KSL: Mignon du Preez Keeps Lightning In With A Shout v Stars

Mignon du Preez’ 70 off 41 balls, including 13 fours, was the difference between Loughborough Lightning and Surrey Stars at Guildford.

160 looks to be a par score at Woodbridge Road – Surrey themselves chased 120 here last week against Lancashire Thunder in under 15 overs – so 120 off 20 overs felt somewhat light from Surrey.

Batting first, Surrey initially got off to a flyer, with Lizelle Lee smacking Tara Norris for 17 off the second over; but after the fall of Lee (25) and Bryony Smith (14) in quick succession, Surrey found progress harder.

Nat Sciver slapped her way to a slightly scrappy 23 off 27 balls before she became the second batsman after Lee to fall “st. Jones b. Matthews”; but it wasn’t until Mady Villiers (13 off 13) came in at the death, looking to score off every ball, that there was any real impetus to the innings, and by that point it was already a bit late.

Villiers still seems to be being treated more as a bowler than a batsman by Surrey, although England definitely see her as a batter primarily, and indeed she opened the bowling for the Stars, getting the early wicket of Hayley Matthews. With Amy Jones (5) and Chamari Atapattu (4) also falling cheaply, it felt like Surrey might actually be on course to defend their slightly meagre total.

That reckoned without Mignon du Preez.

The former South African captain has always seemed to be more suited to the longer formats of the game – she scored a century in her only Test against India a few years ago – but “Minx”, as she is known, has always been a bit of a “worker bee” and she was buzzing at Guildford today.

“I’ve been getting some starts but I haven’t converted, so today to finally get a conversion and help the team win is really special,” she told us after the game today.

“I’m not known as a person who clears the boundary, but I think in the shorter format there is also a place for somebody who can be busy in the middle and actually hit the pockets and run well.”

Du Preez seems to like Guildford – a year ago, playing for Southern Vipers, she took on the backup role to Tammy Beaumont, scoring 48 to Beaumont’s 62, as the Vipers beat the Stars here.

But this time she was tasked with playing the leading role, with Georgia Adams – who played very nicely, using her feet to get to the pitch of the ball and play some lovely Sarah Taylor-esque drives – riding shotgun on this occasion.

“It is enjoyable being the senior player,” du Preez reflected; “and it is nice when you can back it up with a performance.”

Du Preez’s 70 runs were scored at a Strike Rate of 170 – far in excess of her international “average” of 98.

“I think that is something that I needed to realise – there is space for my type of play within the game – if you place it well you can still get value for your shots.”

“Adding a bit of power to my game is something I’ve been working on – that’s how the game is evolving so I have to keep up! It’s still not where I’d want it to be but it came off nicely today and I’m happy with the result.”

And so she should be. The bonus point win for Loughborough opens up the middle of the table again; and though Western Storm may be soaring ahead – at time of writing they have TWICE as many points as second-placed Vipers – Surrey showed last year that all you need to do is qualify for Finals Day, by the skin of your teeth or not, to be in with a shout of walking off with that trophy. Du Preez is working hard to give the Lightning that shout with performances like today’s.

OPINION: New Zealand Contracts In Perspective – An Important Starting Point

The announcement of a new framework for international and domestic contracts in New Zealand has been widely reported this week, and hailed as a big step forward for the women’s game there.

New Zealand Cricket has set aside $1.3m per year – about £750,000 – to pay players over the next 3 years, with the centrally contracted international squad earning a minimum of $44,000 (£23,000) per year, up to a maximum of around $80,000 (£43,000) per year for the top tier, including match fees.

This is significantly less than the top Australian or Indian internationals, but only slightly less than England, and considerably more than anywhere else – it establishes New Zealand firmly in the top 4 for internationals, and will doubtless serve to keep players in the game who might have otherwise started to look at their options.

Equally significantly, New Zealand have pledged to introduce paid central contracts for the first time for an additional 60-or-so domestic players competing in the T20 Super Smash and 50-over Hallyburton Johnstone competitions, which were previously 100% amateur.

While this undoubtedly moves New Zealand cricket a significant step forwards, there has been some confusion about quite how far.

