OPINION: Cricket Australia Have Broken The WNCL

The announcement of the expansion of the WNCL – the elite domestic 50-over competition in Australia – has been greeted with largely positive headlines… because it is a positive headline.

The WNCL – Women’s National Cricket League – has been running in more-or-less its current format since 1996-97, starting as a home and away league, with a 3-match final series.

This has slowly evolved over the years to the current setup, with 7 teams playing each other once in the league, followed by a one-off final between the top two.

One constant throughout has been New South Wales, who have never failed to reach the final, and have won the tournament 19 times. The only other teams to have won it are Victoria (twice) and South Australia (once).

As with the Women’s County Championship in England, the WNCL has for most of its history been an amateur affair; but the professionalisation of domestic cricket in Australia has now created an opportunity to expand the competition – something the top players have been demanding for a while.

However, instead of going the full distance, and expanding the WNCL (back) to a full “home and away” league, Cricket Australia have chosen the most bizarre compromise – adding just two more matches for each side, so some teams will play each other twice, and others only once.

Although there is a precedent for this in the (Men’s) BBL, where “extra” matches have been scheduled to double-up the number of highly profitable “derbies”, it is still a terrible idea, because it means two teams (ACT and Queensland this coming season) have to play perennial champions New South Wales twice, making a mockery of the balance of the tournament.

Admittedly, this is hardly the end of the world – outside of the women’s cricket bubble, few care about the WNCL, with matches typically attended by only a handful of spectators. But surely the opportunity here was to change that? Instead, Cricket Australia have bottled it and broken the tournament as a genuine sporting contest.

Cricket Australia have led the way in taking the women’s game to remarkable new heights in the past 10 years; but they’ve called this one wrong… and we shouldn’t be afraid to say so!

Women’s Ashes 2nd T20 – The Rise of the Machines

There was a point where England were technically ahead in this 2nd T20 at Hove.

With 37 balls bowled, where England had been 36-2, Australia found themselves 35-3.

“Trouble?” asked the blogger doing ball-by-ball on Cricinfo.

Yup – big trouble… for England!

Because that 3rd wicket brought together Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry who, an hour or so later, closed out the innings on 43 and 47 not out respectively, to give the Southern Stars victory by 7 wickets with 13 balls remaining.

But where Perry had torn through England in the 3rd ODI with one of the great bowling performances of all time; and Lanning had torn not just through England, but also through her own world record book, at Chelmsford in the 1st T20; this was a more clinical… even cynical… affair.

Australia simply didn’t need to tear through anything – they just needed to score 6 runs per over, and that was all.

They didn’t even do that initially – Perry played out 3 dots to Laura Marsh, as the Aussies took just 3 off the 8th over; whilst through the 11th and 12th overs they failed to find the boundary at all.

Yet there was no panic – instead, Lanning and Perry found the gaps and ran hard, closing England down, slowly but surely.

Then the boundaries began to come too – not in a flurry, but relentlessly nonetheless – one 4 off the 13th over; one off the 14th; two off the 15th; and then a 4 and a 6 off the 16th. It was about as exciting as watching grass grow, but it was mighty effective.

England have faced bowling machines aplenty in the nets at Loughborough, but at Hove Lanning and Perry were batting machines – terminators, sent from the future to eliminate all of England’s hopes and dreams.

Listen and understand, as Reese says to Sarah Connor in The Terminator.

Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry are out there.

They can’t be bargained with.

They can’t be reasoned with.

They don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear.

And they absolutely will not stop.

Ever.

Until England are dead.

NEWS: New Pro Franchises To Be “Paired” With Women’s Hundred Teams, With Two Marquee England Players Per Side

The ECB has told stakeholders that the new “professional” franchises, or Regional CoEs (“Centres of Excellence”) as they are currently being termed, which will replace elite county cricket from next season, will be directly aligned with the corresponding Women’s Hundred teams.

As part of the ECB’s new £20m investment in women’s and girls’ cricket, the eight new CoEs are expected to be set up by the end of October at the latest, and “paired” with a local Hundred side.

A Director of Women’s Cricket in each CoE will be ultimately responsible for overseeing the operation in each region, and will take post as soon as possible after October.

