ENGLAND v INDIA TEST: Day 4 – Let Them Eat Ecclescakes

On July 3rd 2016, 17-year-old Sophie Ecclestone made her England debut in the 1st T20 versus Pakistan, taking 1-21 in her four overs. After being selected for the 2nd game (taking 2-26) she was then rested for the final T20 in favour of Alex Hartley. An ODI debut followed, in October of that year in the West Indies, with Ecclestone winning two caps in the 5 match series, taking 2-28 and 1-20.

It was a respectable enough start to an international career, but not earth-moving, and in the summer of 2017 Ecclestone was told by England management to concentrate on her A-Levels, while her team-mates were focussed on the small matter of winning the World Cup.

Her international career might have been put on hold in 2017, but her cricket career certainly wasn’t – Ecclestone went back to Lancashire that summer and took an incredible 35 wickets in the season as the Red Roses marched to the County Championship and T20 Cup double; so when it came time to select a squad to tour Australia for the 2017 Ashes, Ecclestone’s name could not be ignored, and she went on to make her Test debut that winter in Sydney.

Ecclestone took 3 wickets in that Sydney Test, and another 3 in Taunton in 2019; but it was in the T20 arena that she was beginning to really make her name for her consistency and economy, rising through the rankings until this March she found herself at the summit – officially the Number One T20 bowler in the world.

Carlsberg don’t do women’s Test rankings – apparently they make something called “beer” instead – but if they did, there’s a pretty good chance that Sophie Ecclestone would now be atop them too, after her performance in the one-off Test versus India this week.

Having taken 4 wickets for 88, at an Economy Rate of 3.4, in the 1st Innings, and then 4-118 at 3.1 in the second, her combined figures of 8-206 were the best achieved in a women’s Test since Ellyse Perry’s 9-70 at Canterbury in 2015.

She couldn’t win the game for England on her own though, and the toothlessness of England’s three specialist seamers on this pitch, with this ball, was cruelly exposed, as Brunt, Shrubsole and Cross between them took just 4 wickets, at a cost of 230-odd runs.

Would playing Emily Arlott or Tash Farrant – who were both in the squad – have changed the outcome? Both, but particularly Farrant, would have offered something different, which England did desperately seem to be searching for at times.

Should England have kept Sarah Glenn in the squad and played her? In hindsight, probably yes; and although I’ll never forget Mark Robinson once reminding me reproachfully during a press conference that “cricket isn’t played in hindsight”, in this case England really did close down their options by sending her back to Sparks last weekend.

(There was Mady Villiers, too, of course – but you get the distinct impression that her role here was to field if someone got injured – it never felt likely she’d make the XI.)

Perhaps the real story here though is not England’s bowling but India’s batting. They put a disappointing 1st innings behind them, and battled back to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat, with just dues in particular to Sneh Rana, coming in at 8 and finishing 80* off 154 balls, and Taniya Bhatia at 9, with 44* off 88 balls.

With the form of Player of the Match Shafali Verma, who hit 159 runs in the match, India will go into the next phase of this multi-format series with every hope of turning over their hosts with the white ball and achieving a famous series victory. If so, the fight we saw today will have been the moment the tide turned in their favour.

ENGLAND v INDIA TEST: Day 3 – The Smart Money Is Still On England

At lunch today, with Smriti Mandhana back in the shed and India still a way behind the follow-on, let alone making England bat again, I tweeted that I expected England to have this Test match wrapped-up by tea time.

That wasn’t how it played-out of course – partly because Shafali Verma and Deepti Sharma came out after lunch and batted pretty comfortably; and partly because the weather, which had been hanging around all day looking menacing, finally moved in and took over.

Ultimately, we lost half a day’s play and around 50 overs out of a 400-over game. However, I’m actually not convinced it really changed anything in terms of a getting result.

The weather looks good for tomorrow, with 108 overs scheduled, so that means India have to make it through 100 overs with 9 wickets in hand, to save the match.

There is still a “sweet spot” for a manufactured result. If India were to bat fairly positively, at around 4.5+ per over, for around 60 overs tomorrow, they’d be able to set England a 5-an-over target of 200 in 40-odd overs, which you’d hope England would have a go at, and the result could then go either way.