Although these players will be “contracted” most of them will initially be earning only $3,000 per year – approximately £1,800. So while the fact that these agreements will be called “contracts” is exciting, they are actually only worth about half the amount that English domestic players can currently earn from the Kia Super League – and considerably less than even the lower-end numbers which have been rumoured for next year with the new Hundred and CoEs competitions in England.

So this is not professionalism or even semi-professionalism. As Suzie Bates put it in Cricket New Zealand’s press release, it is “[a] starting point for the eventual semi-professionalisation of the women’s domestic game in New Zealand.” [Emphasis ours.]

It is still an important step though – women’s cricket needs New Zealand to be competitive and to to give us stars like Suzie Bates and Sophie Devine – and this new announcement hopefully means that they will continue to do so in the years to come.

KSL: One Ball from Lauren Bell

On August 14th 2018, the Southern Vipers, on their way to a last-placed finish in the Kia Super League, took on the Surrey Stars at Hove.

The Vipers had made a respectable 147, almost entirely due to Suzie Bates, who had hit 82 off 57 balls; and opening the batting for the Surrey Stars was Lizelle Lee – a fine batsman at the peak of her formidable powers, who would go on to make a blistering hundred in a player of the match performance at the same ground a week or so later in the final.

At the other end, seventeen-year-old fast bowler Lauren Bell – playing just her second professional match, having come into the Vipers 1st XI as an injury replacement.

Bell’s stock delivery is an inswinger, but with little assistance in the air she set herself to bowl quick and move it off the pitch, away from the right-handed Lee.

Dot… dot… dot… dot… dot… dot.

A maiden!

Lee had barely seen the ball, let alone had time to play it; and Bell had announced herself to the world – this was a player worth watching!

A year later, almost to the day, Bell is opening the bowling for the Vipers once again – this time against the Western Storm. At the crease is Rachel Priest, the veteran T20 specialist from New Zealand renowned for her dismissive power hitting. Priest knows what to expect – she played a season with Bell at Berkshire – and after seeing off two dots, she punches the third delivery through the covers for 4.

This one isn’t going to be a maiden!

Bell walks back to her mark, and prepares to bowl again.

This time she delivers the ball from a foot-and-a-half outside off stump. It is a straight delivery out of the hand, but it begins to swing in to the batsman. It is a good ball, not doubt – on the money – but Priest has it covered and swings to bash it over midwicket. She hears the sound of wood on leather and watches for the ball sailing towards the boundary for six… except… it soon becomes apparent that’s not quite what has happened.

The ball has swung… then swung some more… and then swung just that little bit more; and that sound you heard was not bat on ball, but the ball crashing through the gate into Priest’s leg stump.

Bell had just announced herself all over again – not just a player worth watching, but a player worth fearing.

Because anyone can bowl a maiden – even at Lizelle Lee – but no one else can bowl a ball like that.

Not Katherine Brunt.

Not Anya Shrubsole.

Not Marizanne Kapp or Megan Schutt.

They are all fantastic players; and overall, right now, I’d still pick any of them in my T20 dream team ahead of Bell, for consistency and economy.

But none of them could bowl a ball like that.

No one could.

No one, except Lauren Bell.

KSL: Vipers v Storm – Random Thoughts: Fearless Farrant, Brilliant Bates And Level Luff

Fearless Farrant

For almost the whole of their run chase against Southern Vipers, Western Storm looked to be cruising to their 142-run target. On the two occasions their momentum was disrupted, though, one bowler was responsible: Tash Farrant.

Firstly, coming on to bowl the 11th over, with both Smriti Mandhana and Heather Knight looking set, Farrant outsmarted both – Smriti top-edging her slower ball to short fine leg, before Knight was castled 4 balls later. Then, after Sophie Luff and Fran Wilson had taken Storm to the brink, and with just 8 needed from the last 2 overs, Farrant again intervened: having Luff caught at mid off trying to go over the top, which in turn unsettled Wilson enough to run out her new partner Deepti Sharma.

It wasn’t quite enough for Vipers in the end, but Farrant – who England have, arguably, badly missed this summer after she lost her contract in February – at least gave them a sniff when it looked like the match was dead in the water. Farrant might no longer count as an “international” but she is still one of Vipers’ biggest assets.

Brilliant Bates

Suzie Bates has taken on a different role at the Vipers this summer: having handed the captaincy reins over to Tammy Beaumont, she is now simply the senior pro; and she seems to be quite enjoying it: “I’m a lot more relaxed off the field!” she said at close of play today.

