Chestertons Art Programme.

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* 15,000 people once watched Yorkshire Women v Lancashire Women, but that was in a place called “History”, which was a really long time ago** so we’ll let them off!

** 1949 to be precise – at Roundhay Park in Leeds!

INTERVIEW: Alex Blackwell speaks about retirement, captaincy and being a “respectful agitator”

If there is one thing Alex Blackwell is known for, it is speaking up for what she believes in. When I interview her weeks on from the announcement of her retirement from international cricket, it is this that comes across most clearly. “I’ve got my own moral compass and values that make me as a person,” she says. “I can’t be anyone else other than myself.”

As still one of very few female cricketers who has felt able to be open about her sexuality – she married her partner, former England cricketer Lynsey Askew, in 2015 – Blackwell is keen to encourage others in the sport to follow in her footsteps. “What I’ve tried to do is break the silence. From my point of view I feel like while athletes are really comfortable to be themselves in their closed circles that’s wonderful, but there seems to be a bit of a silence about who people really are outside the sport.”

“It’s not always going to be possible for individuals to be completely transparent, but I do want to endorse that teams should continue to strive to be really inclusive and really welcoming, and celebrate everyone’s differences, because that gets the best out of those individuals and teams in terms of performance.”

This was one of the key reasons, she says, why she chose to come out publicly about her relationship with Lynsey. “I knew that being my whole, authentic and transparent self in every aspect of my life was going to allow me to perform better. And I honestly believe that without being my true self I wouldn’t have reached the heights I have.”

They are quite some heights. Blackwell first represented Australia in 2003, as a 19 year old. She was part of 5 World Cup winning teams and finished her career with 5250 runs to her name and 251 caps across all three formats, the most of any Australian female cricketer, ever. Just last summer she almost (but not quite) turned the 2017 World Cup semi-final on its head, in a record-breaking 10th-wicket partnership with Kristen Beams. She cites the 90 runs she made in that match as “probably her best ever effort with the bat for Australia”.

Recently ranked as the fifth best batsman in world cricket, her retirement rather took everyone by surprise; but she says it was the culmination of a lengthy thought process. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for many years. Before the Ashes series in 2015 I was thinking, ‘could this be my last series?’ It could have been.”

She is, understandably, tight-lipped when I broach the subject of the appointment of Rachael Haynes ahead of Blackwell as stand-in captain for Meg Lanning during last year’s World Cup and Ashes series. She seems sanguine about the whole affair: “Captaincy’s not something that anyone has the right to,” she says. “It’s a decision that was made and the team just has to get on with doing the best job in whatever role they have.” But she was, after all, Australia’s official vice-captain, had done the deputy’s job for 7 years, and had led Australia to victory in the 2010 WWT20, standing in for Jodie Fields.

She says she is “very proud” of what she achieved as captain of both Australia and the New South Wales Breakers, who she captained to 7 state titles. What she doesn’t say is that her record as captain speaks for itself – which only makes last year’s decision all the odder.

I question whether she would still have retired, had the decision gone differently. “That’s an impossible question for me to answer,” is the response. It remains a baffling decision.

Retirement, though, seems to have opened up numerous opportunities for Blackwell. “I feel good about it,” she says. “I’ve been really busy. I’ve done quite a few speaking gigs and various events. I spoke at SBS, which is a TV broadcaster and they’re huge on diversity. I was on a panel with Matt Mitcham, an Olympic gold medallist, and Casey Conway, a former rugby league player, talking about the inclusion of LGBTI people in sport and the workplace. And I got 2 VIP tickets to watch the Sydney Mardi Gras. It was in its 40th year but also marriage equality occurred in the year gone by so it was particularly special.”

She was described in a recent interview with Gideon Haigh as a “quiet radical” – but how would Blackwell herself like to be remembered? “As a respectful agitator,” she says. “As someone who had strong views, shared them, and helped the sport ultimately get better.”

Wherever she goes from here, that legacy seems already secure.

OPINION: England In India – Silver Medals, But Work To Do

If this was the Commonwealth Games – currently taking place in Gold Coast, Australia – then England flying home from India with two silver medals in their bags might be thought quite a creditable achievement.