But 4.5+ per over feels like a big ask for India’s batters, and while they were going at something like that rate this afternoon, over the course of an entire day they’d find that kind of rate hard to sustain, especially if they started to lose wickets.

Much more likely, India will go at around 2.5+ an over, but continue to lose wickets and get bowled out for around 200. This would leave England chasing about 50 – the kind of chase which the commentators will label “tricky” to make it sound exciting, but which ought (!!) really to be a formality for this highly experienced England batting line-up.

Either that, or the pitch really is dead, and India can bat out the day in peace. If you are an India fan, you wouldn’t want to entirely rule it out; but nonetheless the smart money has to be on England this evening.

PREVIEW: Stew-Mel’s Young Guns Fire as The Battle for the WPL Hots Up

After a round of matches featuring some outstanding individual performances, Jake Perry looks ahead to Round Five of the Cricket Scotland Women’s Premier League.

The 2021 Cricket Scotland Women’s Premier League has its first centurion in Emma Walsingham, who reached three figures in Stewart’s Melville’s commanding win over George Watson’s College last Sunday. It continued what has been an excellent run of form for the young opener, who now tops the batting rankings with 189 runs at an average of 63.

“I was really excited because it was my first hundred,” she enthused. “It was a bit sticky at the start, but I got going and [reached three figures] off seventy balls in the end. Molly Paton then came in and got 46 off twenty-odd, so it was a really good day for us all round.”

With Paton also taking a hat-trick in her remarkable 5 for 1 with the ball and skipper Catherine Holland carrying her bat for 82, it was an impressive performance from Stew-Mel’s teenaged stars as the Edinburgh side bounced back from its defeat the previous weekend in the best way possible.

“We had a great start to the season against Carlton, but then we were all a bit down after we lost to Watsonians/Grange,” said Emma. “We weren’t on our best form that day, but we were very happy to come back and win on Sunday. We bowled brilliantly and had three good scores with the bat, so we were very pleased.”

“We’re looking forward to the next game,” she added. “The whole team is always up for a match, and we can’t wait to go into this one and see what we can do.”

Emma’s reputation as one of Scotland’s brightest young talents continues to grow. In addition to her experience in the national age-group set-up and in regional cricket with the Eagles, the fifteen-year-old made her debut for Scotland ‘A’ at the start of the summer, scoring 19 not out then 15 in the Vitality Women’s County T20 double-header against the North Representative Women’s XI at Leyland. Now a part of the senior Wildcats training group, she is relishing the opportunity it has provided to develop her skills even further.

“It all stemmed from the Scotland Under-17s and some Academy games we had as well,” she said. “I was asked to go to a training weekend, and then on the trip to La Manga [as a COVID reserve for the Ireland series, later postponed], which I was really excited about. I’ve been in training with the Wildcats recently, and I think I’ve grown a lot in myself as well as in my cricket because of it.”

The reigning champions will look for more of the same against Dumfries & Galloway, who will be hopeful of mounting a recovery of their own after going down by seven wickets to table-topping Carlton last weekend. The Grange Loan club was in fine form again as D&G was bowled out for just 84, Hannah Rainey and Ashley Robertson taking two wickets and Maisie Maciera 5 for 14 – her first five-fer for the side – at Gatehouse of Fleet. With two games left to play, Carlton has an eight-point advantage over second-placed Royal High Corstorphine – neither of the remaining matches will be straightforward, but capital side will be content to have its fate in its own hands.

The first of those games comes against West of Scotland, who won a thrilling encounter with RHC at New Williamfield. Nayma Shaikh proved to be the match-winner as WoS chased down their opponents’ total of 162-4 with four balls to spare to claim victory in what was the team’s first match of the season.

Ikra Farooq had put RHC in pole position with a stylish knock of 61 not out, but West’s reply hit the ground running, a fine innings of 42 from Abtaha Maqsood making up for the early loss of Ellen Watson (19). The real star of the show was Shaikh, however, who anchored the chase through a half-century of terrific poise and maturity, ably assisted by some quick-fire hitting from Neha Mahatma (24) towards the end. By the time Shaikh departed to a fine catch by Farooq, the victory was assured: the battle between West’s batters and Carlton’s always-impressive bowling attack will be a fascinating one indeed.

The third match of the weekend sees Watsonians/Grange take on winless George Watson’s College at Myreside, with the former hoping to build on their victory over Stew-Mel last time out. The young GWC side has been unfortunate to come up against some strong opposition this year, but their central core of talent including Emily Tucker, Gaby Fontenla, Nina Whitaker and Emily Tait has still provided plenty of cause for future optimism.

But as the final run-in begins, it is events in those matches at the top of the table which will be most revealing. While RHC sit out this weekend, their thoughts will already be turning to the next, when Carlton visit Barnton for what will be their last game of the campaign. What happens on Sunday at Grange Loan will be crucial in determining the significance of that one, but those in Inverleith, too, will be watching proceedings with considerable interest.

Women’s Premier League – 20 June 2021

Carlton v McCrea West of Scotland (at Grange Loan)

Watsonians/Grange v George Watson’s College (at Myreside)

Stewart’s Melville v Dumfries & Galloway (at Inverleith)

——

Jake Perry is the author of The Secret Game

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket

The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the men’s and women’s league action from across the country every Tuesday, with player interviews from our featured games. Follow @ScotlandPod on Twitter for all the latest information.

ENGLAND v INDIA TEST: Day 2 – The Duel Of The Dual Debutantes

With women’s Tests being rare occasions, a number of debuts were anticipated at Bristol, but none more eagerly than those of England’s Sophia Dunkley and India’s Shafali Verma.

Both had a number of T20 caps to their name, with Dunkley having played 15 T20 Internationals since her debut in that format in 2018, and Shafali 22 since her first T20 in 2019. Intriguingly neither has yet played an ODI, and there were questions around whether Shafali in particular had the temperament for Test cricket; but ultimately neither disappointed.

Let’s begin, as did the day, with Sophia Dunkley. She made her T20 debut at the World Cup in the West Indies in 2018; but batting down the order, it was not until her third match that she actually made it to the crease, scoring 35 in England’s defeat to the Windies in St. Lucia. Overall 8 of Dunkley’s 15 T20 appearances have ended without a bat.

Shafali’s record is of course somewhat more colourful – 617 runs, including three 50s, with a top score of 73, at an overall Strike Rate of 148. Perhaps the only stat that would give you pause was her 2-run failure in the biggest match of her career – the T20 World Cup final at the MCG.

Having begun her innings yesterday evening, Dunkley came into Day 2 of this Test on 12 off 47 balls, with only the tail, initially in the shape of Katherine Brunt, for company. It was not an easy situation, and it looked shakier still when Brunt was out early on; but in partnership first with Sophie Ecclestone and later with Anya Shrubsole, Dunkley built a score brick by brick, to take England to 396-9 declared, finishing not out on 74.

If England go on to win this game, it will be in a very large part due to Dunkley’s contribution; but that’s not necessarily a given, thanks to Shafali Verma, who hit a cool, confident 96 to bring India back into the match.

Was it really her Test debut? It didn’t look it – not until she lost her head within a shot of her century, anyway!

Some have suggested she brought her T20 form to this Test match, but actually that’s exactly what she did NOT do: you only have to look at her Strike Rate of 63 – less than half her career T20 Strike Rate – to confirm that.

It wasn’t just the Strike Rate though – it was the way she approached her innings from the start. Her trademark today was defense – solid and straight – but with enough attacking intent to put on 167 in 50-odd overs for the first wicket, in partnership with Smriti Mandhana.

Sadly for India, all the good work their openers did was undone in the final hour, as they collapsed from 167-0 to 183-5. The decision by Mithali to send in Shikha Pandey ahead of her as a nightwatchman backfired spectacularly as they lost two more wickets, including the captain herself; and England will now feel they can run through India tomorrow morning, perhaps in time to enforce the follow-on, which India need another 60-odd runs to avoid.

It will then be up to Shafali to go out and do her thing all over again, and who knows: perhaps Dunkley to lead England’s chase on the final day?

The Duel Of The Dual Debutantes has been joined… but at the close of play on Day 2, it is still very much out there to be won.

ENGLAND v INDIA TEST: Day 1 – The Professionals

A few weeks ago, having handed back the keys to their Kias, the England squad took delivery of their latest rides, courtesy of new team sponsor Cinch. If I know anything at all about cars (and let’s be clear here… I don’t!) they were Ford Kugas; but perhaps Mark III Ford Capris would have been more appropriate, because this England team are The Professionals.

If one moment today summed this up, it was Tammy Beaumont facing Shikha Pandey. Beaumont came out of her crease looking to drive, but the shot wasn’t there and she was forced to just bunt it back to the bowler on her follow-through. With Beaumont out of her ground, seeing a glimmer of a chance Pandey pounced on the run-out opportunity, gathering the ball to shy at the stumps.

Beaumont’s instinct… anyone’s instinct… would have been to try to get back into her crease; but Beaumont is a wily old cat these days, so the first thing she actually did was subtly reposition herself to make sure her body was between the bowler and the stumps. Only then did she peddle back towards her ground, with Pandey’s throw hitting her “innocently” on the legs as she did so.

More generally, this wasn’t a glamourous day of cricket; but having chosen to bat, England’s top order all did their jobs. Lauren Winfield-Hill and Beaumont showed good control in the first hour, defending the good balls and making hay off the bad ones. It wasn’t risk free – Beaumont wasn’t afraid to play her trademark ramps and Winfield-Hill smashed two cracking sixes over the ropes. Of course, Winfield would have wanted more – losing her concentration for a moment, allowing Taniya Bhatia to take a showcase catch – but you can’t win ’em all, and she shouldn’t feel disgraced at all by “only” making 35.

Similarly, Heather falling within inches of what would have been her second Test hundred might look disappointing on paper… and might feel disappointing in the crowd… not to mention in the press box, where more than one scribbler had already all-but filed a piece with the words “Knight Century” in the headline. But in the scorebook where it really counts, the 95 runs she got were a whole lot more important than the 5 she didn’t; and she’ll absolutely know that.

The only thing I might have approached differently was the final 40-minutes or so. With the last “proper” batter, Georgia Elwiss gone, I might have told Katherine Brunt and Sophia Dunkley that 300-9 at the close was a better position than dropping anchor to 269-6.

But if Brunt and Dunkley can come out tomorrow and take England well past 300, there should still be plenty of time for England to go on to win the match; and they’ve probably ensured already that India will struggle to do so, unless Knight offers a generous second-innings declaration of course.

That would be fun… and sporting… though ironically not particularly “professional” – that’s a moral dilemma for the captain; but right now, it is a moral dilemma for another day.

RHF TROPHY: All To Play For In September

CRICKETher’s computer analysis confirms that there is still everything to play for when the 50-over RHF Trophy resumes in September.

Currently, Vipers sit top on 14 points, with Diamonds and Sparks hot on their heels on 13 points each.

But with 3 rounds of fixtures remaining, all 8 teams can still qualify for the “eliminator” (AKA “semi-final”) by finishing 2nd or 3rd, and everyone except Sunrisers can still theoretically qualify directly for the final by finishing 1st.

CRICKETher has analyzed 250 million possible scenarios, using our predictive modeling software, taking into account all possible outcomes of the 12 remaining matches, with the results shown below.

The ‘Qualification %’ is an indication of the likelihood of achieving at least 3rd place and making the eliminator, with an asterisk indicating that qualification is dependent on other results.

Obviously, qualification remains an outside bet for Storm and Sunrisers. Sunrisers could actually finish 2nd, though that would need a fairly extraordinary series of results, including other fixtures being rained-off; but given that it will be September… and it’s England… that’s certainly not out of the question! Like Storm and Sunrisers, Thunder are dependent on other results, but for the everyone else the maths in their hands – if they win all their remaining matches, with bonus points, they are guaranteed qualification.

Team Points Best Points Best Position Qualification %
Vipers 14 29 1 82
Diamonds 13 28 1 74
Sparks 13 28 1 73
Lightning 9 24 1 33
Stars 9 24 1 33
Thunder 8 23 1 25*
Storm 4 19 1 4*
Sunrisers 0 15 2 1*

NEWS: Kate Cross A “Big Advocate” For Multi-Day Domestic Cricket

England seamer Kate Cross, speaking in the build-up to the Test against India which begins on Wednesday, has said that she is a “big advocate” of the idea of introducing multi-day cricket as a regular part of the regional domestic calendar, as a way of preparing players for playing Test cricket.

“The longer format is where you learn the real skill of cricket,” she said. “You learn how to defend good bowling; how to bowl for longer periods of time; and be relentless on hitting line and length.”

