Women’s Ashes Test Day 1 – England Lose The Key

They know their farming down in Somerset – agriculture still makes up a significant proportion of the local economy, and “I’ve got a brand new combine harvester, and I’ll give you the key” by The Wurzels is the official team song of the Western Storm, the KSL side based here in Taunton.

So they’ll likely be familiar too with the expression to “bet the farm” on something; but if not… well, it’s pretty-much what England did today – they bet the farm on spin, selecting not just the more attacking left-arm spin options of Sophie Ecclestone and Kirstie Gordon, but the also the containing off-spin of Laura Marsh, while leaving the seam of Kate Cross gathering dust in the shed.

That was their first mistake. Cross might not have taken the most wickets of England’s bowlers this summer, but she has often looked their most likely to take a wicket – there’s been that feeling when she’s been bowling that “something” might happen… and boy did England need “something” as play drifted towards a close today.

England’s second mistake was arguably more forgivable – they lost the toss! This put all the cards in Australia’s hands – their long batting lineup is their real strength, and opting to bat first gave them the chance to dictate the pace of the game, which they did with increasingly mechanical efficiency, losing just 1 wicket as they ground-out 150 runs in the two sessions after lunch.

England had no answer.

Their spinners toiled for 64 overs, taking 2-167; while their seamers got through 36 overs, finishing with 1-92. Neither particularly great returns, though for what it’s worth (which isn’t much) the seamers were the more economical, by half a run an over.

Truth be told, they actually weren’t that bad, some careless fielding aside; but Australia were just clinically good, with only the out-of-sorts Nicole Bolton failing to pass 50.

Australia finished the day on 265-3. Having scored 100-odd in each of the first two sessions, Ellyse Perry and Rachel Haynes were happy to take the evening session at their leisure, scoring just 64 between tea and the close – the game was done by then; the Ashes basically won – it will take a miracle for England to win the match from here, and the Aussies know it. The weather forecast for tomorrow is terrible, and it’s little better for Saturday – there’s simply no time for England to take the 7 + 10 more wickets they need and score the 500-odd runs they’d require in-between.

Is there a “glass half full” scenario for England? If the forecasters have got it completely wrong, and we get 3 more full days, they could bowl Australia out tomorrow morning, bat aggressively for a day and a half to pile-on 500, and then try to bowl them out again on the final day, leaving them a small (or even no) target to chase at the death on Sunday.

Stranger things have happened; but it doesn’t feel terribly likely.

England haven’t got a brand new combine harvester – they’ve got a rusty old one… and they’ve lost the key.

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Women’s County Cricket Day: A Reflection

The man behind Women’s County Cricket Day, Richard Clark, reflects on the campaign.

I never expected Women’s County Cricket Day to have a massive impact. I hoped maybe it would encourage a few cricket lovers to take an interest in the women’s game, perhaps even watch a match or two, but there was no serious expectation beyond that.

If it has achieved anything then that is largely down to the support of Syd and Raf, plus Martin Davies at Women’s Cricket Blog and Don Miles at Women’s Cricket on the Net, who threw themselves into it wholeheartedly.

Support came most notably too from Sam Morshead at the Cricketer, Dan Norcross of TMS and Tanya Aldred at the Guardian, as well as others. Thank you, folks.

And thank you to the people in the Shires – far, far too many to list individually – for embracing this idiot who you’d never heard of but who for some unfathomable reason wanted to champion your game. It’s been a pleasure getting to know so many of you just a little.

My original intention at the start of the season was to just support Worcestershire as often as I could, but as the campaign gathered pace and support began coming in from all parts, I realised that was too narrow – I was hearing from all these people involved in the game and I wanted to find out more.

So I’ve found myself at North Maidenhead, at the picturesque Milford Hall CC, at Brixworth, with its intriguing ‘barn conversion-style’ pavilion, briefly on familiar territory at Kidderminster and New Road, and finally in the heart of the Quantocks at Wombat.

