NEWS: Lisa Keightley Appointed England Coach

The ECB have announced that Australian Lisa Keightley will be Mark Robinson’s replacement as the new Head Coach of England Women.

Keightley, 48, is currently the Head Coach of Western Australia in the WNCL and Perth Scorchers in the WBBL.

The former Australian international previously served as Head Coach of the England Women’s Academy between 2011 and 2015.

Keightley, already absorbing the official lingo, said she was “massively” excited about her new role. “It’s a huge opportunity. It’s a team full of world-class players and to be given the chance to work with some of the players who I worked with a few years ago is really exciting. I can’t wait to get started and see where we can get to.”

“England are the current 50-over World Champions and they made it to the final of the last ICC Women’s T20 World Cup. They’re a very competitive side and they wouldn’t be in big matches like that if they didn’t have a really strong group of players who can perform on the big stage. I’m really looking forward to getting underway and helping the team progress.”

Managing Director of Women’s Cricket, Clare Connor, said: “Lisa was the stand-out candidate from a varied and highly talented group of applicants.”

The interview panel, which consisted of Jonathan Finch, Clare Connor, John Neal and Tom Harrison, were impressed by Keightley’s demonstration of her suitability for the role, her impressive knowledge of the game and her passion for coaching and developing players.

“She outlined clear plans as to how she believes she can take the team and this group of players forward,” said Connor.

Keightley will begin the role formally in January, following the end of the 2019 WBBL tournament, with Interim Head Coach Alastair Maiden continuing to lead the team until that time.

Keightley will be stepping down as Women’s Head Coach of London Spirit in The Hundred, and her replacement in that role will be announced in due course.

CLUB OF THE MONTH: Mote CC

Here at CRICKETher, we’re passionate about women’s cricket at all levels, including club cricket. It’s our mission to offer coverage of women’s (and girls’) club cricket wherever we can! Our ‘Club of the Month’ feature will focus on one women’s or girls’ club every month, giving you the lowdown on their highs, lows, and everything in between.

If you’d like to see your club featured here, get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!

This month we are featuring Mote Cricket Club in Maidstone, Kent as our Club of the Month, to celebrate the fact that, ahead of the 2020 season, they are launching Mote Girls & Women – a new club section specifically dedicated to growing and promoting girls and women’s cricket.

Four years ago the club numbered only 23 playing members: today they have 170 playing members (both male and female), 19 qualified coaches, and a raft of support and welfare volunteers.

“We are a thriving, growing club, as we should be given that we were once a mainstay of first class cricket, where Colin Cowdrey knocked off his 100th 100!” says Nick Aldrich, who manages Mote’s existing junior section.

Much of that growth has come about as a result of the increased numbers of girls playing, which swells every year. However, there is a a clear need to develop opportunities for these girls further.

Mote CC

“Our cricket teams are always mixed, from U9 and even to U13 we enter into the local leagues mixed teams and this works very well,” says Nick. “However, I am being asked and the need is increasing for us to develop girls teams to offer greater opportunity to our female players.”

“This isn’t as a replacement to mixed teams – as coaches, players and parents feel strongly that having mixed teams works well for us – but as the girls get older we want to be able to offer them competitive girls-only cricket, especially from U13 upwards. For this reason the timing is right to launch a girls section within the colts and then build this into a women’s section over time.”

Working with Anna Tunnicliff at Town & Malling Cricket Club, which has a thriving girls and women’s section, the two clubs will be combining their efforts and resources in launching Mote Girls & Women. Given the large playing space at the Mote, which is still of county standard, the aim is to meet the increased demand for female cricket in Kent’s county town.

Initially, the launch will be focused upon girls cricket, with new female and male coaches slowly building the teams from existing and new players, which the club hope to attract from local schools.

“Having also coached Kent Girls U11 and U13 I have established connections throughout Kent to ensure our new club will receive a warm welcome into the tournaments and festivals currently run by Kent Cricket, and we start with the aim of one U11 and one U13 side for 2020,” says Nick.

The aim is to lay the foundations for an U15 and U17 side to start in the 2021 season, with the hope that these players will transition into a new women’s team, as part of a longer term club commitment to girls and women’s cricket.

If you’d like to know more about Mote Girls & Women, you can contact Nick on nickdaldrich@gmail.com.

