THE HUNDRED: Brave v Phoenix – Anything You Can Do, Danni Wyatt Can Do Better

Southern Brave shot down Birmingham Phoenix in full flight at the Ageas Bowl in The Hundred, chasing 141 in just 82 balls, at a Run Rate of 1.71. That’s more than 10 an over in “old money” – by far the best Run Rate posted in the women’s competition to date.

The result puts the Southern Brave top of the table – an increasingly familiar feeling around these parts, with the Southern Vipers currently top of both the 50-over Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and the T20 Charlotte Edwards Cup.

There’s still a long way to go in The Hundred of course, and topping the league counts for nothing if you don’t go on to win the final, but the Brave have really set down a marker with this performance, after the Phoenix posted 140, which looked like a pretty good score, with Amy Jones in particular looking in lovely touch – hitting 42 off 26 balls.

When Amy Jones took a brilliant catch to dismiss Sophia Dunkley for 36, racing from behind the stumps to take the ball on the dive at short fine leg, it felt like a pivotal moment – Wyatt had made a start on 17 but she was running a lot of singles, and it was Dunkley that was really driving the chase for the Brave, having just hit two consecutive 4s off Em Arlott.

Except… it wasn’t quite to be! The delivery from which Dunkley had been caught was deemed a marginal no ball on height, and she was reprieved. The pivot itself had pivoted, and although the gods made sure to set the record straight – having Dunkley run-out off a deflection from Abtaha Maqsood at the non-striker’s end a few balls later – the Brave looked good for the win from that moment.

Perhaps having taken confidence from Dunkley that there were some serious runs in this pitch, Wyatt began to relax, just as she did for England at Chelmsford a couple of weeks ago. The straight boundaries at the Ageas were short, but square they were huge, which seems to be the policy for this competition. Nonetheless, Wyatt began to find them with ease – hitting five 4s and four 6s, including a huge maximum to finish the game. Crucially, Wyatt also continued to “run” runs – finishing with 25 “run” runs – 36% of her final score. The Hundred may be all about the big hits, but the singles can be just as important and without those 25 runs the Brave would have had a much harder time overhauling their target.

There are still those who have their doubts about Danni Wyatt – having grown up in the pre-professional era, her technique is not what you’d call classical, and she’s very dependent on the inside-out drive over cover, which feels like such a high-risk shot. She hasn’t got the 360 degree arc of Tammy Beaumont… or the power of Nat Sciver… or the precision of team-mate Smriti Mandhana.

But at the end of the day, there comes a point where you can’t argue with the numbers any more – not just in domestic cricket, but against the very best sides in the world, Danni Wyatt continues to prove again and again that on her day, anything you can do, she can do better.

THE HUNDRED: Another Ball From Lauren Bell (And One From Freya Davies)

Two years ago, I wrote a piece entitled One Ball from Lauren Bell. The thesis of that piece, which if anything has been reinforced over the past couple of years, is that although there are a lot of fast bowlers around, Bell is the most exciting because she has the ability to ball that “One Ball” which absolutely no one else can. Combining the pace of Lea Tahuhu, the inch-perfect line of Megan Schutt, and the swing of Anya Shrubsole, it is totally unplayable, as Rachel Priest discovered on that day in 2019.

Two years later, as they say in the movies, Trent Rockets are chasing 133 to beat Southern Brave. They are 75-2 – needing 59 from 37 balls. It sounds like a bit of an ask in traditional women’s domestic T20, but in this shorter format, with Nat Sciver at the crease, the game is starting to feel like the Rockets to lose. The Brave need a wicket, which is why captain Anya Shrubsole has brought back not herself, but Lauren Bell, into the attack – looking for a strike from the strike bowler.

Sciver, meanwhile, is looking to go on the attack, coming down the pitch and using the pace off the ball to hit out. After getting a single off the first ball of the over, and two off the third, Sciver targets the fourth. Looking to thump it over mid on, she opens up her front leg and swings through the ball…

Or rather, she swings through where the ball would have been if it had been a “normal” 70mph delivery from Bell. But this is another ball entirely – rolled off the fingers, it dies off the pitch, leaving Sciver swinging at thin air as the zing bails explode over her stumps.

It was such a different ball to that one from 2019, but it had exactly the same result – one of the best batters in the world was left looking like a chump.