It’s given her time to focus more on her own game, and while her 38-ball 33 was less than fluent today – “I didn’t time it from ball 1, and then tried to overhit” – she was the player trusted by Beaumont to bowl the 20th over, with Storm needing just 2 runs from it. It seemed an impossible task, but Bates breathed life into a game that should have been done and dusted.

How did she approach it? “I’ve watched enough T20 cricket to know that you’ve just got to stay in the game,” she said afterwards. “I thought if I could bowl it full and straight – sometimes you get to that point and to finish the game as a batter is the hardest thing. I thought I had nothing to lose, and if I could hit the stumps I’d be in with a chance.”

First ball she had Wilson LBW: “I fell over with excitement that she’d missed a full and straight one! Then I knew it was going to be nervy for the batters coming in, so I had my back up and wanted to take it as deep as I could.”

Next ball was a dot, that hit incoming batsman Anya Shrubsole on the pad. Her third ball then sent Shrubsole packing, swinging and missing at yet another straight one.

Fortunately for Storm, Sonia Odedra and Naomi Dattani both kept their heads – each scoring singles, to see the visitors over the line with one ball to spare.

Interestingly, Bates has barely featured with the ball of late in T20 cricket. This was the first match in this year’s KSL in which she has been called on to bowl her full allocation. She did not bowl once for New Zealand in their T20 series against Indian in February this year, and in the World T20 in the Caribbean last November she bowled just 2 overs across 4 group stage matches.

Bates, though, wants to change that. “I want to be that bowler for the White Ferns that bowls to the death,” she said today, “so it helps to get those opportunities for the Vipers.”

New Zealand could do a lot worse.

Level Luff

Heather Knight and Fran Wilson have stolen the headlines on both occasions, but in Storm’s two recent run chases – against Thunder yesterday and Vipers today – Sophie Luff, coming in at number 5, has played a key role. Today, her 58-run partnership with Wilson steadied the ship at a crucial stage in the game, the pair running hard between the wickets to ensure the run rate continued to tick over.

Yesterday against Thunder, Wilson’s half-century was made with Knight at the other end: today, with Luff, she was the senior partner, which you’d think would have added more pressure. Not according to Wilson: “I didn’t feel like that really,” she said. “I’d probably say yesterday was harder.”

“I especially like batting with Luffy. She’s really good to bat with – complements our order really well, she can hit the boundaries, but I also don’t know how she gets the singles she gets – she sees the gaps that a lot of us don’t see.”

It helps that the pair have known each other since they were both playing under-12s age-group cricket for Somerset. “A bit of psychic powers there, maybe!” Wilson joked after play. “We’ve always batted well together. We both like to run well. We’re quite different as personalities as well – she keeps me quite level.”

Storm threw away the chance to reach last year’s final after they collapsed in the semi against Surrey Stars: a bit of Level Luff in this year’s competition is just what the doctor ordered.

KSL: Stars V Thunder – Middle Over Slump Stills Lancashire’s Thunder

In the Good Old Days™ – 5 or 6 years ago – the powerplay didn’t seem to matter much in women’s T20 cricket. When 120 was often a match-winning score, players brought up in a 50-over mindset eschewed the risks of going “over the top”, and looked instead to accumulate.

It would be easy to look at the scorecard from yesterday’s Stars v Thunder match-up at Guildford and think how everything has changed. Lizelle Lee opened the innings for the Stars, who were chasing a no-longer-par 120, and smashed 66 off 45 balls – surely an example of putting the “power” into powerplay?

Except… that’s not quite what happened.

It was actually the post-powerplay overs that were the difference between the two sides, as the (smoothed average) run rate chart shows.

Stars v Thunder Run Rates

Batting first, the Thunder didn’t have a great powerplay – Marizanne Kapp was exceptional, a she always is, going at just 3.5 runs per over, bowling all 4 overs up-top – but when the Stars came to reply, the Thunder were actually ahead for the first 4 overs; and it wasn’t until the “boring” middle overs that Lee and the Stars really took off.

In contrast, the Thunder had totally slumped in the middle overs – they really were “boring”, with the boundary barely troubled.