Permanent coaching and support staff will then be hired by the CoEs and it is anticipated that the paired Hundred franchise will sub-contract these same personnel to provide “year-round” continuity.

However, due to the imperative to have coaches for the Hundred in place by the end of August to facilitate player allocation, interim appointments are likely to be made before then, in order for them to take part in the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not A Draft” process, which will see two marquee England players assigned to each side.

In the draft timetable for next season, the Women’s Hundred will run from 17 July to 14 August; and the CoEs will then participate in a 50-over competition in late August and September. Interestingly, the ECB are also anticipating England playing some international matches in September, which may (or may not) impact player availability for the CoEs.

Related: County Cricket Saved Until At Least 2021 As ECB Promise T20 Cup Funding

Women’s Ashes 1st T20 – If Perry Doesn’t Get You, Lanning Will

Back in March this year, England took on Sri Lanka in a T20 international in Colombo. It was the 3rd match of the series, and everything clicked for England – after a 96 run opening stand between Danni Wyatt (51) and Amy Jones (57), Tammy Beaumont (42) and Nat Sciver (49 off just 24 balls) took the score on past 200, to close on 204-2. In reply, Sri Lanka limped to 108-6 – England the victors by 96 runs.

It was the kind of eating that the big sharks often hand out to the minnows – it was also on the Subcontinent, at the 2014 Women’s World T20 in Bangladesh, that Australia had done similar to Ireland – Meg Lanning hitting the (then) record T20 individual score of 126 off 65 balls as the Southern Stars ran out 78 run winners.

Yesterday evening in Chelmsford we saw another huge win for a top side… and another explosive world record century from Meg Lanning; but the difference was that Australia’s victory wasn’t against Sri Lanka or Ireland – it was against England, the team who are currently the 2nd best in the world, according to the ICC’s rankings.

Are the ICC’s rankings wrong? No! Heather Knight was right post-match when she said that England hadn’t become a bad side overnight – in the past 18 months they have beaten all the teams immediately below them – New Zealand (in the T20 tri-series last summer); West Indies this summer; and India, out in India, in the spring.

England also reached the T20 World Cup final last November; but it was the result of that match – Australia strolling to victory – which in retrospect presaged the events of this Women’s Ashes, culminating in last night’s humiliation.

England aren’t a bad side; but in the last year, Australia have pumped themselves up to another level, and England are struggling to keep up.

During the last Women’s Ashes in Australia, the Southern Stars ran a marketing campaign which ran through the star players with the hook line: If X doesn’t get you, Y will! E.g.: If Healy doesn’t get you, Jonassen will! It seemed almost arrogant at the time, and proved so when England came back to level the series with some spectacular T20 cricket, including the famous double-century match in Canberra, where Beth Mooney hit 117 off 70 balls, only to be trumped by Danni Wyatt smashing 100 off 57.

But after what has happened in this series, If X doesn’t get you, Y will! doesn’t seem arrogant any more – it just seems like a statement of fact.

If Perry doesn’t get you in the 3rd ODI, Lanning will in the 1st T20.

And even if you are England – even if you are the second best side in the world – there’s nothing you can do about it.

NEWS: County Cricket Saved Until At Least 2021 As ECB Promise T20 Cup Funding

In news which will be widely welcomed throughout the women’s cricket community, the ECB have now officially promised the county boards that women’s county cricket will continue until at least 2021, with the T20 Cup being played on Sundays through May and June.

In an email to the counties seen by CRICKETher, the ECB’s Managing Director of Women’s Cricket, said:

“We understand the need for women’s County Cricket to continue.”

“ECB will therefore run a women’s County T20 competition in 2020 and 2021.”

Crucially, this will be centrally funded by the ECB:

“For 2020 and 2021 ECB will continue to fund Counties on a similar basis to 2019, with monies being provided to support travel, accommodation and hosting costs.”

There are caveats – the long-term aim to effectively replace the lower divisions of county cricket with a reinvigorated club setup remains very-much the plan, with a review of the situation planned for 2021; but Connor acknowledges there is work for both the ECB and the boards to do here if that is to become viable, promising to “address hardball club cricket with real commitment.”