The slower ball is becoming something of an art-form among fast bowlers – it isn’t just about bowling it slower, but keeping everything else about the action the same, so it comes out of nowhere. As the Monty Python boys might have said: Nobody expects the slower ball!

Bell does this by rolling the ball off her fingers – a bit like an orthodox spin delivery – but there’s another way too: out of the back of the hand, like a leg-spinner. You may have seen Katherine Brunt do this, but the master of this art is Freya Davies, as Shafali Verma discovered this weekend. Davies delivers a googly out of the back of the hand, which as well as dying on the batter can also turn into the right-hander off the pitch.

The ball from Davies floats through the air like it has hitched a ride on a hot air balloon, but it is a sucker punch for Shafali, who like Nat Sciver is left swinging in the breeze as her stumps fall apart behind her.

You’ll hear a lot during The Hundred about who the fastest bowlers are – the ones who are pushing 80mph, and targeting numbers beyond that even.

But perhaps… just perhaps… speed isn’t everything.

OPINION: Alice Capsey – A Star Is Born

Almost exactly four years ago, Alice Capsey was at Lord’s Cricket Ground to watch England beat India in the 2017 World Cup final.

Then aged 12, she had been playing age-group cricket for Surrey for less than 4 years. She could have had little idea that just a few short years later, she would be walking out to open the batting on the very same ground, in a moment that will go down in cricketing history – the first ever competitive women’s domestic match to be played at the Home of Cricket.

Even a week ago, when I interviewed her for The Guardian, she was caveating her answers with the suggestion that she might not even make it into the Oval Invincibles’ starting XI. Having watched her shine for Surrey and South East Stars in 2020 and 2021, I felt pretty sure that she would be. Fortunately, Invincibles coach Jonathan Batty agreed with me.

On Sunday, in front of 13,537 fans at Lord’s, Capsey outshone a host of established international stars – including England captain Heather Knight – in a sparkling, confident innings of 59 from 41 balls that announced her presence to a load of journalists, not to mention the aforementioned fans, who previously didn’t even know her name.

That’s the kind of stage that The Hundred has given her.

“It’s really special, especially to do it at the Home of Cricket,” she said, still dazed as she spoke in the post-match press conference. “At the moment I’m just trying to take it all in. To get a performance like that is mind-blowing.”

“There were a few nerves, but I just wanted to express myself, stay true to how I play, and do a job for the team.”

On the question of her newly-found fame, she displayed the level-headedness that you feel will take her far: “I wasn’t really expecting it! But I’ll take it all in and continue to keep focusing on myself and pushing my game forward.”

Perhaps the most important thing about Capsey’s innings was that it followed on from her premature dismissal in the first match of the tournament, in front of another rollicking crowd at The Oval on Wednesday evening. On that occasion, after slamming her first ball to the boundary, she fell second ball attempting a ramp shot – sending it straight into the hands of the keeper.

Another player might have been cowed – might have gone into her shell second time around. Not Capsey. “I want to keep expressing myself, playing my shots, and get us off to a good start,” she said. “At The Oval it didn’t come off, but on another day it might have come off. And it [the ramp] is one of my strengths, so I’ll keep playing how I’m playing, and try not to get too fazed.”

Capsey is already confident enough to have openly expressed her desire to “open or bat in the top order for England in all formats”. Nothing is certain in cricket (just ask Sophie Luff), but it doesn’t seem a stretch to suggest that this won’t be the last time we see Capsey play an innings like this one.

And if that England cap does come, those 13,537 fans, not to mention the handful of journalists sat up in the Lord’s Media Centre, will be able to look back and say that they were there on the day that a future star was born.

THE HUNDRED: Invincibles v Spirit – Capsital Punishment For The Spirit

The first “London Derby” of The Hundred ended with a big win for the Oval Invincibles versus the London Spirit at Lords.

The scorecard will tell you the Invincibles won by 15 runs; but this flatters the Spirit, after Dani Gibson and Charlie Dean had some fun slogging 27 off the last 10 balls, with the game essentially already lost.

There were two factors in the Invincibles’ win. The first, of course, was “Match Hero” Alice Capsey, who hit 59 off 41 balls in an 80-run partnership with Dane van Niekerk. Having won the opening game for her side with a half-century of her own, DvN was happy to play second-fiddle this time around, not even scoring at a run-a-ball, but giving Capsey the support she needed to play the key innings for the Invincibles.