Harmanpreet Kaur was at the crease that whole time, and though she eventually got going in a final assault which brought 44 runs off the last 4 overs, prior to that she’d been batting at well under 100 – at the end of the 17th she was on just 25 off 36 balls.

Ellyse Perry’s T20 innings used to follow a similar pattern – she’d often be 10 off 20 balls; 15 off 30 – but then accelerate to finish 60 off 40. On the final scorecard, it looked respectable; but there were a lot of wasted deliveries along the way, and she obviously realised it was a problem, because she worked hard to change it, and she now typically goes at a strike rate of over 100 from the off.

Talking to Thunder captain Kate Cross after the game, she said: “Harmanpreet batted superbly and gave us an opportunity – when she flipped that switch and decided to go, she proved what you can do on a pitch like that.”

And there’s no arguing with that, but… yes… there’s a but!

As the senior player – the big overseas star – was it perhaps her responsibility to flip that switch a lot earlier? To make the most of those middle overs, instead of wasting them?

Having an “opportunity” is better than not having one; but that middle over slump left the Thunder relying on an “opportunity” when they could have used that period to take command, with plenty of batting still to come, right down to Eve Jones coming in at 9.

Those middle overs are where the Thunder could have won that game.

Instead, it was were they lost it.

NEWS: ECB Hint At Reduction in Contracted England Players

Emails seen by CRICKETher possibly suggest that the ECB may be planning to reduce the number of contracted England players by almost a quarter, from 20-odd to just 16.

Currently there are officially 21 contracted players (though rumour has it (and you know how we love a rumour) that there are actually 22) which includes 3 players on “rookie” contracts, who are expected to train with the fully contracted players but are not paid a full-time living wage.

But two separate emails seen by CRICKETher suggest that when it comes to The Hundred, coaches will be selecting from a pool of just 16 centrally contracted England players – implying a reduction of five.

If so, this would bring the women more into line with the men, where there are generally around 15 centrally contracted players, though the men’s setup is split between separate red and white ball contracts, with some players holding just one and others both.

A year ago, this would have been very bad news for the five players losing their central deals. Although the players are paid for playing in the Kia Super League, it isn’t enough to support training full time, with the rest of the domestic setup being entirely amateur, and the players let go last year had just a few weeks to find jobs or literally face the dole queue.

However, the forthcoming changes to the setup of domestic cricket allow some scope for the ECB to make this reduction, because The Hundred and the newly aligned elite 20 and 50-over competitions are expected to pay a (small) full time wage, which could mean that the rookie players at least may actually be better off next year as a result; though if any fully contracted players were let go, they would probably have to take a hit, and they would lose their Kia Sportages – the lovely, big, shiny cars they get as part of Kia’s sponsorship deal with the ECB.

STATS: Women’s Ashes – Bowling Rankings

Player Matches Wickets Economy
1. Sophie Ecclestone 7 13 3.69
2. Ellyse Perry 7 15 4.28
3. Jess Jonassen 7 11 3.4
4. Megan Schutt 7 10 3.36
5. Laura Marsh 6 8 3.92
6. Katherine Brunt 6 8 4.04
7. Delissa Kimmince 6 8 4.76
8. Sophie Molineux 3 5 3.16
9. Ashleigh Gardner 7 5 3.25
10. Anya Shrubsole 6 5 4.66
11. Kirstie Gordon 1 3 3.24
12. Nat Sciver 7 5 5.65
13. Kate Cross 6 4 5.53
14. Heather Knight 7 2 3.72
15. Mady Villiers 1 2 5
16. Georgia Wareham 6 2 5.26
17. Tayla Vlaeminck 2 1 3.53
18. Georgia Elwiss 2 0 4.5

Bowling Ranking = Wickets / Economy

If there was one bright spot for England in a pretty miserable series it was the class of Sophie Ecclestone, who topped the bowling rankings taking 13 wickets at an Economy Rate of just 3.69 runs per over. Ecclestone worked harder than anyone else in the series – bowling 92 overs, of which 16 were maidens, and was England’s most consistent performer in a series where Australia were dominant with the bat.

As in the batting rankings, Ellyse Perry topped the headline number – talking more wickets than Ecclestone – but was ranked lower due to Ecclestone’s better Economy Rate. It is also possibly worth pointing out that if we caveated Tammy Beaumont’s batting numbers by pointing out that half her runs were scored in one innings, we should perhaps also do the same with Perry, who took 7 of her 15 wickets in that remarkable performance at Canterbury.

