NEWS: Cricket Asylum Tour To Barbados A Great Success For Cheshire’s Georgia Heath

15-year-old Georgia Heath, who made her debut for Cheshire in last season’s Women’s County Championship, has recently returned from an age-group tour to Barbados organised by The Cricket Asylum Cricket Academy.

The kit for the tour was supplied by SM Cricket, who are great supporters of the women’s game.

Barbados

Heath was the only girl on the 30-strong tour, with ages ranging from 10 to 19. Highlights of the tour included facing Jofra Archer’s 8 year old cousin who opened the bowling for Bayleys Primary school, meeting and being coached by cricketing legend Desmond Haynes, and a final match at the iconic Kensington Oval.

She also met and worked with West Indian Coaches Ezra Moseley and Vasbert Drakes (former coach of the West Indies national side) at the University of West Indies, Cave Hill and also played at Isolation, Holders Hill, Bayleys Primary School, Combermere Secondary School and Kensington Oval.

Barbados

Heath captained the side at Bayleys Primary School , who have been national Barbados Primary School champions for 3 years running, and was presented with a Bayleys Primary training shirt from their coach.

Reflecting on the tour, Heath commented: “It was really fun going on my first international tour, some excellent wickets to play on and my performance was helped by the brilliant kit that SM Cricket supplied. The highlight of my week would have to be the four I scored playing a strong cover drive at the Kensington Oval and a wicket from the Malcolm Marshall end.”

Although Georgia was the only girl on the Cricket Asylum Tour, the Wales Women’s cricket team were staying at the same hotel and played a friendly match against the West Indies Women’s team at Isolation as part of a wider Barbados training camp.

Due to the success of the tour, TCA Sports Tours are already planning a return trip for Easter 2020.

PREVIEW: Women’s County Championship 2019

By Raf Nicholson & Syd Egan

With a radical restructure on the cards for next year, the 2019 Women’s County Championship is set to be the last in the current format, which has been running since 1997, when it replaced the old Women’s Area Championship.

The purpose of the restructuring is to strengthen the top tier, but ironically Div 1 looks the strongest it has been for some time – there are no obvious “easy games” and any one of these teams could end up champions… or relegated – albeit academically, as the restructure won’t take into account this year’s positions in determining the membership of the new (semi) professional top tier from 2020.

Predicting the eventual winner feels like a fool’s errand. Could last season’s champions, Hampshire, do it again? Or the previous winners, Lancashire? Or Yorkshire, who came second by a combined total of just 5 points in both of those seasons? What about Kent, who have won it 7 times? Or Sussex with 6 titles? And don’t rule out Warwickshire (who came third in 2016 and 2017), Notts or Surrey!

(But if predictions are what you really want, you’ll find ours at the end!)

Hampshire

Last Season: Champions

Whether Hampshire can replicate their astounding performance last season, whereby they leapt straight from promotion to the top of the pack, remains to be seen. They were fortunate to emerge the winners in several very tight contests last season, and will once again be heavily reliant on last year’s leading Division 1 run-scorer Suzie Bates at the top of the order (who will be MIA for the first 3 rounds, playing in the Women’s IPL in India). Having said that, 18-year-old Charlie Dean – following her promotion to the Senior Academy in October 2017 – came into her own with the bat last season, and after another winter at Loughborough will be looking to replicate that in 2019. New captain Katie George will be fit for the start of the season (she has been out in India training with the Academy), which will be a bonus. Overall, it will certainly be an interesting test for new head coach Charlotte Edwards, who confirmed just this week that she has stepped away from a playing role, having enjoyed that final championship-winning “hurrah” in 2018. [RN]

Squad:  Katie George (C), Fi Morris (VC), Suzie Bates (WCC only), Sam Betts (T20 only), Maia Bouchier (from Middlesex), Ella Chandler, Providence Cowdrill, Clover Crosse, Charlie Dean, Ariana Dowse, Lucia Kendall, Naomi Lynch, Alice Monaghan, Tilly Callaghan, Dani Ransley, Mel Story, Charlotte Taylor, Emily Windsor.