The ramp may be the shot from Capsey that catches the eye… and occasionally the wicket-keeper’s eye, as it did on Thursday when she ramped straight into Ellie Threkeld’s gloves behind the stumps… but she actually scored the bulk of her runs straight today, in the arc between midwicket and mid off, picking the “holes” in the field to go safely over the top of the ring. It’s exciting cricket to watch, though it is certainly not risk-free, and she was eventually caught with 12 balls still on the clock.

So it really helped that Mady Villiers (again) and Jo Gardner both chipped in at the end for the Invincibles too – they might have only hit 8 and 9 respectively, but crucially it was off 3 and 4 balls – Strike Rates of over 200 – exactly what’s needed at the death in this quickfire format.

Nonetheless, it felt like the Invincibles were perhaps slightly short on 132-7, and they were going to have to bowl well to get the win. Which brings us around to the second factor, which was some quality work with the ball. Shabnim Ismail and Tash Farrant both opened the bowling with 10 balls straight apiece, and they nullified the Spirit’s opening batters in the powerplay. Naomi Dattani, who can be such a destructive player when she finds the middle of the bat, just couldn’t make it happen today, and finished with 8 off 14 balls. Even Deandra Dottin couldn’t make the impact she’d have wanted, also hitting at under 100… albeit only just with 14 off 15. And it was downhill from there really for the Spirit.

Heather Knight is usually the player to rely on in a chase, and she did her job today with 40 off 29, but she didn’t get the support she needed, as the Invincibles bowlers kept turning up the pressure. Chloe Tryon, having bowled very well earlier in the day, couldn’t get bat on ball today – when she was eventually dismissed for 9 off 16, it felt like a mercy-killing. Even more so than in T20, you can’t afford to take your time in this format – you really need to be going at a Strike Rate of 100 from the off and accelerating from there – there is little leeway to go at a Strike Rate of 50-something and hope you can make it up later if you stay in because even if you do accelerate later, you’ve already lost too many balls.

So it is the Invincibles that make the early running in the tournament, with 2 wins from 2. It is very early days of course, but it is also a very short tournament – games are coming at a million miles an hour, and momentum will be key. Right now, the momentum is with the Invincibles.

PREVIEW: Ross XI Takes The Lead, But Scottish Cricket Reaps The Benefits

Jake Perry looks ahead to Round Three of the Cricket Scotland Women’s Super Series

Forfarshire is the place to be this Sunday, as the Ross XI takes a 3-1 lead into Round Three of the Cricket Scotland Women’s Super Series at Forthill. After last weekend’s run-fest at Clydesdale, both they and the Sutton XI will be looking for more of the same in what has already been a hugely successful initiative. 

Every one of the 637 runs that were scored at Titwood provided a ringing endorsement of the aims and objectives that lie behind this new competition. Choosing the squads according to the balance of their players as opposed to their geographical location has seen three out of the four matches go to the wire – except for the very first game of the series, none has been a walkover, and while the Ross XI left Glasgow with two victories, their opponents know that that scoreline could very easily have been reversed. 

That was thanks in no small part to some of the younger batters on display. Fifteen-year-old Emma Walsingham, fresh from her unbeaten 123-ball 160 in the Under-18 Regional Series, impressed again with 42 not out in game one, while the confident hitting of Niamhs Muir and Robertson-Jack ensured the Suttons went down fighting as the second match drew to its conclusion. 

But it was the contribution of the more experienced players which was most striking – in all senses of the word – of all. Priyanaz Chatterji was outstanding, her 27-ball 56, featuring eleven fours and one six, so nearly seeing her Sutton side to victory in game two, while Charis Scott and Ellen Watson also scored their runs briskly at the top of the order. Watson’s opening partner Lorna Jack picked up from where she left off in Arbroath to move into second place in the batting averages with 117 runs at 29.25: her return to form is good news both for the series and for Scotland. 

Topping those averages is Abbi Aitken-Drummond, whose scores of 44 and 49 powered the Ross XI’s chase of 154 in game one then charge to 170 straight after. Becky Glen, Megan McColl and Katherine Fraser played important hands, too, and while Ailsa Lister was out for a duck in the morning, her never-say-die instinct to attack saw her set the tone in game two by scoring eleven of the twelve that came off the first over of the match. 