For all the pre-series hype about Australia’s young spinners, Georgia Wareham and Sophie Molineux, neither caused England too many problems. Wareham was expensive without having the wickets to compensate – taking just 2 wickets in 6 matches, and going at over 5 an over; while Molineux only made 3 appearances and was obviously still having problems with her shoulder, as confirmed by her subsequent withdrawal from the KSL.

Instead it was Jess Jonassen who finished the series as Australia’s leading spinner. Jonassen is only 26, but somehow already seems to qualify for the epithet of “veteran” – this was her 4th Women’s Ashes, and as well as taking 11 wickets she also scored more runs (128) than several of England’s top order batsmen, in an impressive allround performance by any normal standards – though those “normal” standards have obviously been somewhat overturned by Ellyse Perry in recent years!

PREVIEW: Kia Super League 2019 – KSL Goes Forth

By Raf Nicholson & Syd Egan

So here it is: the fourth and final season of the Kia Super League gets started on Tuesday, with Thunder v Vipers, Lightning v Storm and Diamonds v Stars – the latter live on Sky Sports at 7pm prime-time, which fans should make the most of, with Sky scheduled* to broadcast just six regular season matches this year.

Once again, the KSL promises to be a great competition, with some of the best players in the world, including Australia’s Alyssa Healy and India’s Jemimah Rodrigues [pro tip: it’s pronounced “rod-reeks”] making their Super League debuts.

Unlike the fourth season of Blackadder, no one will have to stick a pencil up their nose or wear their underpants on their heads… but sadly just like when Blackadder went forth, one thing is guaranteed: everybody will die in the end.

Lancashire Thunder

Last Season: 4th

Kate Cross (c), Georgie Boyce, Natalie Brown, Danielle Collins, Sophia Dunkley, Alice Dyson, Sophie Ecclestone, Ria Fackrell, Alex Hartley, Eve Jones, Harmanpreet Kaur, Emma Lamb, Sune Luus, Tahlia McGrath, Ellie Threlkeld

The Thunder have always been the team that have most consistently given good opportunities to their local players; and having missed out on Finals Day by a whisker last year, they have kept faith with their core of Lancashire county “pros” – the likes of Eve Jones, Emma Lamb and Ellie Threlkeld, who if you cut them would all bleed red.

They will be accompanied on the field this year by an “interesting” overseas contingent – Harmanpreet Kaur played arguably the greatest innings in history in that World Cup semi-final against Australia in 2017, but there is a reason her name is so often accompanied by the word “mercurial”; while Tahlia McGrath has never been more than a fringe player for Australia; and Sune Luus, despite standing in as captain recently while Dane van Niekerk was injured, is still struggling to really find a role for South Africa as more of a batting allrounder, since she started to struggle with her bowling radar a couple of years back.

The signing of Sophia Dunkley, who was the leading run-scorer in the Women’s County Championship, is a good move for both parties – Dunkley will get an opportunity to bat higher up the order than she had at Surrey Stars, with a view to making a case to England coach Mark Robinson ahead of selections for a winter which includes the T20 World Cup in Australia; while Lancashire could use her power hitting in a batting lineup that has perhaps at times looked a little too classical for the shortest form of the game. [SE]

Loughborough Lightning

Last Season: 2nd

Georgia Elwiss (c), Amy Jones, Abi Freeborn, Kathryn Bryce, Jenny Gunn, Jo Gardner, Tara Norris, Kirstie Gordon, Alice Monaghan, Georgia Adams, Lucy Higham, Sarah Glenn, Hayley Matthews, Chamari Atapattu, Mignon du Preez

The Lightning won the league stage of the competition last season, but flopped in the final as their overseas batting stars failed to fire. None of those overseas return, though in Sophie Devine’s case this was through injury rather than by choice; but the Lightning have taken advantage of a change in the regulations on overseas from non-ODI status nations to recruit four overseas this season – Scotland captain Katherine Bryce, who is a student at Loughborough University; T20 World Cup winner Hayley Matthews; Sri Lanka’s Chamari Atapattu; and the massively underrated former South Africa captain Mignon du Preez – expect the hard-running du Preez to shore up the middle order, allowing Matthews and Atapattu the freedom to play their shots around her.

