Raf & Syd look back at a VERY strange year in women’s cricket.
- The RHF Trophy
- The MCG
- What was…
- … and what wasn’t!
Raf & Syd look back at a VERY strange year in women’s cricket.
By Richard Clark
Good news arrived late last week with the announcement* of the ECB County T20 Cup fixtures for 2021, as devoted fans of the weekly CRICKETher Vodcast will doubtless have noted.
(* It should not go un-noted that describing it as an “announcement” is over-egging things hugely. The fixtures appeared on Play Cricket, much like Mr Benn’s shopkeeper, ‘as if by magic’, and it is hard to escape the feeling that enthusiasm at ECB Towers for women’s county cricket and the promotion thereof is thin on the ground. Be that as it may, however…)
Having been granted a stay of execution for 2020 and 2021, last summer’s competition was mothballed initially – and ultimately cancelled – as a result of the Covid pandemic, and there had been some concern that impetus for one last fling might be lacking after a two-year gap, so it’s pleasing to see those fears allayed. The virus still holds us in its grip, of course, but let’s be optimistic and assume for now that county cricket will be played – and watched – in 2021!
The schedule looks a little different from the last T20 Cup in 2019 (and the abandoned 2020 campaign), when the format mirrored the 50-over competition in being based on three Divisions, with the lowest level organised into three regions. This time around the structure is wholly regional, based around six Groups of six teams (five in one case), and with no suggestion of a play-off system or similar to decide an overall champion.
The reasons for this are not explicit, but it is probably safe to assume that minimising costs such as travelling and overnight stops is a major factor, whether by edict from the ECB or at the request of the counties themselves. Either way there is some sense behind the change, even if it is not quite ideal in other ways.
Matches will take place over four consecutive weekends – Sunday 25th April, Monday 3rd May, Sunday 9th May, and Sunday 16th May. Once again the format is based almost exclusively around the tried and tested ‘triangular’ fixtures with three counties meeting at a single venue – the home team playing first and last – although one fixture in the North Group each week will be a straight back-to-back double-header with that Group consisting of only five teams.
Whilst the set-up works in allowing as many matches to be played as possible, it does have flaws in being limited to the four-week window.
Not everyone will play everyone else twice. In fact, some counties will not meet others at all. In the South East Group for instance, Surrey play Essex, Kent, Middlesex and Sussex twice each… but won’t cross swords with Hampshire at all. One wonders whether an extra round of fixtures could have been a simple solution to that…?
There are also some geographical anomalies. As Syd noted on the Vodcast, his beloved Berkshire have relocated to the West Midlands. So have Somerset. And Wales. To make the journey from Berkshire to Wales along the M4 one travels south of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, yet those counties are in the South West Group. And Somerset will hike through Gloucestershire to reach parts of the West Midlands. Meanwhile, Shropshire is now in the East Midlands, despite being further West than four of the West Midlands counties.
Again the reasons for this can only be guessed at, but the suspicion must be that it’s an attempt to “level up” the competition. Somerset, for instance, might have proved too strong for a South West Division containing five counties which plied their trade in Division Three last time cricket was played. If you read this and feel tempted to shoot the messenger, by the way, (a) it IS only a guess, and (b) I didn’t compile the Groups!
Some Groups will be stronger than others – if this was a World Cup we would no doubt be talking the South East up as the proverbial “Group of Death”, whereas the East Group comprises traditional Division Three counties only. My advice would be not to let that fool you, however – if it turns out to be anything like 2020’s inaugural East of England Championship then some treats will be in store from those less heralded teams. The 50-over competition there took in six matches, and four of them were settled by one run, one wicket, two wickets and on a super over respectively!
One wonders about the North Group – Yorkshire and Lancashire up against North East Warriors (Durham and Northumberland combined), Cumbria and Scotland ‘A’. At the risk of encouraging more messenger-shooting that doesn’t necessarily look like the most level playing field for one or two teams, particularly if England players are available to the Roses pair.
And that brings us on to another unknown – will England players be involved? The timing of the competition is such that it would seem to provide an ideal warm-up opportunity ahead of the international summer, but the England hierarchy may feel there is more to be gained in ‘intensive’ training camps. We shall see.
On top of this, of course, we should see ‘unofficial’ 50-over competitions later in the season too. Surrey’s website confirmed the return of the London Championship for a second season at the same time as revealing their T20 fixtures, and the East of England Championship will also be back, with Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire joining Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire & Norfolk from last season in a ringing endorsement of its success.
Hopefully many other counties will look to play friendly matches, or maybe even follow the lead set by others and form their own regional competitions.
And finally – Women’s County Cricket Day will be back! No date set yet, but we can confirm that it will be one of those four ECB T20 days. Look out for further announcements in the New Year!