Good luck Mote and we wish you all the best with the launch!

OPINION: Will The Centres Of Excellence Be The Kia Super League Mark Two?

One of the major disappointments surrounding the launch of The Hundred (Women’s Competition) has been the simultaneous end to the highly successful Kia Super League.

In a relatively short space of time (four years), the KSL developed a strong fanbase – as evidenced by the sea of orange / green / purple / etc shirts sported by supporters at matches – and was able to attract good sized crowds, including two sell-out Finals Days at Hove. In one fell swoop the ECB appeared to have abolished the whole concept and all the accompanying teams in favour of their glitzy new format.

Or had they?

We now know that the 8 new Centres of Excellence will operate in the following areas: North West (incorporating Lancashire), North East (incorporating Yorkshire), West Midlands, East Midlands (incorporating Loughborough University), South West & Wales (incorporating Somerset / Gloucestershire), South Central (incorporating Hampshire), London & South East (incorporating Surrey), and London & East.

While we don’t yet know who the host counties will be for each region, there was a STRONG hint from Clare Connor at the launch that Loughborough might well end up as the host for the East Midlands region – “The whole process within regions is open to any cricket-minded organisation,” she said. “It might be that within the East Midlands region, Loughborough University are the regional lead for that region. It’s not wedded to the county structure.”

When you put it like that, it becomes apparent that 6 of these Regional Centres have something important in common: they represent the old KSL franchises – with bonus extra teams in London & East and in the West Midlands.

It really is the KSL Mark Two – only this time, the teams will also be playing 50-over cricket (as was originally the intention for the KSL).

There is an added aspect to this. The “Centres of Excellence” are as yet unnamed, but they will need a rebrand ahead of their launch in 2020 – “Regional Centre” isn’t exactly the catchiest title!

The strength of the KSL was that each of the 6 teams was founded on strong, solid branding – see for example the Ageas Bowl (home of the Vipers) becoming known as the “Snake Pit”, or Western Storm adopting a song about combine harvesters as their team ditty.

So… why not use what you’ve already got? The South West & Wales region can be the “Western Storm” CoE. The South Central region can be the “Southern Vipers” CoE. Assuming the ECB have no objection to the use of county names, the London & South East region could even be the “Surrey Stars” CoE. Etc, etc, etc.

This would not only save a whole lot of time and effort, it would save the Regional Centres having to reinvent the wheel and come up with shiny new branding, when they’ve already got quite enough to be getting on with (we’re only about 6 months away from the start of the new season and there are a LOT of logistics to sort out before then, not to mention player recruitment!)

In fact arguably, in order for the Regional Centres to be any more successful than the Women’s County Championship at attracting spectators, they NEED to focus on branding, and not simply consider themselves to be running a slightly more updated version of Super Fours – i.e. a development competition only. This will, after all, be the premier 50-over competition (and possibly after 2021 the premier 20-over competition) being played in England. As I see it, it’s a no-brainer: use the brands you’ve already got to market these new teams.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’ve a sneaking suspicion (having looked at the layout of the new regions) that this might even be what the ECB had in mind all along. Maybe it was never about getting rid of the KSL altogether – maybe it was always about ensuring that the Women’s Hundred and the KSL (Mark Two) would be able to happily co-exist?

THE HUNDRED: Why Was There No Women’s Draft?

During the men’s draft for The Hundred last night, quite a few people were questioning when the women’s draft was happening, and were subsequently surprised to learn that there wasn’t going to be one, asking if this was another case of “All cricketers are equal… but the men are more equal than the women”?

Sources at the ECB have told us that they did consider holding a women’s draft, but decided against it; and we think that this was actually the correct decision.

The main stated reason for this is that the average age of the women is much lower than the men – there were going to be a lot of teenagers involved, and you simply can’t just pack a seventeen year old girl off to the other end of the country, to live and play for six weeks with people she doesn’t really know, and expect that to not end up with problems somewhere along the line – at best homesickness; at worst, a life-changing mental health crisis.

Of course, the ECB could have excluded teenagers from the competition, or found a way for them to “dodge” the draft, but excluding them completely would defeat the entire object, and allowing them to dodge the draft would have made the process ridiculously complicated and/ or unfair.

There were also no doubt a couple of other considerations at the back of peoples’ minds at the ECB.