Kent

Last Season: 3rd

After winning the championship in 2016, Kent lost Charlotte Edwards and Suzie Bates to Hampshire, and narrowly avoided relegation the following year. In 2018, they did better – finishing 3rd, but some way off the pace set by Yorkshire and Hampshire, having struggled for runs. In this respect, the recruitment of Fran Wilson from Middlesex is definitely a smart move; and if England let Tammy Beaumont play the full season that’ll help too. Bowling is less of an issue – Megan Belt led them with the ball again last season with 18 wickets across both formats (why, oh why hasn’t anyone given her a chance in the Super League?) and Grace Gibbs has a bright future ahead of her, having hopefully fully recovered from the horrific freak knee injury she sustained in the KSL last season. The key to it all for Kent, though, is all-rounder Alice Davidson-Richards – she was outstanding last season, as she rode the high of becoming an England player for the first time; but now that England seem to have decided to go with other options, can she refocus mentally and accept a possible future as “just” a very good county player? If she can, and she brings her A-game with both bat and ball, Kent will be challenging for a top spot in 2019. [SE]

Squad: Tammy Beaumont (C), Alice Davidson-Richards (VC), Megan Belt, Laura Marsh, Izzy Cloke, Phoebe Franklin, Jenni Jackson, Molly Davis, Lauren Griffiths, Hannah Jelfs, Lottie Bryan, Fran Wilson (from Middlesex), Tash Farrant, Grace Gibbs, Chelsey Rowson

Lancashire

Last Season: 4th

After winning the championship in 2017, Lancashire slipped back into the pack last season. This season, they’ve signed Georgie Boyce, who scored a hatful of runs last year for Notts, to strengthen a batting line-up that already had two of the top 3 batsmen in the County Championship’s “Never Played For England XI” – Eve Jones and Emma Lamb*. Their front-line bowling attack, led by Kate Cross, Sophie Ecclestone and Alex Hartley, is second-to-none – though their second string are a bit weaker than some, and they will definitely feel the absence of Ecclestone while she is at the Women’s IPL. Overall, if you are a Lancashire fan, you can freely hope… but it is probably best not to necessarily expect[SE]

[* Kirstie White is the other… since you asked!]

Probable* Squad: Eve Jones (C), Natalie Brown, Georgie Boyce (from Notts), Jess Couser, Kate Cross, Rachel Dickinson, Alice Dyson, Sophie Ecclestone, Alex Hartley, Laura Jackson, Emma Lamb, Nalisa Patel, Ellie Threlkeld

[* Squad not announced at time of writing]

Nottinghamshire

Last Season: 6th

Notts escaped relegation last season by the skin of their teeth, and while they will be relieved to still be up in the top flight, they now have the challenge of competing against the other Div 1 teams with a broadly similar squad to 2018. They have lost Academy player Georgie Boyce to Lancashire (following her move to Thunder for the 2018 KSL), which will be a worry given that she was their second-highest run-scorer in the 2018 season. The meteoric rise of last year’s leading wicket-taker Kirstie Gordon is also a double-edged sword, given that England players are often unavailable for at least some Championship matches. However, Scotland’s Sarah Bryce (who featured in last year’s ICC Global Development Squad) is a good “buy”. Interestingly, they have also secured the services of New Zealand keeper-batsman Polly Inglis, who will no doubt be looking to make a mark with an eye to future selection for her national side. [RN]

Squad: Sarah Bryce (from Scotland – WCC only), Megan Burton, Jodie Cook (Dibble), Amy Gauvrit, Teresa Graves, Yvonne Graves, Kirstie Gordon, Jenny Gunn, Lucy Higham, Megan Hodkinson, Hannah Hughes, Polly Inglis (OS, NZ), Sophie Munro, Sonia Odedra, Rachael Potter (from Oxfordshire), Rebecca Widdowson

Surrey

Last Season: Promoted (2nd in Div 2)