And it is that which has characterised these early stages of the competition most of all. The positivity and flair with which both sides have batted, facilitated last weekend by the excellent Clydesdale surface, is a hugely encouraging sign for the future. With a question mark hanging over international cricket for all but the very biggest nations in the short term, here is a mechanism which is allowing Scotland’s players the opportunity to both test and truly express themselves. Sunday promises to be another fascinating instalment.

The Cricket Scotland Super Series will be live-scored and streamed via CS Live. 

Team news: Katie McGill returns for the Sutton XI, replacing Niamh Robertson-Jack, who moves to the Ross XI in place of the unavailable Molly Paton. 

Ross XI: Abbi Aitken-Drummond, Ailsa Lister, Becky Glen, Megan McColl, Katherine Mills, Lois Wilkinson, Katherine Fraser, Hannah Rainey, Catherine Holland, Niamh Robertson-Jack, Anne Sturgess, Zoe Rennie. 

Sutton XI: Katie McGill, Priyanaz Chatterji, Ellen Watson, Samantha Haggo, Lorna Jack, Abbie Hogg, Charis Scott, Emma Walsingham, Emily Tucker, Orla Montgomery, Nayma Shaikh, Niamh Muir.

——

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 As part of our ongoing coverage of men’s and women’s domestic cricket, The Cricket Scotland Podcast will include a round-up of the Super Series every Tuesday, with analysis and player interviews along with those from other featured games. Follow @ScotlandPod on Twitter for all the latest information.

THE HUNDRED: First Impressions

So, it’s finally upon us – and after all our concerns about accreditation, we were indeed in the press box on Wednesday night for the first ever match of The Hundred.

What did we make of it all? Here’s some initial thoughts…

The crowd

Kate Cross’s post-match with the BBC said it all. “It’s the loudest, biggest crowd that I’ve ever played in front of on home soil – including international cricket”, she told Isa Guha.

It’s important to be historically accurate. Despite a boast by the ground announcer (which was repeated by Sky), 7,395 is NOT a record crowd at a domestic women’s match, in England or otherwise.

In the modern era, 12,901 fans were in attendance at the MCG for a WBBL match on 2 January 2016.

On the other hand, given that we were excited about 1,000 people showing up to the first KSL game, a crowd of almost 7,500 should go down as a BIG win for The Hundred. And it felt pretty amazing to be a part of it.

It’s cricket

When it came down to it, no one really paid any attention to Becky Hill’s “set” between the innings – they were too busy grabbing another ice-cream before play restarted. That tells you something important: they wanted to watch the cricket.

Ultimately, this was a cricket match between two teams of world-class players. If it wasn’t quite our sport at its finest from start to end – there were a few dropped catches that the Originals will want to swiftly forget about – it WAS a thriller, as Dane van Niekerk dragged her side over the line despite the WinViz predictor being very firmly not in her favour for almost the entirety of the run chase.

Say it quietly, but is it possible that the ECB have worried too much about gimmicks, influencers and musical acts… at the expense of offering decent money to the women’s players, who will be the ones who make or break the success of this competition?

The TV coverage

After all the talk about gender parity, it struck a bum note to have two people (Tuffers and Vaughan) doing the vast majority of the BBC TV commentary who clearly had no idea who any of the non-England players were. We’ve got nothing against male commentators reporting on women’s cricket – but when they wouldn’t be able to pick out the players in an ID parade, that’s when you’ve got problems.

The BBC’s misspelling of player names also didn’t help matters. The small things really do matter when you want a tournament to make a statement about gender parity in sport.

The gimmicks

Thumbs Up:

*The at-ground graphics, whereby players introduce themselves over the loudspeaker as they walk out to bat. Useful, and fun.

Thumbs Down:

*Having to look at opposite ends of the TV screen to see runs, wickets and the number of balls left. Seemed to us to make it MORE complicated to understand, not less.

*The umpire white cards, held up at the end of each “five” balls. Budget didn’t seem to stretch to providing proper laminated cards, and it looked a bit odd to have the umpires waving bits of notebook paper in the air.

*The Mady Villiers avatar. Rob Key did his best, but…

The jury’s out

The crowd was amazing, but the “newness factor” needs to be accounted for. The big question is, once the shiny novelty has worn off, will people still care about Oval Invincibles and the rest?

There’s still a way to go to prove that The Hundred is an advance on where we’d now be with the KSL, had it been allowed to continue growing.