Of their England players, Amy Jones will be desperate to put a disastrous Ashes campaign behind her and score some runs in the relatively lower-profile environment of KSL; Kirstie Gordon will be keen to lay down a marker that her 2018 season, when she led the list of wicket-takers, was not just a one-off; and Georgia Elwiss will be keen to catch Mark Robinson’s eye for the “Jenny Gunn” role for England this winter; while… talking of whom… Jenny Gunn herself will want to go out on a high, if indeed (as rumoured [Edit: and denied]) this proves to be her last season before retirement.

If all of them play to their potential, Loughborough have every chance of making finals day again; but it is a big if, and if not, it might just put too much pressure on what is a slightly inexperienced second-string to really challenge in 2019. [SE]

Southern Vipers

Last Season: 6th

Tammy Beaumont (c), Danni Wyatt, Tash Farrant, Suzie Bates, Stafanie Taylor, Amanda-Jade Wellington, Charlie Dean, Maia Bouchier, Lauren Bell, Carla Rudd, Paige Scholfield, Thea Brookes, Marie Kelly, Issy Wong, Fi Morris

CRICKETher tipped the Vipers to win the Super League last year, which wasn’t quite a prediction they lived up to – after a good opening-day win against Surrey Stars, the wheels came off and what we’d thought was a sleek sports coupe finished the season looking more like a clown car.

For 2019, all-but half of last season’s 1st XI have been shipped out, or retired in the case of England veteran Arran Brindle; with England prospects Lauren Bell and Maia Bouchier coming into more front-line roles as a result. Bouchier opened the batting and the bowling for Hampshire in this season’s County Championship, and looked to be thriving on the responsibility; while Bell will be looking to build on the solid start she made to her professional career last season, coming into the starting XI as a replacement for the injured Katie George, which included bowling an unplayable first-over maiden to a bemused Lizelle Lee against the Surrey Stars at Hove.

The Stars won that game at Hove with 3 balls to spare, as they scrapped their way to Finals Day, but when the two teams met again in a warm-up last week, the tables were turned as the Vipers posted 130-7 before bowling the Stars out for 83, which could be a good omen for the season ahead. Much though will depend on the form of Suzie Bates. Bates has stepped down from the captaincy in favour of Tammy Beaumont, but she remains the Vipers keystone player – if she has a good season, the chances are they will. [SE]

Surrey Stars

Last Season: Winners

Nat Sciver (c), Aylish Cranstone, Gwenan Davies, Grace Gibbs, Amy Gordon, Eva Gray, Hannah Jones, Marizanne Kapp, Lizelle Lee, Laura Marsh, Bryony Smith, Rhianna Southby, Sarah Taylor, Dane van Niekerk, Mady Villiers

After scraping through to Finals Day by the skin of their teeth last season, Stars surprised everyone by going on to win the final against the previously dominant Loughborough Lightning. That victory came courtesy of a brilliant century from Lizelle Lee, who was probably re-signed on the spot for the 2019 season, having proved herself capable of pulling a big innings out of the bag when it mattered most.

In fact all of the the South African triumvirate of Lee, Dane van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp are back at the Stars this year – a good move from the club, who maintain the services of the best death bowler in global T20 cricket.

Losing Sophia Dunkley to Lancashire Thunder will have been a blow (and not a decision that Surrey were happy with, by all accounts), but the move may give some of their other young batsmen a chance to take on the lower-order big-hitting role, with Mady Villiers in particular looking to prove that her England selection was more than just a flash-in-the-pan. Surrey have also signed Gwenan Davies, the Warwickshire keeper, on the back of a strong showing in Warwickshire’s triumphant T20 Cup campaign. That probably suggests that they are not expecting Sarah Taylor (who played all but 1 match last season) to feature this time around.

Overall this is a strong squad who will do well, but I think they might find themselves pipped to the post when it comes to reaching Finals Day. [RN]

Western Storm

Last Season: 3rd

Heather Knight (c), Anya Shrubsole, Fran Wilson, Freya Davies, Smriti Mandhana, Rachel Priest, Deepti Sharma, Danielle Gibson, Ellie Mitchell, Claire Nicholas, Sophie Luff, Naomi Dattani, Amara Carr, Sonia Odedra, Alex Griffiths

Storm are the only team who have been present at all 3 Finals Days, and they are likely to maintain that 100% record this time around. With last year’s breathtaking display of dominance from Smriti Mandhana, the only thing that stopped Storm retaining their title was her enforced absence from Finals Day: this time around, she is expected to be present for the whole competition.