I’ve seen Staffordshire beat Derbyshire in a match that ebbed and flowed every bit as much as last Sunday’s, I’ve watched Northamptonshire romp to a 9-wicket win over the Netherlands in a winner-takes-all title decider, and I’ve bitten my nails as Worcestershire pulled off a tense run-chase against Somerset (who will probably be glad to see the back of me!) I could not have enjoyed myself more!

I’ve seen stars of the game dominate (Heather Knight’s century against Worcs was as outstanding as it was inevitable) and unheralded youngsters perform exceptionally under pressure (take a bow, Meg Austin of Staffs).

Not necessarily by design, I’ve watched all my cricket in the lower Divisions. Perhaps there’s a bit less pressure there, a little less intensity, away from the top level where those battling to gain, or hold onto, international recognition are fighting to get themselves to the head of the queue under more severe scrutiny. Perhaps that makes it more FUN? And that’s not to detract or demean in any way – there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the game!

Meeting and speaking to people from all over the country, the same recurring themes have come up time and again.

Commitment, passion and a sense of community.

The time and energy players, coaches, parents and oft-maligned administrators put into the game – without hope, expectation or desire for any kind of “reward” beyond doing representing their county and doing something they love – is incalculable and invaluable.

I could give you so many examples – Hayley Brown at Northants speaking about how much it meant to the team to play at County HQ the week before and the team’s sense of achievement in winning five out of five in Division 3B, or Lisa Scott at Northumberland of her pride in her daughter Lizzie’s five-wicket haul against Scotland are just two that spring to mind.

I sat quietly and listened to a conversation between a group of parents at Wombat on Sunday. Only after a good few minutes did I twig that they weren’t all on the same side, but they were talking about shared experiences and friendships both as parents themselves, and from their daughters’ point of view. It hadn’t occurred to me before this season the extent to which the game – particularly perhaps in the lower divisions – is one big family.

But you know all this.

And now it’s over? My over-riding feeling is that we are losing something which matters to a lot of people. Something which counts. Something which may be a bit off the beaten track, and which some might have you believe “doesn’t contribute to the pathway”, as the modern jargon has it, but which has value all the same. I think that’s a pity, I think it’s unnecessary, and I think it’s avoidable.

But what do I know…?

MATCH REPORT: Devon Take The Spoils As County Cricket Signs Off

Richard Clark reports from Wombat CC

The simple story of this match is that Devon beat Somerset by 2 wickets. But that really is just the simple story, because there was so much more to it than one team beating another.

It may not quite have “had everything” in the way that a certain other match taking place on Sunday seemed to, but it had “most things” needed to make a compelling tussle, and as a final instalment – if that is what it was – in the story of the Women’s County Championship it did the game proud.

There was, of course, nothing at stake. Tell that to the players, though! Local pride is never to be sniffed at, and for Somerset’s part they were clearly eager to secure the six points required to climb above Worcestershire and out of the notional “relegation” zone.

Arrival at Wombat CC – a beautiful setting, and tremendously proud and enthusiastic hosts on the day – brought a scene to encourage any cricket lover. Yes, both teams warming up with the gusto one might expect ahead of the opening game of a new season, but also a lively All Stars session in full swing, with around 20 youngsters enjoying the warm sunshine

And those children would have a role to play shortly afterwards as they lined up for a guard of honour for the Devon team and the two Somerset openers as they took to the field. A lovely touch, the loveliest of touches.

The early stages gave little indication of any drama in store. Skipper Sophie Luff and Nicole Richards settled in, picking off the odd boundary and rotating the strike, whilst Devon were guilty of helping them along with a (un)healthy dose of wides. At 61 for none in the fifteenth over all was going swimmingly for the home side.

Enter Charlie Phillips with her gentle spin, first inducing an edge from Richards to Amara Carr behind the stumps, and then two balls later trapping Rebecca Odgers LBW for a duck. 61 for 2, and Somerset would never quite regain the control of the game that they looked to have during that initial period.

But Luff was still there and ticking along nicely. Along the way, she tucked Sophie Florides into the leg-side to move to 23 and in doing so passed Bryony Smith to become the leading run-scorer for the season across both forms of the game.