Having worked their way back into Div 1 via a long-term rebuilding project, Surrey have the kind of solid, home-grown heart which every great team needs – unlike some sides, you don’t feel they are totally dependent upon their “big” England player, Nat Sciver, who will be playing in the Women’s IPL in the early part of the season anyway. Hannah Jones – who officially takes over the captaincy this season – is the bellwether for a new generation who have the potential to go on to do amazing things. “Potential” though is the operative word here –  it is probably still 2 seasons too early for them to really fulfil their promise – England Academy and Training Squad members Amy Gordon, Eva Gray and Rhianna Southby are the future, but not quite yet the present. Surrey will win some games, but they will likely lose some too, and the real question is how those young players will respond and grow as a result. [SE]

Squad: Hannah Jones (C), Mary Ali, Charlie Bawden, Kira Chathli, Priyanaz Chatterji, Aylish Cranstone, Amy Gordon, Eva Gray, Dani Gregory, Jasmine Jones, Beth Kerins, Laura Sandy, Nat Sciver, Bryony Smith, Rhianna Southby, Alex Travers, Kirstie White

Sussex

Last Season: Promoted (1st in Div 2)

On paper, you look at Sussex and think: how on earth did this team ever get relegated to Div 2? (The answer is it was by the squeakiest of squeaks – 3 teams had a 3-4 win-loss record that season!) But they did… and they bounced straight back up as Div 2 winners. With 5 current England players, on paper they look very strong; though there are a couple of injury question marks there, and of course Danni Wyatt will be missing for the first half of the season at the Women’s IPL. Though they’ve got their share of younger players coming through the squad – the likes of Ella McCaughan and Ellie Robinson (yes, that name does ring a bell – she’s the daughter of current England coach, Mark) – they have also got the likes of Georgia Adams, Chiara Green and Carla Rudd, who should all be entering their peak years as county “pros”… albeit unpaid ones! I’d back Rudd in particular to shine this season after a change of scene, having come back to her childhood club Sussex after 8 years at Berkshire. [SE]

Squad: Georgia Adams (C), Ellen Burt, Izzy Collis, Freya Davies, Georgia Elwiss, Chiara Green, Nancy Harman, Beth Harvey, Cassidy McCarthy, Ella McCaughan, Tara Norris, Ellie Robinson, Carla Rudd (from Berkshire), Paige Scholfield, Linsey Smith, Sarah Taylor, Ella Wadey, Lucy Western, Danni Wyatt, Hollie Young

Warwickshire

Last Season: 5th

Warwickshire’s big signing ahead of this season is an England all-rounder with nearly 90 caps across a 10 year career… who will not pick up a bat or bowl a ball! The answer to this riddle is Laura MacLeod, who took up her post as Warwickshire’s Director of Women’s Cricket last October. If the County Championship was awarded to the nicest team in England, Warwickshire would have won it a few times recently – how can you not love a team that includes The Kelly Gang (Marie and Sian), Amy Jones, Kathryn Bryce and (when the occasion presents itself) Sophie Devine? MacLeod’s challenge will be to add some cold, hard steel behind the nice – something one of those aforementioned players, Amy Jones, seems to have found a way to do for England recently. If Jones can bring just a bit of that mettle back to Brum this season and share it around, things could be looking up for the Bears in 2019. [SE]

Squad: Marie Kelly (C), Eve Alder, Thea Brookes, Kathryn Bryce, Jess Couser, Laura Crofts, Gwenan Davies, Georgia Davis, Nyah Edwards, Bethan Ellis, Ria Fackrell, Jo-Anne Gardner, Milly Home, Amy Jones, Amelia Kite, Anisha Patel, Emily Perrin, Liz Russell, Issy Wong

Yorkshire

Last Season: 2nd

Once again last season Yorkshire were just pipped to the post on the final day, failing to catch Hampshire on bonus points – after finishing twice two years running, they’ll be hoping to avoid a similar fate this time around. New Zealand’s Leigh Kasperek is returning to the mix, having taken 15 wickets in the 2018 season. That should strengthen a bowling line-up which was already one of the strongest in Div 1, featuring county stalwarts Katie Thompson and Katie “Secret Weapon” Levick, who last season became the leading wicket-taker of all time in the WCC. They are also joined by Abby Freeborn, who may well take the gloves ahead of Lauren Winfield, allowing the opener to focus on pinning down her spot in the England XI ahead of this summer’s internationals. [RN]

