MATCH REPORT: Stormers Ground Eagles as the Cricket Scotland Regional Series Begins

Jake Perry reports

Stormers 243 (L Jack 66, H Rainey 3 for 34) beat Eagles 148 (S Bryce 73, R Scholes 4 for 14) by 95 runs

The summer of women’s cricket got underway with an emphatic victory for the Stormers in the opening match of the Cricket Scotland Regional Series at Raeburn Place. Despite a defiant 73 from Eagles opener Sarah Bryce, Stormers captain Lorna Jack’s decisive hand in partnerships of 60 and 97 proved to be the difference as the side from the West, North and Borders secured a 95 run win in the only fifty over match of the competition.

Batting first after winning the toss, the Stormers opening pair of Jack and Rachel Scholes made a brisk start, with Scholes’ wristy flick through mid-off bringing the first boundary of the innings. Jack was soon into her stride, too, as the pair made the most of an excellent batting surface to take the total to 60 in untroubled style.

It was going to take something special to make the breakthrough, and it duly arrived in the form of Kitty Levinson’s pick-up and throw from the boundary to run Scholes out for 26. Emily Cavender (12) quickly followed, stumped by Sarah Bryce to give thirteen-year-old spinner Katherine Fraser a wicket with her first delivery, and when Becky Glen (3) was also run out by the powerful arm of Levinson the Stormers suddenly found themselves on the back foot at 97-3.

Jack and Priyanaz Chatterji settled any nerves, however, with what turned out to be the highest partnership of the match. The Stormers captain reached a 57-ball half century with her fifth four as the Scotland duo kept up the run-rate with some powerful hitting, and as the total approached 200 the game was slipping away from the bowling side for a second time in the day.

At the crucial time the Eagles found the breakthrough, though, as Jack (66) was trapped in front by Caitlin Ormiston, and when Chatterji (47) presented the Gala bowler with a second wicket in her next over, mistiming a pull to Ruth Foulds at midwicket, the bowling side had given themselves a chance once more. Led by Hannah Rainey (3-34) and Katherine Fraser (3-53) the final five Stormers wickets fell for just 42 as their total was limited to 243.

Despite the frustration of a high number of extras, the Eagles bowlers had stuck to their task well on a pitch that offered little assistance to them. Fraser bowled with particular maturity, varying her length and flight beautifully to add the wickets of Ellen Watson and Abtaha Maqsood to that of Cavender. Demonstrating very good control, a nice range of variations and evident confidence in delivering them, the young off-spinner looks to be an outstanding prospect for the future.

Although the runs required were fewer than had looked likely with Jack and Chatterji at the crease the Eagles were still faced with an imposing task, and the chase began with an immediate statement of intent from Sarah Bryce as she cracked the first ball through the covers for four. Fresh from her winter in Australia the Scotland wicketkeeper looked in terrific form, but as the innings unfolded the lack of a lasting partnership meant that the Stormers total was never seriously threatened.

The loss of Riti Patel (4), Kitty Levinson (8) and Katie McGill (1) reduced the batting side to 61-3, and although Bryce brought up her fifty with a single in the 24th over the dismissal of Ruth Foulds (7) next ball put the Eagles into further trouble at 93-4.

Tight bowling from the spinners kept the pressure up, and after Bryce (73) was finally out in the 38th the last two wickets followed quickly, Rachel Scholes taking 4 for 14 as the victory was confirmed.

The Regional Series continues with six Twenty20 matches over the summer, beginning with a double-header at Rossie Priory on June 3. At the start of a big year for Scotland’s Women, particularly in T20, it is another opportunity for players to put themselves into contention for national selection.

“We’re hoping that the competition will provide a platform for the strongest players in the country to exhibit their skills and we can hopefully build a bit of an identity as well,” said National Head Coach Steve Knox.

“We’ve only got the two teams this year but we’re hoping that that will expand over the next two years into a three-team competition which will provide the foundation for everything that happens over and above that.

“It’s a great opportunity for our best players to pit their skills against each other. This is another big season for us and I’m very excited about what is to come.”

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Report from Cricket Scotland

Jake Perry is a cricket writer based in Scotland.

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket

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INTERVIEW: Middlesex Captain Natasha Miles & Coach Sanjay Patel – “If we play to our potential we will beat anyone”

After their win against MCC at Lord’s last week, Middlesex will go into the opening rounds of the Women’s County Championship next weekend with some confidence, hoping to avoid a repeat of last season where they lost their first two matches to Lancashire and Yorkshire.

“We didn’t start as well as we wanted to!” admits co-captain Natasha Miles.