However, Phillips would prise her out on 30 with one that perhaps bounced a touch more than expected and took a top edge to lop up to Georgia Hennessy at slip, and then Hennessy repeated the dose at midwicket to claim Nat Wraith off Becca Silk. Somerset now 90 for 4 and in one of those could-go-either-way positions.

Emma Godman and Niamh Holland added 28 for the fifth wicket, but both went in the space of a few balls and from there the innings petered out somewhat. With more than seven overs unbowled Somerset were dismissed for 137, collecting just two bonus points, and meaning that they would almost certainly need to win the game (or take nine Devon wickets) to collect the points needed to lift themselves above Worcestershire.

The visitors began their reply in bullish style, Hennessy driving Georgia Tulip through extra cover, and then straight, for two picture-perfect boundaries in the opening over, but Tulip had her revenge soon afterwards as Hennessy feathered the ball through to Wraith to depart for 9. Game on?

Carr joined Claire Varcoe in the middle and the pair batted as fluently as any batsmen had all day, adding 41 for the second wicket. Both hit sixes – Carr depositing hers into the adjoining tennis courts – and for a while the match seemed to be heading inexorably Devon’s way until Luff turned to Richards, whose second over threw a major spanner in the works.

First Carr, who had looked utterly untroubled, attempted a sweep and was pinned in front for 16; two balls after that Emily Edgcombe picked out Godman at midwicket; and then from her second ball Olivia Churcher went the way of Carr for another duck. Three in five balls. 58 for 1 had become 58 for 4. Inexorable had become anything but.

And drama became crisis when, having watched all this unfold from the other end, Varcoe, on 28, then tickled the very next ball from Tilly Bond into Wraith’s gloves. Four in six balls. 58 for 5.

In hot water all of a sudden, Devon needed a cool head, preferably two of them. Rebecca Halliday and Milly Squire provided stability for a while, adding 18 for the sixth wicket before Richards picked up Squire for her fourth wicket. 76 for 6. Edgy stuff, this…

Once again a partnership developed as Becca Silk joined Halliday for 20 precious runs. Silk accumulated intelligently, whilst Halliday found the boundary from time to time, but with 42 still needed Niamh Holland found the perfect yorker to rattle her stumps and swing it Somerset’s way once more.

Luff rang the changes with her bowlers, but Silk and Phillips continued to collect the singles and Devon’s target came down, run by run. For a match that had nothing of any significance riding on it this was seriously gripping stuff. With 19 needed, Wraith claimed her third victim as Phillips edged Jodie Filer behind for 6. 119 for 8.

Yet again, a partnership, as Silk and Amanda Higginbotham stuck at their task, and this one would take Devon home pretty much one run at a time. Somerset did nothing wrong, there were no loose deliveries, no horrendous misfields, nothing handed to Devon on a plate. They had to work for every run.

To Tulip fell the honour of delivering the final ball in “official” Women’s County Cricket, and to Higginbotham the pleasure of swinging it out to deep midwicket and running through for a single. And that was that.

Silk deserves a mention here. A bowler by trade, her 15 wickets saw her finish as one of four joint leading wicket-takers in the Championship, but her batting won this day. Before the match her highest score in competitive county cricket this season was 5 (although she has a career top score of 40). Carrying her team to victory with 28 of the coolest and calmest unbeaten runs you could hope to see made her my player of the match.

That apart, one could pick at the bones and examine where the game was won and lost, the little things here and there that add up to make a difference, but somehow it feels irrelevant. It was a cracking match, and that’s all that needs to be said.

Somerset skipper Luff was philosophical afterwards. “It’s always challenging defending a below-par score. We back ourselves to defend anything but we probably missed two key bowlers yesterday. We didn’t quite have that fire power to bring back on to try to finish Devon off.”

On her own success with the bat, Luff added, “Personally it’s been a decent season, there have been a fair few times when I haven’t gone on and gone big and that’s been frustrating. You always want to be better, I guess. But in the majority of games I’ve led from the front and that’s something I really pride myself on.”