Squad: Hollie Armitage (C), Katherine Brunt, Hannah Buck, Leah Dobson, Abby Freeborn (from Sussex), Elise Good, Beth Langston, Katie Levick, Leigh Kasperek (OS, NZ), Alex McDonald, Charlotte North, Ella Telford (from Lancashire), Katie Thompson, Jess Watson, Lauren Winfield

Our Predictions

Syd

The last two championships have been won by teams newly promoted from Div 2, and I’m backing Sussex this season to turn that stat-trick into a hat-trick. In doing so, Sussex would draw level with Kent on 7 all-time championship wins, which seems a fitting place to end things between the two great rivals of the tournament’s history, both of whom look likely to not exist next season.

Raf

In what is almost certain to be the last version of this iteration of the Women’s County Championship, I’d love to see Warwickshire take home the title. They’ve come agonisingly close to winning on several occasions, but have never quite brought home the bacon – so I’m going to take a leap of faith and say they will finally manage it in 2019!

Div 2

Teams: Berkshire, Wales, Devon, Durham, Essex, Middlesex, Somerset, Worcestershire.

Having been relegated from Div 1 by only the narrowest of margins, and then gone on to win the T20 Cup, Middlesex looked clear favourites to stroll through Div 2 this season. Their loss to Essex in the opening game was therefore something of a shock, but the smart money will still be on them to come out on top at the end of the season and win back “moral” promotion to Div 1, where they are expected to be playing anyway next season as part of the restructure.

Among the challengers, Essex made the early running with that win against Middlesex; whilst Berkshire will be hoping they can put on a better show this season than last season’s 5th place, though this will partly depend upon the availability of Heather Knight and new signing Anya Shrubsole. Meanwhile Rachel Priest-powered Wales will be aiming to replicate the form that saw them promoted last year to Div 1 in the T20 Cup, and provide a platform for their presumed step up to the big-leagues on the back of their Hundred franchise in 2020.

MATCH REPORT: Essex v Middlesex – Dodd’s “Ken Do” Marathon Leaves Essex Tickled Pink

A 98-ball marathon from Beth Dodd took Essex to an upset victory over much-fancied Middlesex on the opening day of Div 2 of the Women’s County Championship at Chelmsford.

On a gorgeously sunny Easter Sunday at the County Ground, Essex won the toss and elected to bowl on the same pitch these sides’ respective men’s teams had hit nearly 700 runs on in a Royal London Cup game just two days before.

Middlesex openers Cordelia Griffith and Naomi Dattani made a steady start, moving to 45-0 after 10 overs, as Essex seamer Grace Poole bowled well with no luck – passing the edge several times in the powerplay.

A loose over costing 17 runs from the tiring Poole then allowed Dattani to race ahead, with the Middlesex captain reaching her fifty off 48 balls in the 14th over.

The breakthrough for Essex came of the last ball of the 14th over – Griffith brilliantly caught by former Middlesex player Cath Dalton at cover, bringing Sophia Dunkley to the crease for her first Middlesex knock since she became an England player at the World Twenty20 in November.

After a couple of close calls between the sticks, Dattani’s luck ran dry as she was run out by a direct hit from Poole for 57 off 56 balls.

New batsman Beth Morgan quickly followed in the most unfortunate fashion – run out at the non-striker’s end, after Anje Lague put down a fairly straightforward caught-and-bowled chance from Dunkley which then ricocheted onto the stumps, with the umpire adjudging that Morgan was out of her ground at the point of impact.

Lague made better work of her next caught-and-bowled opportunity, sending Emma Albery back to the pavilion for a 6-ball duck, as the visitors began to falter to 104-4 and then 107-5 as Dunkley was given out for 20, caught off what she was clearly convinced was a bump-ball.