But it isn’t – it is cricket – and coming second in the Tri-Series versus India and Australia, and then second again in the bilateral ODI series against India, is probably not what England ideally wanted.

Of course, there is an element of being able to argue that the end-results didn’t really matter – a throw-away T20 “cup” and 3 non-Championship ODIs are both things you can afford to lose – no one will remember these reversals if England go on to win the World T20 in the Caribbean in November.

It was also a weak England team, without Sarah Taylor and Katherine Brunt – and they were consciously “experimenting” by bringing in Bryony Smith, Alice Davidson-Richards and Katie George for the Tri-Series; and bedding-in a new ODI opening partnership, after Lauren Winfield’s slump in form made her continued position at the top of the order untenable.

The new opening partnership for the ODIs – with Danni Wyatt joining Tammy Beaumont up-top – was definitely a success, with 70+ partnerships for the 1st wicket in the 1st and 2nd ODIs – it will be a big surprise now if that is not the opening partnership we see this summer against New Zealand and South Africa.

Wyatt herself was with little doubt England’s star player on this tour, with 304 runs (across both series) at an average of 38, and a Strike Rate of 143; though it bears pointing out that India’s star – Smriti Mandhana – made a lot more runs (389) at a better average (78) with a Strike Rate also well over 100 (108) despite playing one less match.

Elsewhere in England’s batting line-up, Nat Sciver (180) and Tammy Beamont (200) made runs, as did Amy Jones (143), although of course most of them came in her “deserved a” 100 in the final ODI. But there have to be some concerns about Fran Wilson – averaging 19; whilst Heather Knight didn’t quite fire, making starts but not passing 40 on the tour; and Georgia Elwiss, drafted in for the ODIs, also had a tour she will probably want to forget, making 11 and 1.

With the ball, Sophie Ecclestone and Dani Hazell were England’s stand-out performers – Ecclestone taking 10 wickets at 4.5; and Hazell 9 wickets at 4.8 – both can probably start shopping for a trip to the West Indies in the autumn… though hopefully there won’t be too much time for them on the beach, as England will be too busy winning the thing!!

With Katherine Brunt home injured, and Anya Shrubsole also missing the T20s and still clearly working her way back to full match fitness in the ODIs, England experimented with various other quick bowlers, but we are unfortunately still no nearer to the answer of who our backups are for Brunt and Shrubsole when they are unavailable… or indeed who will replace 32-year-old Brunt longer-term.

Tash Farrant didn’t have a bad T20 series – she went at 8-an-over, but to be fair that seems to be the new normal, especially when you are playing Australia! She is not an “out and out” quick though, so England probably don’t see her as a long-term opener. Katie George is still clearly as raw as onions; whilst even at county, ADR is more of a batting than a bowling all-rounder. Meanwhile, Kate Cross can’t get a game, and Freya Davies can’t even get a plane ticket.

So what is the long term answer? I’m not sure England know! I’ll be accused of “wearing a Berkshire hat” here, but… Lauren Bell, possibly? She is rawer than George, but terrifyingly quick when she gets it right, and England’s coaches might just be hoping that Brunt can carry on for another 2 years until Bell is really ready.

OPINION: Wisden and Women – The Watershed Moment

I spend a lot of my life in the British Library, reading back editions of Wisden Cricketers Almanack. To get your hands on a copy, you have to go into the “Rare Books” reading room, sit in a special area and – as security – leave your readers card behind the issue desk. It’s the British Library’s equivalent of the Hope Diamond. The system reflects what most cricket fans know, instinctively, to be true: Wisden is special.

Today’s news – that 3 of the 5 Wisden Cricketers of the Year are women: Heather Knight, Nat Sciver and Anya Shrubsole – is also special.

The Almanack, published since 1864, did not feature women’s cricket until 1938; until then, one would have been hard-pushed, reading it, to see any evidence that women were playing the game at all. But they were, and in 1938 the editor Wilfred Brookes decided they warranted inclusion. “I found a good deal of support for the suggestion that some space should be given to women’s cricket,” he wrote.

“Some space” is perhaps an overstatement, implying something more than the reality: one page of the 1000-page volume would carry a women’s cricket report, having to cover – in approximately 500 words – the entire of the global and domestic women’s game in one calendar year.