“We’re a very young group and I’m desperate to lead by example at the top of the order. Ultimately the way I played in a number of the T20s was down to the way we performed as a unit with the ball – chasing down less than a run a ball allowed me to take responsibility opening up the batting.”

Luff also expressed pride in the team’s T20 Division 2 triumph.

“I’m super proud of the girls for the way we performed in the T20. To finish top of the table is a fantastic achievement for this young group. They deserve that success and recognition and it’s been a complete team effort throughout that competition.”

Of the youngsters in the Somerset squad, Luff picked out Holland as one to watch for the future.

“Niamh is only 14 and has shown just what she is capable of at senior level. A genuine all-rounder, she’s been a great find with the ball for us this year. Having worked with her over the winter as her coach, to step on the field with her as her captain has been a real highlight. Seeing how she’s developed has been really pleasing.”

“Representing Somerset means an awful lot. It’s something I’ve done since the age of 12. It’s been a huge part of my life and to captain the team over the last couple of years has been a real privilege. Playing in what may be the last ever match is something I’ll probably look back on in years to come, and it’s fitting that it was against Devon. It’s always a close contest and a game I’ve always looked forward to over the years. Amara and I have played against each other for as long as I can remember so for us both to be out there as captains shows the journey within the county game. We’re great friends and I think that’s definitely a special element of county cricket and what it offers.”

Carr echoed Luff’s thoughts on the County game.

“County cricket over the years has opened up a lot of opportunities in the women’s cricket pathway and enabled me to experience different challenges along the way. I started my county cricket career as a shy 13-year old where women’s county cricket was the only cricket really available and I’m finishing having captained my home county for many seasons.”

“It’s exciting to see how much the women’s game has developed even since my childhood and all the opportunities it now has to offer young girls. I feel very proud to have been a part of the process and playing alongside some of the younger girls who I’ve since coached and seeing them playing their own part has been very rewarding.”

NEWS: Kirstie Gordon Called Up To England Test Squad

England have called up left-armer Kirstie Gordon to their squad for the 4-day Women’s Ashes Test which begins in Taunton on Thursday.

Gordon, who made her England debut at the T20 World Cup in the West Indies last November, has been fighting her way back into England contention after being diagnosed with a stress fracture of the lower back at the tail-end of last year. But she looked to have rebounded to her best as she took 8 wickets, including a 6-fer, for England Academy against the Australians in their warm-up at Marlborough last week.

Another player coming back from injury – Georgia Elwiss – is also included for the first time this summer. After years on the fringes, Elwiss looked to be challenging for a spot in England’s 1st choice ODI XI this spring on the tour of India and Sri Lanka, until a broken finger brought that trip to a premature end for her. However, she was one of England’s better performers in the last two Test matches, scoring a crucial 41* off 190 balls as England salvaged a draw in Sydney in 2017.

Fran Wilson and Alex Hartley are not officially in the squad but will stay with the team in Taunton as cover, with gun fielder Wilson odds-on to play a 12th-man role if and when England need cover in the field.

Meanwhile Danni Wyatt and Jenny Gunn will both take part in a series of T20 matches this week against Australia A and Ireland, and Wyatt at least will almost certainly return to the squad for the T20s.

With England already 6-0 down in the multi-format series, they need to win the Test, plus all of the three T20s which follow, to reclaim the Women’s Ashes.

Likely Team

  1. Tammy Beaumont
  2. Amy Jones
  3. Sarah Taylor
  4. Heather Knight
  5. Nat Sciver
  6. Georgia Elwiss
  7. Katherine Brunt
  8. Anya Shrubsole
  9. Sophie Ecclestone
  10. Kate Cross
  11. Kirstie Gordon

Full Squad

Heather Knight (Berkshire)
Tammy Beaumont (Kent)
Katherine Brunt (Yorkshire)
Kate Cross (Lancashire)
Sophie Ecclestone (Lancashire)
Georgia Elwiss (Sussex)
Kirstie Gordon (Nottinghamshire)
Amy Jones (Warwickshire)
Laura Marsh (Kent)
Nat Sciver (Surrey)
Anya Shrubsole (Berkshire)
Lauren Winfield (Yorkshire)
Sarah Taylor (Sussex)