This isn’t a total u-turn – it effectively confirms that the 50-over Women’s County Championship is no more; but the ECB has shown that it has listened to the feedback received during the consultation process and been open to a compromise which will keep hundreds of players in the game, playing cricket at a competitive level and wearing their county shirts with pride.

NEWS: ECB Backtrack On Plans To Abolish Women’s County Cricket

In the ECB’s first public announcement about their planned restructure of women’s domestic cricket from next season, Clare Connor has backtracked on the initial plan to completely abolish women’s county cricket, recognising that the weaknesses of the existing club structure are greater than she had realised.

In a piece published in the match day programme for the men’s England v Ireland Test at Lord’s, Connor says: “There will probably still need to be a place for some county cricket, while the club game develops, and we are reviewing that currently.”

She also officially confirms that the plan is for an eight-team semi-professional competition, with women in the eight teams playing both 50-over and T20 cricket, and with the eight teams set to be closely aligned to the new Women’s Hundred sides (of which there will also be eight).

The full programme piece, authored by Connor, reads as follows:

“Over the past 11 months, we’ve had a rigorous and constructive debate across all 39 counties and Wales, about how to invest the £20m the board at the ECB has approved for 2020 and 2021 to transform the women’s and girls’ game.

It has been reassuring to hear the level of support and commitment across the game for our headline plans to:

  • Develop compelling cricket activities for girls in secondary schools
  • Strengthen the club offer for female players of all abilities
  • Invest in the county talent pathway for girls
  • Build a new eight-team semi-professional competition structure in both 50-over and T20 formats, with each team being underpinned by a year-round Academy
  • Maximise investment through areas of alignment between the new eight-team semi-professional competition structure and The Hundred – Women’s Competition

The area of most debate has been about the future of the women’s county game, which has done an important job for a number of years, thanks to the dedication of volunteers who remain the bedrock of our game.

As the game has grown in popularity, our structure has needed to evolve to suit the growing demand at the recreational level. In many counties, women’s club cricket has not been sustainably developed, meaning county cricket is the only available playing opportunity of any standard or frequency.

Women’s county cricket is therefore being used in many parts of the country as a participation experience, which, everyone agrees, is far from ideal. We will be failing female recreational players if we – the ECB and the counties – do not address hardball club cricket with real commitment.

There will probably still need to be a place for some county cricket, while the club game develops, and we are reviewing that currently.

Collectively we have the opportunity to put in place a pathway that allows all areas of the game to flourish. We’ve had fantastic success with All Stars Cricket and we need to progress in other areas, so that the eight-year-old girl who has been inspired to pick up a bat can see a clear pathway to becoming a semi-pro or professional cricket, should she wish to.

There will be equal emphasis from us on improving both the participation and the performance experience for women and girls.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the women’s and girls’ game – a transformation which is vital to the future of the entire game in this country. I think we are about to start the most exciting period in the history of women’s cricket in this country.”

NEWS: Mady Villiers Called Up To England Squad For Ashes T20s

England have announced their squad for the 3 Ashes T20s which begin at Chelmsford on Friday.

The big news is that they have called up 20-year-old Essex and Surrey Stars bowling all-rounder Mady Villiers to the squad, after she impressed in the recent Academy matches against Australia A, hitting 30 off 15 balls at number 8 in the final T20 match; as well as an unbeaten half-century in the 3-day warm-up at Marlborough College against the full Australian side.

Danni Wyatt also returns to the squad having been dropped for the Test, while Georgia Elwiss retains her spot after earlier missing out on the ODIs.

England can still draw the Ashes series 8-all if they win all 3 matches in the T20 series.

Full squad:

  • Heather Knight (Berkshire)
  • Tammy Beaumont (Kent)
  • Katherine Brunt (Yorkshire)
  • Kate Cross (Lancashire)
  • Sophie Ecclestone (Lancashire)
  • Georgia Elwiss (Sussex)
  • Jenny Gunn (Nottinghamshire)
  • Amy Jones (Warwickshire)
  • Laura Marsh (Kent)
  • Nat Sciver (Surrey)
  • Anya Shrubsole (Berkshire)
  • Sarah Taylor (Sussex)
  • Mady Villiers (Essex)
  • Lauren Winfield (Yorkshire)
  • Danni Wyatt (Sussex)