Middlesex keeper Iqraa Hussain hung around for 28 balls for 16, before popping up a 3rd catch of the innings to Dalton, as Middlesex’s lower order crawled onward, passing 150 for the loss of 8 wickets in the 37th over.

Middlesex were eventually bowled out for 160, with Kelly Castle picking up 3-16 off 4 overs at the end, including a lovely caught-and-bowled to dismiss Rebecca Tyson – the last wicket to fall for 5.

Despite having not batted, Middlesex’s Katie Wolfe was soon into the action with the ball – opening the bowling, as she took advantage of new regulations which allow all 12 named players to be interchanged freely in and out of the on-field eleven.

First blood however went to Middlesex’s other opening bowler – Gaya Gole, who bowled Kelly Castle off an inside edge for 7 with 12 on the board.

Having negotiated the powerplay to take Essex to 32-1 at 10 overs, the two Beths – Harmer and Dodd – began to play a few shots, keeping well on top of the required rate, which soon fell to a strollable 3-an-over, with Middlesex needing wickets to stay in the game.

It was Naomi Dattani who provided the breakthrough – Harmer bowled for 29, trying to hoik the deceptively quick Dattani across the line.

Dodd however remained rooted to the crease, taking Essex past the 100 mark in 25 overs, together with Cath Dalton who maintained a Strike Rate of 100 despite largely playing second-fiddle to Dodd as the partnership built past 50.

With just 32 needed by Essex for the win, Dattani brought herself back into the attack with immediate results – bowling Cath Dalton for 34 with the first ball of her new spell.

Dodd’s marathon innings then finally ended after 98 balls, caught by Rebecca Tyson off Dunkley for 46; and Middlesex saw a chink of light as Megan Janman was run out shortly afterwards for 1, with 26 still required.

But while wicket-keeper Scarlett Hughes blocked for her life at one end, Jess Bird picked up where Dodd had left off – letting the runs find her as the target was slowly but surely whittled away – Bird finishing on 17, and Hughes on 7, as Essex reached their objective in 42.3 overs to set the early pace in Div 2.

NEWS: Women’s County Championship To Be Decided On Points

The Women’s County Championship Playing Conditions have been updated [PDF here] and in a break with past seasons, the title will be decided on total points not average points.

Previously, in an attempt to equitably account for rained-off matches, points have been averaged so that cancelled games don’t count against a team’s placing. This system had its own quirks – in 2012, Essex came second despite having won just two matches, with 5 games cancelled – but it was generally accepted as fair.

The move to total points however is not accompanied by a change in the way points are allocated. Crucially, this means that while abandoned and tied matches share five points, games that are totally rained-off get zero points. With no obligation to rearrange cancelled matches, this could become very contentious – on a rainy day, the umpires decision to take the field for just 1 ball could be the difference between death and glory if a team needed, say, 5 points to seal the championship.

The new playing conditions are also somewhat shorter than before, because all the sections about promotion and relegation have been removed. Though it has been an open secret for some months that the 35-team county championship will be reduced to likely just 8 teams in 2020, with no promotion or relegation, the ECB has not yet made any official statement about this, and so the new playing conditions (amazingly!) represent the first semi-official confirmation of these changes.

NEWS: Surrey To Live-Stream Women’s County Cricket Day Match v Lancashire #YourCounty

In a first for women’s county cricket, Surrey have announced that they will be live-streaming their match against Lancashire on Women’s County Cricket Day – Bank Holiday Monday 6th May!

The 50-over match at Guildford, the Club’s second home encounter in this year’s County Championship, will be available to view live on kiaoval.com with commentary from the BBC’s Mark Church and a range of guests.

Surrey’s Director of Women’s Cricket Ebony Rainford-Brent said:

“We’re delighted to be able to offer a live stream of a women’s county cricket match for the first time in this country.”

“With free entry for all county matches and an exciting crop of Surrey youngsters in this year’s team, hopefully we can inspire a new generation of girls to pick up a bat and ball.”