Victory by the narrowest of margins against Berkshire was followed by two more defeats, to Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire, leaving them with 1 win from 5 by the end of May. Mired in the relegation zone, it didn’t look good for Middlesex going into the T20 season.

“It was a difficult time for us,” acknowledges coach Sanjay Patel. “We were up against it – availability wasn’t great; the England girls weren’t around; and we had some freak injuries – it was all doom and gloom!”

But the T20 season offered an opportunity for a fresh start, and Middlesex grabbed it – winning 5 of their 8 matches, finishing with big wins against Warwickshire and Kent in the final round to lift them to a second-placed finish in the table.

“The T20 came at a really good time,” says Patel. “We played some fantastic cricket and the belief that I keep telling the girls that I have in them came through in the T20 and it freed them up a bit.”

When the County Championship resumed, however, staying up still looked like a tough ask for Middlesex, with back-to-back fixtures against Sussex and Kent – traditionally two of the strongest sides in the competition.

“We were under massive pressure – I didn’t sleep for days!” recalls Patel.

Middlesex pulled off the win against Kent, but other results meant that the match against Sussex had become a relegation “final”.

Players on both sides rose to the occasion: “It was one of the best games of cricket I’ve ever seen – proper cricket – the challenges were there, mentally and physically,” says Patel.

But thanks to a fantastic performance from all-rounder Sophia Dunkley – top-scoring with 63 and taking 3 wickets – it was Middlesex who came out on top.

“We learned so much from those two days,” says Miles. “Everything we put into those two games we took into our winter training and now we’re bringing it to the season coming.”

A few new faces will join the ranks this season, alongside established stars like co-captain Naomi Dattani and former England veteran Beth Morgan. Patel takes us through the roll-call:

“There’s Emma Albery, who is at university in York – a young exciting middle-order batsman who bowls a little bit of spin; and Rebecca Tyson, who is the youngest – a left-arm seamer; while Iqraa Hussain will keep wicket in the 50-over. Iqraa and Emma have come through our junior program, while Rebecca came through our regional trialling program from Hertfordshire.”

“Katie Woolfe is also like a new player – she was injured for most of last year with terrible shin-splints and pretty much missed the whole season – but she is a really exciting young opening bowler, who is in the England Academy program.”

Miles is also excited about their new “overseas”, Hayleigh Brennan – a British passport-holder from Australia, who played against England in the Governor General’s XI match during the recent Women’s Ashes tour, and made one appearance for the Melbourne Stars in WBBL03.

“We only just met Hayleigh this weekend – she is going to offer a lot of experience opening the bowling alongside the younger girls that are coming through,” says Miles.

So… the big question: will this be Middlesex’s year?

“We are optimistic,” says Miles; and Patel agrees:

“I’m not a big one for making predictions,” he says. “But I say to the girls: if we play to our potential, we will beat anyone!”

NEWS: MCC Women’s Day Wakes Lord’s Long Slumber

The MCC’s inaugural Women’s Day at Lord’s woke the old ground from an 85-year slumber as Middlesex played on the main square for the first time in their history.

Middlesex Women’s Cricket Club was founded in 1933 and played its first county match in June 1934, against the Civil Service (which… yes… was a “county” in those days) but it was not until yesterday – April 24 2018 – that they got to play properly at The Home of Cricket, and they made the most of it, beating a strong MCC side by 6 wickets with one ball to spare.

The MCC XI were led by Charlotte Edwards, and included current England players Georgia Elwiss and Sarah Taylor, but it was Durham’s Elysa Hubbard and former Berkshire Beaver Alex Rogers who opened the batting, putting on a century-stand for the first wicket, with Rogers eventually falling for 72, as Maia Bouchier finally held a catch (off Bhavika Gajipra) after more than a few sitters had been put down by Middlesex, doubtless due to a combination of nerves and the unfamiliarity of playing in a big stadium.

The MCC closed on 145-3, which looked competitive; and although openers Tash Miles and Naomi Dattani got Middlesex off to a good start, the asking rate began to creep up, until it exceeded 9-an-over at one stage; but a fantastic knock from Bouchier got it down to 30 off the final 4 overs, and then 8 off the last 6 balls, with Bouchier finishing on 39* as Middlesex celebrated the win.

Earlier in the day, over 5,000 kids from local schools had cheered every ball as two MCC XI’s, including a few England names of yesteryear, played a knockabout exhibition match, notable mainly for Claire Taylor gamely trying to hold back and not make everyone else look too silly as she dominated some very friendly bowling to lead her team to victory.

The children were also treated to games and coaching sessions on the Nursery Ground, and if the measure of the day as an “event” was to be judged by excited grins on happy faces, then it certainly hit the mark, perhaps demonstrating that you can get kids enthusiastic about cricket, even without resorting to 100-ball Countdown Cricket… or “Crockit” as our own teenager has now officially termed it!!