Full Fixture List here (select required Division from the drop-down menu):
ECB Women’s County Championship (play-cricket.com)
Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68
This week, on our 40th episode:
Plus, why are we at the Edgbaston Foundation Ground? Watch to find out!
“The rich get richer; the poor get the picture” sang Pete Garrett on Midnight Oil’s 1982 hit Read About It.
One of the saddest realisations of the past decade has been the way that technology, far from being the democratising force we had all once hoped, has mainly been used to enhance and entrench the riches of the richest. Jeff Bezos buys another private island, while his minimum-waged delivery drivers struggle to pay their rent; Bill Gates pockets another billion, while his software subjects office workers to unprecedented levels of semi-covert surveillance.
The benefits of economic growth over the past 10 years have been disproportionately channelled to those who need it least, as the iron laws of the market have asserted themselves with a ferocity not seen since the early stages of the industrial revolution.
For a long time sport resisted these laws. The greatest footballer of my lifetime – Diego Maradona, who died a couple of weeks ago – grew up in a a third-world slum. In our own sport, England’s greatest allrounder, Enid Bakewell, was born in a mining village in Nottinghamshire. If you could hold a bat, or kick a ball, it didn’t matter where you were from.
Of course, this was only ever true in microcosm, especially in cricket. On an individual level, you were always more likely to succeed if you came from a wealthy family or went to a good school.
Zoom out further, to a national level, and the picture becomes starker still – money talks… loudly and incessantly. No one doubts the talent of players like Ellyse Perry and Meg Lanning; but the unprecedented levels of “investment” (which, after all, is just a polite way of saying “money”) that have been poured in by Cricket Australia have undoubtedly been a factor in their success.
Thus far, however, that investment has mostly been systemic – it’s investment in the clubs; the training facilities; and the coaches – and the human factor has remained the key wildcard. You can have all the “investment” in the world, but 18 year old Hayley Matthews can still walk into a World Cup final and rough you up, with talent that no money can buy… right?
Yes… but also… no.
A recent piece by Brittany Carter – How women’s cricket is being influenced by Major League Baseball – describes the use of a something called a “Blast Motion Sensor”. This is a high-tech gizmo which attaches to the bottom of the bat during training, and syncs up with an app to analyse the player’s bat swing, providing them with feedback which allows them to pinpoint areas of improvement to increase the power of their swing.
Human coaches have always done something like this, but this technology automates and enhances the degree of analysis and feedback possible from a human coach, allowing the player to fine-tune their game beyond the Nth degree.
This tech is being used today in domestic cricket in Australia, to augment the skills of the next generation; and it is undoubtedly amazing.
What it isn’t, however, is cheap; and that’s the grit, because like all tech, this stuff costs money – real money, that the 1% have and the 99% don’t; money that will buy an edge for the next generation… but only for those who can afford it. No girl in Moga, India (where Harmanpreet is from) or Barbados, West Indies (where Hayley Matthews grew up) will have access to these wonders.
And so in cricket, as in life, the 1% will pull away, using technology to fortify and magnify all the advantages they already have, leaving the rest – the 99%, also known as “us” – standing at the side of the road, peering in awe at their increasingly distant tail-lights.
This week on the show:
On this week’s show:
The eight women’s regions have today confirmed the names of the players who have been allocated professional contracts, with five assigned to each region (with the exception of Western Storm, who have six).
In addition to the 20 players who signed regional retainers earlier in the year and the five England “Rookies”, who have all progressed onto full-time regional contracts, a further 16 players have been added to the list of contracted professionals.
CRICKETher understands that the new contracts are worth £18,000 annually (substantially less than the PCA’s mandated minimum wage of £27,500), with the ECB providing the funding for 40 of them.
However, the total number of contracts on offer has been increased to 41 (instead of the originally intended 40) thanks to an additional contract for the South West & Wales region, funded jointly by Western Storm and Glamorgan CCC. Georgia Hennessy, Nat Wraith and Alex Griffiths all shone for Storm in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, and with the player allocation process led by the Regional Directors it seems that Lisa Pagett was able to provide a convincing case that all three had done enough to earn a contract.
A number of players offered contracts have established careers outside of cricket (Central Sparks’ Gwenan Davies, for example, is Head of Girls Cricket at Shrewsbury School; while Northern Diamonds’ Phoebe Graham works in marketing for Sky), which strongly suggests that at least some of the new “professionals” will be continuing to do other paid employment outside of cricket.
Perhaps the most surprising inclusion is that of Jenny Gunn for Northern Diamonds. Gunn, who is 34 years old, announced her retirement from international cricket in October 2019, and had made the decision to retire from all cricket in March 2020, only playing in the RHF due to a last-minute phone call from Diamonds head coach Dani Hazell.
The full list of contracted players is now as follows (newly contracted players in italics):
North West Thunder:
South East Stars: