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!)
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.
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
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]
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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!
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.