Occasionally women broke through the barrier: in 1970, the first full page feature on women’s cricket was to be found, featuring leading England all-rounder Enid Bakewell, who in Australia in 1968/9 had become the first cricketer to score 1000 runs and take 100 wickets on tour. But such coverage was rare, to say the least.

Indeed the standing joke was that the women’s cricket page was to be found languishing near the back of the 1000-page volume, right next to the obituaries. Joking about it was the women’s cricket community’s way of shrugging off the fact that their achievements were often given less space than the Eton v Harrow fixture at Lords.

When Roedean School in Brighton submitted their averages for inclusion in the schools section of the 1991 edition, the editor Graeme Wright said they had presented him with “an editorial dilemma”. It was, apparently, shocking to believe that a girls public school might wish to feature alongside their male counterparts. (They were included, reluctantly, in the 1992 Almanack.)

Gradually in recent years more women have featured within the pages of the Almanack, including – in 2009 – the first woman to be featured as a Cricketer of the Year, Claire Taylor. Then editor Scyld Berry wrote that “there is no element of political correctness or publicity-seeking about her selection. The best cricketers in the country should be recognised, irrespective of gender.” Five years later, in 2014, Charlotte Edwards received the same honour. Still, though, a closer look at Almanacks in the decade between 2000 and 2010 reveals that more words were sometimes devoted to “cricketing wives” than any woman worthy of inclusion on her own merit.

It was not until 2015 that a full “women’s cricket” section was introduced, in the same year as the Leading Woman Cricketer in the World was inaugurated as a separate award – both the brainchild of current editor Lawrence Booth. Meg Lanning was the first recipient; Suzie Bates, Ellyse Perry and now Mithali Raj have followed in her footsteps.

Today, in 2018, we have women not just inside the pages of the “Bible of cricket”, but a triumphant Anya Shrubsole adorning the front cover as well.

There are many women in times gone by who would have been worthy Cricketers of the Year: Myrtle Maclagan, who hit the first ever century in an Ashes Test, in January 1935; Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, who in 1973 organised and starred in the first ever cricket World Cup; Cathryn Fitzpatrick, still the fastest bowler to have played the women’s game. To have ignored them has always been Wisden’s loss, not theirs.

Today, though, is a time to look forward, not back. This is not the end of the story for women’s cricketing equality – it never is – but it matters because Wisden matters. It represents – it is read by – the conservative cricketing establishment which ignored the women’s game for far too long. Suddenly, now a woman is on the cover, it becomes simply no longer possible to ignore women’s cricket. That’s worth celebrating.

NEWS: Lancashire Captain Fairclough Retires

Lancashire captain Megan Fairclough has announced her retirement from county cricket in order to pursue a new life with her partner in Milan.

Fairclough, who captained Lancashire to the T20 and County Championship Double last year, played 11 seasons for Lancashire, taking exactly 100 wickets for the county, with best figures of 4-9 versus Durham in 2015.

Fairclough took over the captaincy at a difficult time, following Lancashire’s ignominious relegation from Div 1 after losing all their matches in 2015; but she led them back to promotion again the following year, and then to their double-triumph in 2017.

Talking to the Bolton News, Fairclough said:

“I’m 26 years old, so it’s an early retirement. You never say never. If things change and I come back to the UK or go somewhere else more dominated by cricket, of course I’d look at playing again.”

“I wish the girls and the coaching staff all the best. I will be following from Milan.”

STATS: India v Australia v England Tri-Series – Bowling Rankings

This Tri-Series was a batsman’s paradise if ever there was one. Good pitches meant batsmen were rewarded – and bowlers punished – with an average run-rate of 8.09 runs an over across the whole tournament. As Martin Davies of Women’s Cricket Blog put it after the Aussies posted 209 against England: “Who’d be a bowler?”

In this environment, one bowler stood out above all the others – not only did Megan Schutt take more wickets than anyone else, but she did so at an Economy Rate of 6.28. Now 25 years of age, Schutt is practically middle-aged in cricketing terms, and like South Africa’s Marizanne Kapp seems to have figured out that having a plan… or perhaps more accurately having lots of plans, and sticking to them like superglue… is actually the bowler’s most valuable weapon of all.

