On a scale of 1-10, the summer of 2020 will probably not go down in history as a “Perfect 10”. In fact, a Big Fat Zero would probably be pushing it for most of us, to be fair!
So it is all the more impressive that the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy was such a beacon of light in what was otherwise a pretty dark summer. With regionals being a new “thing” it would have been easy for the ECB to quietly postpone them until 2021; but instead they gave them their full support and they blossomed, with an unprecedented level of coverage and a fantastic final at Edgbaston shown live on Sky.
As the men debate the future of the Bob Willis Trophy, parallel conversations are currently ongoing about next year’s RHF, with some big decisions to be made at ECB Towers.
So what should the ECB be looking to do next year?
What’s In A Name?
That answer is… quite a lot! The name Rachael Heyhoe Flint has been synonymous with women’s cricket for 50 years now – and was once even a little too synonymous for the bigwigs at the Women’s Cricket Association back in the day, who resented the fact that RHF “transcended the genre”.
But now she’s more than a person – she’s a trophy, and in the couple of months that the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy has existed, it has achieved an unprecedented level of brand recognition – in the newspapers, on social media, and on the front page of Cricinfo, which the Women’s County Championship (RIP) never was.
When the competition was first announced, the feeling was that, like the Bob Willis Trophy, it would be temporary – something to tide us over until the “proper” tournament was introduced next year.
But unlike the men, we know we aren’t going back to the County Championship; and having built the brand, throwing it away now would be crazy – so whatever we have next year, it has to still be called the “Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy”.
Flying First Class
Playing the tournament on proper, First Class grounds made a huge difference to the quality of the cricket, compared to the club pitches which were mainly used for the old County Championship. As Emily Windsor put it, you can “trust your shots” playing on decent pitches – something we heard from a number of players.
Could Georgia Adams have scored 150 on a club ground? We’ll never know, but she’s been playing for a while, and it is by far the highest score she’s ever made!
Sticking with First Class grounds won’t be cheap – the “budget” solution will be to revert to club grounds next year; but that would be a pity. As James once put it: “If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor!” But I’ve seen them now… and I’d kinda like to keep them!
The North-South Divide
This is a difficult one, and there are arguments on both sides; but I like the North-South Groups format – it creates local rivalries, which are always good for business; and makes it easier for “away” fans to attend all their team’s games.
It works across the board in American sports… it works for the men’s T20 Blast… I think it works for the RHF too.
Additionally, it provides a platform for re-introducing multi-day domestic cricket, via North v South matches, with amalgamated teams featuring the “pros” of the North v the “pros” of the South.
Lie Back And (Don’t) Think Of England
This is another tough call, but for me the lack of England players in the RHF was not a bug – it was a feature!
Imagine if England players had been involved all through – the Vipers would have had Danni Wyatt to send down a few overs of off-spin… Charlotte Taylor would never have got that call from Charlotte Edwards… and an aircraft parts salesperson from Hampshire wouldn’t have ever become the story of the summer by taking a 6fer in the final! And it was a similar tale with Diamonds bowler Phoebe Graham, who would probably otherwise have missed out to Katherine Brunt.
Obviously the other side of this coin is that the England players – particularly those on the fringes, who are required “just in case” but don’t actually see much England action – need to be playing these formats in domestic cricket, especially with The Hundred being… well… The Hundred, not a T20 comp.
But if we want to see new stars shine, and new talent come through, those players have to be given a proper chance – that’s how you find your Charlotte Taylors and your Phoebe Grahams. How to square this circle is probably the biggest challenge those reviewing the RHF have, but I think I’d (just) come down on the side of excluding the England squad for at least one of the formats going forwards.
The RHF Final at Edgbaston was a fantastic day, even played behind closed doors – it gave fans and the media an “event” to focus on; and with a crowd, it would have been even better.
In purely sporting terms, it is true that “the league never lies” – the winner of an All v All league will invariably be the best team; whilst a final (particularly if preceded by semis) will occasionally throw up a “winner” who lost half their group matches!
But still, you can’t beat a “Grand Final” for sheer spectacle, so whether or not we keep the North-South Groups, or go with an All v All league, we definitely need a final to crown the winner, hopefully in front of a few thousand fans!