Last time CRICKETher visited New Road, Worcester – on 5 September 2020, for the third round of the inaugural Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy – Eve Jones helped her team to an 8-wicket win against Thunder. For Jones, there was just one small niggle: she was run out 10 runs short of 3 figures, with her side on the brink of victory.
This time around, facing the first ball of the final over and with Sparks already 9 wickets down, Jones did what she couldn’t quite do 9 months ago – stroked a single to bring up a century (from 148 balls), to a collective sigh of relief from the smattering of spectators around the ground.
Unfortunately for Sparks, the result this time was reversed – Thunder sneaking home by 2 wickets thanks to a not-at-all streaky four (ahem) from no.10 Alex Hartley.
At the close, Jones admitted to having “very mixed feelings” about her innings. “I’d swap it for a win any day,” she said. It adds insult to injury that her one previous century for Sparks was also in a losing cause, against Lightning at Leicester last September.
Overall, her innings was a curious all-or-nothing mixture of imperious drives down the ground and a singular slog-swept six, interspersed with edges through slip. Even the most generous observer could not describe it as chanceless: Hartley shelled a caught and bowled chance when Jones was on 37*; she was dropped similarly by Hannah Jones on 47*; and she survived what looked to be a decent appeal for caught behind when she was on 54*.
But while there might be many prettier innings in her career highlights reel, and while the disappointment over the result will linger, the importance of today’s innings was in showcasing the determination and grit of the Sparks captain.
Comparing it to previous efforts, Jones said that this one came harder than most: “I felt I had to really graft for that one, really knuckle down and work hard for it. It wasn’t easy out there, I wasn’t feeling the ball in the middle of the bat as much as I’d like.”
The “manhattan” of her innings tells the story:
Between overs 10 and 15, her scoring rate sank to almost 0 – no doubt a response to the ignominious run-outs of Milly Home and Gwenan Davies. On both occasions, Jones was not necessarily at fault – Home was caught ball-watching at the non-strikers end, while Davies called for the run and then seemed to change her mind – but as the senior player, and with her side slumping to 17-3 in the opening 6 overs, both incidents were surely playing on Jones’ mind.
“I knew I had to try and bat as long as I could, to anchor the innings and get us to a decent total,” she said.
Jones also suffered something of a drought between overs 34 and 37, as both Clare Boycott and Sarah Glenn departed and Sparks faced down 19 balls without scoring a run. In the words of Jones: “I just had to grind it out and try and keep building.”
It sounds like a cliche, but that’s professional cricket: some days the runs come easy, some days they come hard. When I spoke to Sparks’ Regional Director Laura MacLeod a few months ago, she was pretty clear about what 2021 would bring: “Not everybody is going to be cut out to be a professional. I’m sure we’ll start to find out who is capable of dealing with it, physically and mentally, and everything that goes with it.”
The very fact that Eve Jones kept on grafting, on a difficult, worn surface – allowing her side to reach a total of over 200 despite having been 17-3 – shows that she is one of those who is undoubtedly “cut out for” professional cricket.
Eve Jones is a brilliant player at domestic level, and has been very good for a number of years with a lot of the qualities you’d expect rom an international (experience, leadership, resilience) and what England have needed (a solid reliable left-handed batter). As I’ve said before the decision to axe her from the England set-up remains one of the more dubious moments of the Robinson era. Who knows what she could have achieved given the chance?