One was the issue of players who come as a “package” – you get both, or you get neither. Arguably, you could say “That’s their problem!” but then don’t be surprised if several of the world’s best players decide to say “Thanks… but no thanks!”

There are also… inevitably… a few instances of players who absolutely will NOT play together any more, for similar reasons, and again this would be very complicated to handle in a draft. You could have given players an “Objection” but then someone would inevitably ask “Why?” and then… well… as the kids say… awks!

It was also the case that the England players didn’t want a draft. After their experience of being shifted around in the KSL – a much more contentious (and occasionally fraught) process behind the scenes than people ever let on – they wanted to be in control of their own careers and destinies, which was especially important given that The Hundred isn’t really just six weeks for the women, because the franchises are likely to be strongly tied to the Centres of Excellence. So the ECB listened to what the players had to say, and acted on it.

Therefore they opted instead to have an “open market” system, where players could accept or reject offers – so if people wanted to play with (or not play with) a particular coach or other player, or in a particular city a long way from home, they could ensure that.

It might not have had the excitement and media impact of a draft, but it by-passed a lot of potential problems – the ECB don’t get everything right, and we’ve been very critical of The Hundred at times; but in this case they made the right call for the right reasons.

WBBL: Are The Hurricanes Set To Blow Everyone Away… Or Blow Out?

Team Played Won Lost Points
1. Hobart Hurricanes 2 2 0 4
2. Brisbane Heat 2 1 1 2
3. Adelaide Strikers 2 1 1 2
4. Melbourne Renegades 2 1 1 2
5. Sydney Thunder 2 1 1 2
6. Sydney Sixers 2 1 1 2
7. Perth Scorchers 0 0 0 0
8. Melbourne Stars 2 0 2 0

After the opening fixtures of the WBBL, it is perennial wooden-spooners Hobart Hurricanes who sit clear atop the table, after two wins against Melbourne Stars. Aside from Perth Scorchers, who don’t play their first match until Wednesday, everyone else won one and lost one over a topsy-turvy weekend.

At North Sydney Oval, Brisbane Heat, Sydney Sixers and Sydney Thunder played out a win and a loss each; whilst in Adelaide, the  Strikers shared the spoils in their “series” with the Melbourne Renegades.

So have Hobart Hurricanes finally found a way to play winning cricket? Or is this just a temporary glitch, before the order of the universe is restored and Sydney Sixers return to their predestined place at the head of the table?

There is no doubt that the Hurricanes are a very different team to last season. With the signings of Nicola Carey, Maisy Gibson, Belinda Vakarewa, and Tayla Vlaeminck they have an all-new bowling attack, and with Heather Knight as the fifth bowler, there isn’t a really weak link there, even if there isn’t a superstar either. (Though yes, ideally, you wouldn’t play Vakarewa and Vlaeminck on the same team – both are quick and capable of blowing batters away, but both are also liable to leak runs, and if they do it on the same day, it won’t be pretty!)

It is arguably on the batting side that the Hurricanes are weaker; but T20 is a game where you can often afford some spare parts in your batting line-up as long as the bigger names come through for you, and the signs are that they might. Heather Knight is class personified – we all know what she can do; Fran Wilson had a fantastic KSL and is out to prove she can do it in Australia, ahead of selection for the World Twenty20; and Chloe Tryon has actually turned up (some might say “for once”, though that isn’t entirely fair) facing 36 balls so far without being dismissed, scoring 75 runs at a Strike Rate of over 200. With that batting, literally no score is unchasable for the Hurricanes.

Will they do it every time? No, probably not! The Hurricanes aren’t going to be consistent – they are more likely to finish mid-table than top-table; but all they need to do is have a slightly better than evens record to make the semi-finals, and then all bets are off – as the Brisbane Heat proved last year, you are then two “performances” away from glory… and I certainly wouldn’t bet against two “performances” from this Hurricanes line-up.

OPINION: The Times They Are A Changin’… Because That’s What They Do!

The international retirement of allrounder Jenny Gunn, confirmed this week by the ECB, means that the England squad have now lost two senior players in the past month, after Sarah Taylor announced her retirement two weeks ago.

For different reasons, neither Gunn nor Taylor were automatic selections any more – Taylor having already essentially opted out of overseas tours and tournaments; and Gunn reduced to a “squad player”, winning just one cap in the past 12 months, in the 3rd ODI against the West Indies.