Surrey’s Head Coach Richard Bedbrook said:

“It’s exciting for all of us involved in the women’s game in the county that more fans will have the opportunity to see our first team play this season.”

“We’ve trained hard throughout the winter and hopefully we can showcase our competitive, exciting brand of cricket on a bigger stage this summer.”

NEWS: Claire Taylor Hails Launch Of Home Counties Women’s Cricket League

England legend Claire Taylor was at Thame Cricket Club in Oxfordshire this week, to metaphorically “cut the ribbon” at the launch of a new women’s club cricket league.

Clubs from Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire have come together to form the Home Counties Women’s Cricket League, with the 24 clubs involved playing up to 15 fixtures over the season.

The season begins with the Super 8s – a series of triple-header festival days, played under “pairs” rules to ensure maximum participation. The competition then moves to one-day formats, with the clubs divided into local groups across 3 divisions – the Division 1 teams playing nine 35-overs-per-side fixtures through the season.

Sponsorship has come in from Serious Cricket, whose MD Neil Rider was manager and assistant coach of the England Women’s team between 2003 and 2007.

League Chairman Tim Haworth described how much things had changed since he first became involved with women’s cricket:

“I have 3 daughters – the youngest was the one who started playing cricket first, and the older two realised it was fun and joined in. When we started, the number of teams was severely limited, but now we do proper training and there are plenty of teams to play.”

But Haworth realised things could be better still:

“The situation was a little bit piecemeal – each county had an offering of sorts, but it wasn’t very joined up. The need was flagged up that we needed some competitive cricket at various levels in these counties. So what we have tried to do is bring the full spectrum of opportunity to clubs so they can pick and choose what is appropriate to them at their stage of development.”

And Haworth is already looking further than the coming season, to 2020 and beyond:

“We want to have a Premier League and we hope that in 2020 some of the clubs from the Midlands League will come in to bolster the top end for us. Then in future years we’d like to also engage with fledgling clubs just starting out, by offering softball too. So the idea is to have the full range of cricket opportunities for every club.”

You can follow the Home Counties Women’s Cricket League on Twitter @HomeCountiesWCL and on Play Cricket at homecountieswcl.play-cricket.com.

SPONSORED FEATURE: SM Cricket UK Launch Expanded Women’s Range – Designed By Women For Women

SM Cricket UK have launched a range of new women’s cricket equipment as part of their signature Heather Knight Collection, including pads, gloves, bats, wicket-keeping gear, bags, balls and teamwear all designed specifically for women’s and girls’ bodies.

It makes them the only company in the country to offer a full range of kit that is designed especially for women and girls.

SM Kit

The range has been launched after extensive feedback from female cricketers spanning a whole range of abilities. As a result SM Cricket have produced a lighter, brighter, and more comfortable range of cricket equipment with zero compromise to the quality of their products.

The range is already in use by England players Heather Knight and Kirstie Gordon, as well as former Scotland captain Abbie Aitken and Academy players Danielle Gibson and Ria Fackrell.

SM Heather Knight

SM Cricket UK pride themselves on offering top quality kit that is made to last, be comfortable and have a great fit for girls and women who might otherwise struggle to find appropriate sized kit for them. Their women’s bats, for example, come as light as 2lb 6oz with a super shock absorbent handle and extra thick edges to enhance the sweet spot.

SM Bat

In addition to playing equipment, SM Cricket UK also offers a fantastic range of teamwear, again appropriately sized for women and girls’ bodies, with a variety of custom designs in as well as to the opportunity to create bespoke teamwear. They are also offering free delivery for the whole month of April, using the code FREEDELIVERY on all orders over £30.

The full range is available here.

Women’s and girls’ clubs can also sign up for SM’s Club Cash Builder Scheme, which is a great way to raise money for your club. Clubs can sign up for free to earn back 20% of all sales generated by club members on SM branded goods. You can find out more here.

The aim is to expand the Heather Knight Collection next season based on a survey of female cricketers in the UK, which will be launched in the coming months – look out for a link to this on the CRICKETher Twitter.

The Heather Knight Collection: Designed By Women, For Women.