NEWS: England Academy Schooled In South Africa / Australia Tri-Series

England’s Academy have lost all 4 games of their One-Day Tri-Series versus Australia and South Africa in South Africa.

England – at a slight disadvantage coming into this tour off the back of their off-season – were bowled out in every match, losing twice to Australia and twice to South Africa.

In the first match, Izzy Cloke and Sophia Dunkley combined with 3 wickets apiece as Australia were bowled out for 169; and Dunkley then went on to hit 57 off 62 balls as England chased hard, but eventually fell short by 9 runs.

That was pretty much as good as it got for England, whose batsmen didn’t hit another 50 in the series. Dunkley top-scored again with 38 in the second match against South Africa, as England were bowled out for 152, which the South Africans chased with 10 balls to spare.

In their third match, England collapsed to 83-7 before Tara Norris added a bit of respectability – hitting 38* as they finished 144 all out, which Australia easily chased inside 37 overs; and then in their final game yesterday, England laboured to 138 all out off 48 overs, which South Africa knocked off in just 26.3 overs for the loss of only 3 wickets.

Dunkley aside, the only real success story from the trip in terms of numbers was Durham’s previously unknown leg-spinner Helen Fenby, who bowled 25 overs, taking 3 wickets at an economy rate of 2.72. (Lancashire’s Emma Lamb also had a reasonable return with the ball, taking 5 wickets at 3.53; but considering her status and seniority, had a massively disappointing tour with the bat, averaging 6 with a highest score of 12.)

England will, not unreasonably, chalk this up as a “learning experience” but the gulf between them and Australia’s next generation in particular, who won all 4 of their matches, must be worrying. By 2020, when these players are starting to come to maturity, all the Aussies will be full-time pros playing 50-over WNCL and T20 WBBL in the toughest leagues in the world… whilst all the England girls will have to look forward to professionally is 5 weeks of Noddy Cricket in “The 100”. If Mark Robinson isn’t more than slightly concerned by that… he should be.

NEWS: Somerset & Gloucestershire “100% Committed” To Western Storm Post-2020

In a joint statement, Somerset County Cricket Club and Gloucestershire County Cricket Club have said that they are “100% committed to supporting Western Storm and the KIA Super League” despite the ECB announcing last week that both would be disbanded following the inauguration of “The 100” in 2020.

The clubs state:

“At this week’s meeting of CEO’s and Chairmen, we discussed the future of the women’s game at length and whilst it was decided that the new women’s competition would be aligned to the men’s, it would be so only in structure and not necessarily in geography.”

“We are all excited by the prospect of the new 100-ball tournament, despite neither Taunton or Bristol being selected as a host venue for the men’s competition, and we are delighted that both venues could very well be staging fixtures in the women’s competition.”

What does this mean in practice?

Well… the ECB’s announcement said that there will be: “aligned competitions for both men’s and women’s teams – sharing a common format, brands and identities.” So we know that there will NOT be a team called Western Storm!

But this does indeed leave space for the one of the “100” franchises to base their women’s team at Taunton and Bristol, and this possibility seems to have been dangled in front of Somerset and Gloucestershire at last week’s meetings.

Assuming there is at some minimal semblance of geographic correlation between the men’s and women’s teams, there is only one remotely plausible candidate for this – the franchise based at Cardiff. But there may be potential issues with any outcome which looks like Cardiff “offloading” their women’s team elsewhere – not least in terms of potential applications for regional government funding, which would mandate gender-equality; and of course it is not necessarily the case that they would even want to do this anyway.

Nonetheless, the press release can be read as Somerset and Gloucestershire throwing their hats into the ring to effectively be able to continue to run the Storm, albeit under a new “brand”, after 2020 as part of the “100”.

NEWS: TalkSport’s New Broadcasting Rights Exclude Women’s Internationals

CRICKETher has learned that TalkSport’s new radio broadcasting rights, which cover England Men’s forthcoming winter tours to Sri Lanka and West Indies, do not include either the Women’s World T20 or England Women’s winter internationals.

While in the past the rights have generally been sold as a package, with the BBC covering both the men’s and women’s tours, this time around the women’s matches appear to have been offered up as a separate set of rights which were not purchased by TalkSport.

The WWT20 will take place in West Indies in November as a standalone women’s tournament. In addition, the Women’s International Championship dictates that England will play at least 3 ODIs over the winter, though the formal schedule has yet to be announced.

This potentially leaves the way open for the BBC to bid for the broadcasting rights for these matches, which could help to fill the hole in their schedules which the loss of these men’s overseas tours has created.

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

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.