But having been fixtures of the team for so long – Gunn made her debut in 2004; Taylor in 2006 – they will be missed by the squad, both professionally and personally.

Their retirements, combined with new contracts awarded this summer, reduce the average age of the “fully contracted” squad (excluding rookies) by an entire year, from 27½ at the start of the 2019 season to 26½ now.

Retirements are of course natural and expected – a 20-strong squad would normally see one or two a year – but the cycle had recently been put out by the introduction of central contracts, which allowed some to play longer than they might otherwise have done, whilst also pulling up the drawbridge behind them, as the “chasing pack” of amateurs fell back, unable to compete with the full-time athletes for skills and fitness.

Perhaps this is why the loss of two players in the space of a month, plus Dani Hazell earlier in the year, feels disconcerting – though not as disconcerting as it will feel when Katherine Brunt (34 – a year older than Gunn, and 4 years older than Taylor) also decides to join them on the great balcony in the sky… or at least in the great comms box on Sky, which is where most of them seem to be headed!

But one player’s retirement is another’s opportunity, with Georgia Elwiss perhaps set to take over Gunn’s job as the “squad player”, able to step up as either a late-order batsman or a bowler at a moment’s notice, as needs must in the heat of a tournament; and Amy Jones now secure in her role with the gloves, at home as well as away.

So yes, the next England contracted squad in 2020 will feel different – the times they are a changin’… but only really because that’s what they usually do – we just need to get used to it again!

OPINION: 40 New Contracts… But Who Should They Go To?

The ECB’s announcement of 40 new full-time domestic professional contracts is great news for the game in England and beyond.

In England, it means that for the first time there will be a cadre of professional players beyond the England squad. It has been noticeable recently how much the England players have pulled away from “The Rest” in terms of fielding skills and fitness in particular – not because the rest have got worse, but because the contracted players have become true elite athletes, as the benefits of 4 years of professionalism have begun to show. Professional contracts for some of The Rest will allow them to start to catch up again.

It is also good news for the game more widely, with concerns that the Australians are playing the sport on a different level to everyone else thanks to the depth of their professional structures. As these changes start to work-through, and as “The 40” become 60 or 80 in years to come, England will hopefully be in a position to challenge Australia, as well as raising the bar more generally across the top-tier nations.

The ECB have said that The 40 will be selected centrally, though presumably there will be some local input at least on an informal level; so this raises the question of who these contracts should go to.

Make no mistake – it will be contentious! During the discussion phase, there was a debate about whether the available budget should be used to pay everyone a little “semi-professional” money, or pay a few players enough to go fully professional. The latter won-out, but this means there will be Haves and Have Nots… and the Have Nots won’t necessarily be happy about it – there will be jealousies and bitterness and some of the Have Nots may well decide to quit the elite game as a result.

But leaving these questions aside, there are essentially two options now for The 40 – we either fund the best players on current form; or we pay those with the most potential to play for England one day in the future.

One of the arguments for abolishing county cricket, and establishing the eight new “Centres of Excellence” teams, was that county cricket didn’t provide a high standard of competition; so on this logic, you have to pay the best players to ensure the quality is raised – especially as those players are probably the most likely to walk away if they don’t get contracts. (“Why should I open the batting or the bowling, and carry the team, when X down the order is getting paid, and I’m getting nothing?”)

On the other hand, the purpose of these contracts is to build the England team of the future, so perhaps there is no point in paying players, however good they are right now, if they will likely never be pulling on an England shirt? CRICKETher understands that these contracts will not be going to students, but if all the contracts have gone to the current best, players coming out of university will still end up facing the same choice that Katie Levick did however-many years ago – cricket or… well… eat!

Hopefully the answer is a happy medium. Unfortunately, we are likely to lose some players as a result of this process – there are certainly a handful of big-ish names who would have to take pay-cuts to go pro on the salaries we are talking about, which they probably can’t afford to do; and we’ve also spoken to players who just don’t want to be professionals, even regardless of the money. But if we can use the budget to keep the likes of Aylish Cranstone and Marie Kelly in the game, through their twenties into their thirties, and give some of our most promising youngsters like  Rhianna Southby and Sarah Glenn a platform to build towards the dream of one day playing for England, we might just get the best of both worlds.