Rachel Priest will once again open the batting with Smriti, while their third overseas is a new signing, Smriti’s India teammate Deepti Sharma, who replaces Stafanie Taylor after she underperformed with the bat last season (admittedly given less opportunity to do so in the face of The Smriti Show). Despite not being the most well-known player, Deepti is currently ranked second in the ICC’s ODI all-rounder rankings (behind only, yes you’ve guessed it, Ellyse Perry), and could prove a genius signing by the Storm.

They also have some exciting new domestic players joining their ranks, including 17-year-old leg-spinner Ellie Mitchell – who joined the England Academy in November – as well as jobbing county pro Sonia Odedra, who continues to shine for Nottinghamshire and will add all-round strength to their squad.

Meanwhile opening bowler Freya Davies, having at last been rewarded for her consistency in the KSL with a full England contract, will be looking to send a strong signal to Mark Robinson that she deserves more opportunities at international level. Anyone who’d bet against Storm reaching Finals Day probably hasn’t been paying enough attention. [RN]

Yorkshire Diamonds

Last Season: 5th

Lauren Winfield (c), Katherine Brunt, Alice Davidson-Richards, Katie George, Linsey Smith, Hollie Armitage, Alyssa Healy, Jemimah Rodrigues, Leigh Kasperek, Helen Fenby, Katie Levick, Bess Heath, Beth Langston, Cordelia Griffith, Georgia Davis

Diamonds have traditionally been the underdogs in the KSL, finishing in fifth place in all three of the previous editions of the competition, but somehow they seem to have pulled it out of the bag in the final season with some top-notch overseas signings. That includes Aussie wicket-keeper Alyssa Healy, who has a claim to being the best T20 batsman in the world right now after winning the Player of the Tournament award in November’s World Twenty20.

Alongside Healy the Indian 18-year-old Jemimah Rodrigues will be making her KSL debut, having launched her international career to great fanfare only 18 months ago. Leigh Kasperek, meanwhile, comes in as their third overseas, a last-minute replacement for Chloe Tryon. The off-spinning all-rounder will feel right at home, having represented Yorkshire in the Women’s County Championship for the last two seasons.

Mark Robinson clearly retains belief in Katie George, who was recently bumped up to a full England contract; it will be interesting to see how she gets on “up north” after sitting out of much of last season for Southern Vipers, as well as the first half of this, with recurrent injuries. However, with home-grown talents Katherine Brunt, Katie Levick and Beth Langston ready to do their thing, perhaps she won’t be needed.

One other exciting signing is Cordelia Griffith, who joins the Diamonds after a great premier 50-over domestic season for Middlesex which included a century against Somerset. Griffith missed out on selection in 2018 after representing Stars in the first two seasons of the tournament, but now has a great opportunity to make her case for a contract in next year’s new semi-pro set-up.

I love a good underdog success story, so maybe I’m being sentimental here, but I reckon that this could just be the Yorkshire Diamonds’ year. [RN]

Predictions

Raf:

  1. Yorkshire Diamonds
  2. Western Storm
  3. Southern Vipers

Syd:

  1. Southern Vipers
  2. Western Storm
  3. Surrey Stars

——————–

* At time of writing, Sky’s cricket schedule shows just 6 KSL matches through August.

STATS: Women’s Ashes – Batting Rankings

Player Matches Runs Strike Rate
1. Meg Lanning 7 359 85.27
2. Alyssa Healy 7 266 90.78
3. Ellyse Perry 7 378 60.09
4. Tammy Beaumont 7 190 98.44
5. Beth Mooney 7 228 81.72
6. Nat Sciver 7 208 59.94
7. Jess Jonassen 7 128 67.36
8. Lauren Winfield 3 71 118.33
9. Ashleigh Gardner 7 89 86.4
10. Rachel Haynes 7 148 40.77
11. Laura Marsh 6 101 57.71
12. Katherine Brunt 6 106 53.53
13. Danni Wyatt 5 55 90.16
14. Heather Knight 7 93 51.09
15. Sophie Ecclestone 7 59 76.62
16. Amy Jones 7 88 48.61
17. Sophie Molineux 3 62 61.38
18. Megan Schutt 7 8 400
19. Delissa Kimmince 6 32 76.19
20. Fran Wilson 3 40 49.38
21. Anya Shrubsole 6 36 31.57
22. Georgia Elwiss 2 14 31.11
23. Nicole Bolton 4 13 24.07
24. Kate Cross 6 9 22.5
25. Sarah Taylor 3 6 27.27
26. Georgia Wareham 6 0 0