There was also little sign of the “united team brands and identities” with the men which we’d been promised. None of the male players showed up at the ground to watch the game – OK, maybe Covid was a factor (?) but could they not at least have tweeted to show their support? (I’ve just checked and I can only find one player from either of the men’s teams who did so – kudos to Sam Billings.)

Overall positivity rating:

7/10. Solid start but still a long way to go.

OPINION: The Summer Of Shafali

David Windram reflects on the emergence of a young Indian star

A Katherine Brunt send-off is hard to miss. This was no different as she charged down the pitch in celebration, raising her fingers to her lips. This one perhaps had a little extra on it. As Shafali Verma dragged herself off she knew the series was likely lost. On a personal level, Verma has only just begun. Eliciting such an animalistic send off from Brunt proved that she had been doing something right. It was the ultimate veiled compliment. A public service announcement that she had become England’s most desired wicket. Welcome to the summer of Shafali.

Image: Bahnfrend (Wikimedia Commons)

Sometimes, all it needs is a name. The ring of those very specific syllables transporting you back to the summer they defined. Amla in 2012, Bell in 2013, Perry in 2015 or Smith in 2019. Throughout the summer they reveal themselves to be the face of a series. Shafali Verma became that face in 2021.

The road back to Test match cricket for India’s women has been arduous. By playing in just one, Shafali Verma has been involved in a seventh of Tests played during her short time on the planet. She was 10 the last time those particularly crisp whites were buttoned up. Bristol was the venue for the long-desired return; England the opponents.

For Verma, unfamiliarity did not breed uncertainty. Red, white, or pink, a cricket ball is a cricket ball after all. Still, this wasn’t a simple pressure-free introduction to the toughest form of the game. England had piled on runs before declaring and were in peak predatory mode, unashamedly hunting twenty wickets without the need to bat again. Verma shrugged and got on with it.

Accompanied by Smriti Mandhana, she blunted, drove and caressed her way to 96 runs in a partnership of 167. The disappointment in missing out on a debut ton testament to the expectations which now attach to her, all 1.3 billion of them. But the highest score on Test debut for an Indian woman was quite the expectation satisfier. Not that Verma seemed to care. Simply another day in the life of the kid from Rohtak.

T20 debut at 15. Followed by discarding you know who as India’s youngest half centurion for India; the little master in waiting. At 16, officially the world’s best T20I batter. Now 17, and India’s youngest cricketer to play all three formats. A next-generation cricketer, in the most literal sense.

It should have been job done at Bristol. A weather affected four-day test leaving minimal time for a result. But Verma’s teammates wanted more, and who can blame them? The remaining nine wickets falling promptly following the debutant’s demise.

Back for more to face a similarly ravenous, now reinvigorated, bowling line up, who were sniffing an unlikely victory. That prospect was quickly extinguished. Verma again frustrated the English bowlers, while still managing to show impressive attacking intent. A further 63 runs ensured a draw for her team and the Player of the Match award. An imperious and classy debut. Global eyes were now open.

Verma is a multi-format cricketer in the purest sense; she simply has to be. Format switching is the cricketer’s Rubik’s cube. The modern career is spent constantly tweaking and fiddling hoping that it clicks in time for the impending format. This elasticity is increasingly vital for the female cricketer, where multi-format series are now the norm. These series provide an extreme examination of patience, technique, skill and imagination; only the truly elite can thrive.

Luckily for India, Verma is elite. Her range of shots appears limitless. Come straight at her and she will blunt you; pitch it up and she will drive you; bang it in short and you’re swatted to the boundary. She will walk across her stumps to clip you away to leg, or give herself room and smash through the off side. The variety with which deliveries are dealt with is bold and brash. Pre-summer there remained an unanswered question. Was the temperament transferable to longer formats? The answer has been emphatic.

Verma made contributions in at least one game of every single format, including an epic 48 runs off 38 balls in the second T20I to keep India’s series hopes alive. If Brunt didn’t get her early, she made runs. This is the beauty of the multi-format series. It allows these mini battles to develop. Verma v Brunt became captivating viewing.

Yet, there remains a dichotomy at the heart of Verma’s success. Indian cricket has a generational talent on its hands – yes, another one. Her cricket is exciting, high quality and intensely enjoyable to watch. But without the requisite backing from her cricket board, it almost feels like it doesn’t matter what she does. She can be as good as she wants, but unless something changes, she will only be given a tokenistic glance.

