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.

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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.