With England players generally only getting the opportunity to play red ball cricket every two years against Australia, players currently find it difficult to prepare effectively for multi-day matches. However, the introduction of the new semi-professional regional structure in England offers an unprecedented opportunity to establish multi-day domestic cricket – something Cross says she is keen to see in the not too distant future.

“In the next 12 months, it’s really important that we establish what we’ve got now – the 50 over competition, the T20 and The Hundred,” she said.

“But I’m positive about the fact that it could potentially happen – whether that’s two or three-day cricket at domestic level – and I think in the next 5 years we’ll maybe get to the point where we can do that.”

 

RHF TROPHY: Sparks v Thunder – A Big Start Beats A Big Finish

Having won the toss and elected to bat yesterday against the Thunder, Central Sparks skipper Eve Jones walked out to open the batting at New Road with the world at her feet. Sparks were top of the table after 3 rounds, having beaten both last years finalists, Diamonds and Vipers, and the much-fancied Storm – they couldn’t have asked for a better start to 2021.

Five-and-a-bit overs later, things were not looking quite so rosy. Poppy Davies got a good ball first up and was LBW; but Milly Home and Gwenan Davies (no relation) had only themselves to blame – both running themselves out, as Sparks spluttered to 17-3.

Eve Jones rebuilt, in partnership with Steph Butler (25) and Clare Boycott (17), but (rightly, given the situation) all the focus was on staying in rather than scoring runs, and both Butler and Boycott finished with strike rates well under 50. By the 35 over mark, Sparks were alive, but barely – 116-5, and heading towards a total of around 160/170.

It took the nonchalance of youth to inject a bit of life back into the Sparks innings, in the shape of Issy Wong. On paper, 18 off 22 balls – a strike rate of 81 – doesn’t sound like much, but in the context of the game, it suddenly looked like Shafali Verma had sneaked out of quarantine in Southampton and hitched up to Worcester for a knock!

Wong’s innings also seemed to change the way Jones was playing, with Jones’ personal Manhattan showing a distinct up-tick in the last 15 overs.

That paved the way for Sparks to finish on 203 – a 20/30 run bonus, which definitely felt defendable, especially on a dodgy pitch, with Sarah Glenn bowling into the rough left over from a 4-day men’s Championship game.

Sparks opened with pace, and Issy Wong immediately had a very literal impact – hitting Emma Lamb on the lower arm, as a delivery reared up from nowhere out of that rough. Fortunately Lamb was able to continue after treatment; and her and Georgie Boyce set about their business.

After taking a few overs to get a feel for the pitch, Boyce and Lamb really took charge. Overs 6-10 went for 3.8 runs (7.6 per over), by far the most productive period of the game, as the pair used the pace of Wong and Liz Russell to make hay. After 12 overs, Thunder were very-much on top at 66-0; and… in a way… that was the game won.

There was a long way to go, of course – Thunder still needed 138 more runs, but with 10 wickets in hand to get them, the pressure was all on Sparks from that point. Thunder didn’t need 138 runs; Sparks needed 10 wickets – that was the only way Sparks were going to win the game.

The introduction of Glenn and Georgia Davis, who bowled 20 over straight between them, did have the potential to tilt things back towards the home side; and the spinners did their job, taking 5 wickets between them. But with both of them bowled out at 30 overs, all the Thunder’s tail had to do was cling on – and cling on they did!

The epitome of this was Danielle Collins, who came in at 9, and finished 8 not out off 22 balls. That’s a strike rate of “only” 36, but it didn’t matter, because if she stayed there, Thunder were going to win the match, thanks to the platform Boyce and Lamb had set. And that’s exactly what happened – Alex Hartley eventually hitting the winning runs with 2 overs to spare – a big start beating a big finish by 2 wickets.

As a result, Sparks slip back to third in the table, behind Vipers, who got a bonus point win at Storm, and Diamonds, who Gunned down Stars; but Sparks shouldn’t be too disheartened – the format of the competition means that no one will remember who won the “group” stage – the key is to finish in the top 3 and give yourself a shot at the final, and Sparks remain very-much still in the fight to do that.

RHF TROPHY: Eve Jones Does Her Job For Sparks v Thunder

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.