OPINION: 5 Things England Need To Do To Win The Test

1. Forget The ODIs

England will rightly feel humiliated after that performance at Canterbury – that’s not how they want to be playing their cricket. At some point, they will need to look back through the video footage, do some proper analysis, and try to work out exactly what went wrong. But the time for that isn’t now. “We’ve got to get a bit of calmness, take stock and get a bit of space,” coach Mark Robinson said after the third ODI. Calmness is the right word: England are a good side and the issue isn’t that they don’t know how to bat – it’s all about what’s going on upstairs. With just a few days to readjust before the must-win Test begins on Thursday, they need to look forward, not back, or the problems will only get worse.

2. Bat Like It’s A Test

Obvious, but tricky, given how little multi-format cricket that any of these players get to participate in. With just one 3-day warm-up to adjust, at Millfield School this weekend, England need to work out a way to shift things down a gear in a relatively short space of time. On the other hand they also need to NOT approach things like they did at Canterbury 4 years ago, when they seemed to fold in on themselves completely and see “Test-match batting” as meaning “I don’t need to score any runs”. It’s a tricky balance to strike: the real answer is more women’s Tests, but sadly that doesn’t seem to be about to change any time soon… in the meantime, the Ashes are at stake!

3. Make Some Radical Selections

Mark Robinson has gone down a highly conservative route so far this series, with the same squad of players contesting all 3 ODIs, and none of the newbies getting so much as a sniff at selection. Maybe that made sense at the start, but given England’s lack of success so far, and how inexperienced almost all his players are at the 4-day format, there is no time like the present for a bit of experimenting.

Syd has already suggested that Eve Jones could be worth her weight in gold when it comes to the Test match format. In the past 10 days, she’s hit 125 for club side Porthill Park, which has added fuel to the fire. Another possible contender could be Kirstie Gordon, who took 6-85 against the main Australian side in the Academy match at Marlborough yesterday, including the wickets of Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry. The Test is a must-win – so why not be bold?

4. Find Their Knight In Shining Armour

No one has made a Test century for England since Heather Knight’s mammoth effort at Wormsley in 2013: this would be a good time for one of the top 6 to bring that particular drought to an end. A good contender to do so is Tammy Beaumont, who will almost certainly be opening the batting and will no doubt be keen to add a Test match hundred to her glittering international CV. Whoever it might be, England need someone to shoulder the responsibility and go big on what is likely to be a good batting track at Taunton (the same place where two world record T20 scores were hit on the same day last year).

5. Pray For Brunt

Somehow, you don’t quite realise how irreplaceable Katherine Brunt is until you see England play without her: she just seems to fire up the rest of the team in a way that’s difficult to put your finger on (and her wickets are pretty handy, too!) Having caught sight of her stomping around angrily after England lost the the 3rd ODI – presumably fed up with a) her own self-inflicted ankle injury, and b) the way her teammates capitulated – I reckon it’s even more imperative that she makes it back in time for the Test: no batsman wants to face down an angry Katherine Brunt. In the long term, there’s obviously a worry about what happens when she finally, inevitably, retires: for now, she’ll be raring to go – let’s hope she gets the chance!

Women’s Ashes – Playing Jones In The Test Could EVEn Things Up

The fallout from England’s ODI Ashes whitewash is still ongoing – there are 30 comments (and counting!) below the line in our postmortem on the 3rd ODI – but England need to put the ODI series behind them and start to think about the Test.

The Ashes series is not actually lost yet – 8 points is the “magic number” for Australia to retain the trophy, and they only have 6 right now; but obviously the odds are stacked against England – they need to win the Test and all 3 T20s.

Being optimistic, England have a team that could win all 3 T20s – they won the T20 series in 2017, and they hold the World Record for the highest score in T20s between the top teams, having made 250-3 against South Africa at Taunton last summer. T20 is probably England’s best format at the moment, with batsmen like Danni Wyatt (one of only two women ever to have scored two international T20 centuries) and Tammy Beaumont ideally suited to the swashbuckling brand of cricket England like to play in the short game.