Batting Ranking = Runs * Strike Rate

Unsurprisingly, given they won the series 12-4, the 2019 Women’s Ashes Batting Rankings are dominated by Australians, who make up 7 of the top 10. Overall, Australia’s batsmen scored 1,711 runs in the series, compared with England’s 1,076.

Although Player of the Series Ellyse Perry scored the most runs, she is ranked lower than team-mates Meg Lanning and Alyssa Healy due to their superior Strike Rates.

England’s highest-ranked player was Tammy Beaumont, although Nat Sciver scored more runs and was a bit more consistent – over half of Beaumont’s runs came in one innings – her century in the 2nd ODI at Leicester.

England’s batting woes are exemplified as much by who didn’t score runs as who did. Heather Knight and Amy Jones both made less than 100 runs in the entire series, despite playing every match; whilst Danni Wyatt totalled just 55 in 5 innings.

Lauren Winfield on the other hand, who came into the T20s off the back of some decidedly scratchy form in the county season, made the most of her window of opportunity to possibly even save her England career with a couple of good knocks down the order – not the easiest place to bat in T20.

Meanwhile Australia will fly home delighted with the form of Beth Mooney (228 runs in the series) who maybe hadn’t quite 100% cemented her place in the line-up as a pure batsman until now; but perhaps slightly concerned that the jury is still out on Ashleigh Gardner, who is yet to stamp her authority on the international game with the panache she has shown in WBBL; though to be fair, as with Winfield, you have to account for her not batting in the easiest position in the order to make really big runs in the shorter formats of the game.

Women’s Ashes 3rd T20 – England Play The Long Game

Before yesterday’s match, Syd and I discussed how England would approach what was a completely dead rubber. Afterwards, Heather Knight provided the answer:

“We talked after the second game about trying to draw a line in the sand after the series and try and treat today as Day One of us getting back to where we need to be.”

It was an approach that seemed to pay dividends: England bowled better lengths than they had all series, while Lauren Winfield took advantage of a final opportunity to prove to Mark Robinson that she deserves her spot on the plane to Australia next February.

After the match, Australia even looked momentarily downcast, having fallen at the last hurdle in their goal of going unbeaten through the tour. Alyssa Healy actually had to gather the team together and remind them that nothing should be allowed to spoil their celebrations: “There was great leadership from Alyssa Healy at the end there – she brought everyone in together and said ‘lets remember how great this tour’s been’,” Matthew Mott told the media.

Of course it’s easier to play good cricket when the series has already been and gone, but last night – likely to be the last international T20 cricket England play until their tri-series ahead of the World T20 in Australia – was important in showcasing that they can at least be competitive in that tournament.

“We’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us to try and catch up with the Australians, to go back to where we need to be and where we want to go,” Knight said.

“That World T20 is going to be a big focus for us now over the next 8 months. The performance we put in is a sign of what we can do.”

It was also a chance to showcase that, far from the cupboard in England being bare, there are young talents emerging: 20-year-old Mady Villiers, who only joined the Academy in November, had a game to remember, taking the crucial wickets of Healy and Ash Gardner on debut.

“Mady was outstanding,” Knight said of the newest addition to her team. “You could see from the look in her eyes, she absolutely loved it out there. That’s what you want to see – you want someone desperate to go out and perform well and she really took the opportunity with both hands.”

All the talk over the past few weeks has been about the disparities between the English and Australian domestic set-ups. Even with the ECB’s proposed changes, the worry remains that England will move further behind Australia before they can even begin to think about catching up, as the new system takes time to bed down and only moves slowly towards becoming fully professional.

With that in mind, the question becomes: When might England next win an Ashes series – 2025? 2027?

A depressing thought. But as a great philosopher once said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. England took that step last night.