Having been dropped in 2014, medium-fast seamer Delissa Kimmince made her come-back for the Southern Stars in the T20 round of the Women’s Ashes, and her performance on this tour to India has validated that recall, with 8 wickets at 7.76.

But will Kimmince be in Australia’s starting XI in the West Indies at the World T20? Well… an interesting point made by Snehal Pradhan on our recent podcast was that the pitches here have been very good and friendly to the quicker bowlers. Seamers dominate this list – unusually for a women’s tournament, especially one held in the sub-continent – but will the pitches be the same in the West Indies? Or will they be slow turners that produce a very different list come November?

Player Matches Wickets Economy
1. Megan Schutt (Australia) 5 9 6.28
2. Delissa Kimmince (Australia) 5 8 7.76
3. Ashleigh Gardner (Australia) 5 6 7.18
4. Jhulan Goswami (India) 4 5 7.90
5. Poonam Yadav (India) 4 4 7.20
6. Ellyse Perry (Australia) 5 4 7.94
7. Deepti Sharma (India) 3 4 8.22
8. Jenny Gunn (England) 4 5 9.42
9. Radha Yadav (India) 2 3 7.85
10. Tash Farrant (England) 4 3 8.08

Bowling Ranking = Wickets / Economy

STATS: India v Australia v England Tri-Series – Batting Rankings

Perhaps unsurprisingly after becoming only the second woman to make two T20 hundreds, England’s new T20 opener Danni Wyatt tops the batting rankings for the T20 Tri-Series, with 213 runs in total. Although over half her runs came in that century innings of 124, she only had one real failure – 6 in the penultimate group game versus Australia – and even then she maintained a Strike Rate of over 150, finishing the tournament with the leading Strike Rate of 182.

It has to be said though that although the numbers (just) favour Wyatt, second-placed Smriti Mandhana was actually the most impressive batsman in the tournament – playing just 4 innings to Wyatt’s 5 due to India not making the final, she too had one failure (3 against Australia) but she passed 50 in each of the other 3 innings she batted, making 67, 76 and 62* at a Strike Rate of 165.

Despite having sat out of one game, Meg Lanning makes the list at No. 3, after her explosive performance in the final, scoring 88* at a Strike Rate of 196 as Australia made their record total of 209. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of that innings is that she did it mostly in 4s – 16 of them, to just the 1 six.

Player Matches Runs Strike Rate
1. Danni Wyatt (England) 5 213 182.05
2. Smriti Mandhana (India) 4 208 165.07
3. Meg Lanning (Australia) 4 175 162.03
4. Elyse Villani (Australia) 5 157 134.18
5. Nat Sciver (England) 5 155 134.78
6. Beth Mooney (Australia) 4 120 136.36
7. Tammy Beaumont (England) 5 120 134.83
8. Ashleigh Gardner (Australia) 5 93 172.22
9. Rachel Haynes (Australia) 5 88 149.15
10. Anuja Patil (India) 4 75 156.25

Batting Ranking = Runs * Strike Rate

NEWS: Australians Take GPS Tracking To The Next Level

In a revolutionary new program, the Southern Stars are set to work with researchers from the Sydney University of Medicine, to pioneer the use of advanced GPS technology to track them both on the field and off.

In recent years Australia, in common with other top teams, have used on-field GPS trackers which are worn via a small harness attached across the shoulders; but this setup was designed for men and is uncomfortable to wear with a sports-bra, so the professors at SUM have come up with an alternative where the tracker is surgically implanted directly into the spine of the player.

Dr April Fulio, Dean of Cyber-Medicine at SUM, speaking at a joint airport press conference following the Southern Stars triumphant return from India, explained:

“It is a quick and relatively painless procedure, which has been used for years to microchip cats and dogs – these gizmos are getting smaller and more functional ever year, and the latest generation trackers are little bigger than a fun-sized Mars bar, making them ideal for surgical use.”

“As well as tracking their mileage on the field, the new tech has advantages off the field as well – if any of them ever gets lost, it will be as simple as taking them to the nearest vet, who will be able scan them in and return them to their family.”

One leading Australian player told CRICKETher: “Everyone already thinks I’m a robot, so I thought, why not!”

Meanwhile, another said: “Hang on… relatively painless…?” before making a quick dash for the nearest emergency exit.