But the problem is that players – or more particularly, batsmen – ideally suited to T20 are almost by definition not suited to playing Test cricket, where you have to graft for your runs and build a score over hours not minutes. Perhaps more than anything in Test cricket, you have to put a high price on your wicket – something this current England team seem too-often incapable of doing.

So where can we turn?

The Women’s County Championship is not held in high esteem by England’s management, which is why they want to abolish it; but if County Championship cricket teaches you one thing, it is to put value on your wicket and grind-out an innings, and one of the more successful county batsmen over the past few years has been Eve Jones, first of Staffordshire and now of Lancashire.

There are other options of course – Sophia Dunkley or Bryony Smith, for instance – but they are both players more of a T20 mould, who have had the power-hitting mindset instilled into them by now.

Jones, however, is from a different era – dropped from the England pathway precisely because she was too “grafty” and wasn’t ever going to hit a T20 hundred off 50 balls – in other words, just what England need for the Test! Even if you were being extremely cynical, you’d have to say she can’t go any worse than most of England’s batting lineup has thus far in this series.

Is Jones One for the Future™? Not likely – she is nearly 27 and she’s never going to have an international “career”; but England have got a Test to win now and they need to find a bit of backbone from somewhere – Jones would be a gamble… but at 6-0 down we’re in gambling territory anyway – let’s give her a roll!

Women’s Ashes – 3rd ODI – England Sunk At Canterbury

In retrospect, it was Canterbury that was the beginning of the end: a top-order batting collapse led to a convincing Ashes defeat; and within a year, both coach and captain were gone.

The year was 2015, and England were led by coach Paul Shaw and captain Charlotte Edwards – two figures from the amateur era, struggling to keep-pace with Australia in an increasingly professionalised game.

Four years later – another coach; another captain; another Ashes – but the same old city of Canterbury… and the same old problem!

England had hoped that Australia’s thumping victory in last year’s World Twenty20 final was a one-off; but after 3 shell-shocking ODI defeats in the space of a week, culminating in yesterday’s humiliation at Canterbury, it is apparent that it was no aberration.

England were abject.

It started at the toss, which was perhaps a bad one to win, given that Meg Lanning said she’d have bowled too; but in retrospect it is difficult to justify putting Australia in.

With Katherine Brunt out and Sarah Taylor back, England had chosen to make a straight swap, in effect replacing a strike bowler with a batsman, in a situation where they needed to take wickets in order to seize the game by the scruff.

Brunt’s absence, and Heather Knight’s reluctance to bowl herself, meant that Nat Sciver had to bowl almost a full quota of overs, and while they did eventually buy the wickets of Alyssa Healy and Meg Lanning, they came at some cost – Sciver going at well over 6 an over, where Brunt had gone at under 4 in the first two ODIs, as the Aussies took command.

It’s true that Australia didn’t reach the 300-plus total which at one point looked on the cards; but in reality it always felt like 250 could well have been enough anyway, so 269 was 20 better than par… and ultimately 194 better than they actually needed.

Because of course this was Canterbury – where England Ashes collapses seem to come around like pilgrims – every one with a tale to tell!

This time that tale belonged to Ellyse Perry, whose 7-22 were the best figures ever returned by an Australian in a Women’s ODI. With her second Player of the Match performance of the series, Perry ripped England’s top order to pieces, punishing equally lose strokes across the line (Jones and Beaumont) and lazy prods outside off stump (Knight and Taylor) – and from 18-5, with Schutt having also sent Nat Sciver home for a duck, there was no way back from there.

So what’s answer? Force out the coach? Again? Fire the captain? Again?

No, because it won’t make a devil of a difference – it isn’t the coach or the captain – it is that Australian women’s cricket is quite simply operating on a different level right now. With the WBBL going from strength to strength, and professional contracts for an entire cohort of domestic players in the WNCL, the Southern Stars are just the tip of a cricketing iceberg; and while England can cruise past the West Indies as they did this summer, or South Africa and New Zealand as they did the last, when it comes to the Australian iceberg… they are cruising aboard the Titanic!