Verma received a “Grade B” contract from the BCCI. It pays her approximately £29,000 to be one of the best in the world. Her male equivalents are paid around £485,000, with the lowest centrally contracted male player receiving roughly £97,000. There is also the well-documented caper in which the BCCI withheld prize money from the women’s inspirational run to the World Cup final in 2020. These “life-changing amounts” were only paid to the players once they had raised invoices and when the story was diligently reported in the mainstream press. The money had been paid to the BCCI fourteen months previously.

There appears a reluctance to conjure up a legitimate female equivalent of the IPL. The current tournament, The T20 Challenge, in which three teams play two games each is merely a box-ticking exercise. As the male tournament becomes unnecessarily bloated with repetitive game after repetitive game, the women’s competition couldn’t be trimmed any further. As sad as it is, money makes the game go round. The BCCI have copious amounts to throw at whatever they feel is worthy. At the moment there is a clear rejection of the women’s game.

It leaves Shafali Verma hunting for game time, o the extent that she spent time training with Haryana’s men’s team and facing Mohit Sharma in nets. She is reliant on the WBBL and The Hundred. For all the follies of The Hundred, and they are pretty much endless, the female version has become vital for the players. The salaries peak at £15,000 – the lowest male players being paid nearly double the highest women – but it is as much about game time. Opportunities remain scarce and need to be grabbed when available, regardless of what they look like. Sometimes it is simply about survival.

India was eventually in win or go home territory with two T20s to play. On ball twenty of the must-win match, Verma unleashed. Inevitably, it was Brunt on the receiving end. With a violent swipe of her bat, the ball was catapulted to the boundary. Next ball, same result, as Verma stepped away and launched back over Brunt’s head. Ball three was hung outside off, this time a feather- like touch clipped the ball past point to the rope. Two slightly more agricultural swipes, led to two more boundaries, off the final two balls of the over. It was carnage. Brunt was stunned; England were stunned. Five fours off five balls and India’s recovery was on.

It demonstrated every aspect in confirming she is destined for stardom. The temerity to rip apart a world-class bowler. The ability to play whatever shot the delivery required. Sometimes it wasn’t perhaps the perfect shot selection, yet she made whatever shot she played work. The concept of the 360-degree cricketer has become a cliche; for Verma, it is nothing less than reality.

Ultimately, Brunt would have the last laugh with her final match send-off, but Shafali Verma has arrived. Now the headliner of the coming generation, let’s make sure she is given the proper platform. Your move BCCI.

PREVIEW: The Hundred (Women’s Competition)

Sasha Putt previews The Hundred (Women’s Competition)

With England’s series against India over, it is time to turn our attention to the biggest event in cricket this summer: The Hundred. With games set to commence on Wednesday, the tournament promises to be a month of exciting cricket, with some of the best international talent on display, despite the withdrawal of many Australian stars due to Covid concerns.

Before the tournament kicks off, here is a run-down of all eight squads ready to do battle this summer, and some pre-tournament predictions as well.

Birmingham Phoenix 

Most noticeable for Birmingham is the loss of Ellyse Perry, arguably the best cricketer in the world and someone who would have bolstered the side with a perfect all-round option. Despite this setback, the Phoenix squad does not lack star power: they have a host of internationals, spearheaded by one of the bright young stars in the game today – Shafali Verma. Backed by England internationals Amy Jones and Georgia Elwiss, with red-hot Evelyn Jones hoping to continue her domestic white-ball form and veteran Erin Burns earning a replacement call-up, the Phoenix top-order appears to be solid and able to score runs quickly.

A youthful bowling core could prove to be feisty as well, with Emily Arlott and Issy Wong both able to take wickets quickly and restrict the run-rate, while Abtaha Maqsood could inject some energy in those middle overs.

This is the squad that could be the most hit-or-miss; if Verma and co. can get firing they’ll easily put up big scores which would be difficult to chase, but an inexperienced bowling attack could prove to be an Achilles heel amongst the more well-rounded sides.

London Spirit 

Much like the Edgbaston side, the Spirit have a stacked batting line-up with a host of international stars at their disposal. The England duo of captain Heather Knight and Tammy Beaumont will both be confident after a series win against India, and so should look to anchor the top of the order. Perhaps an even more exciting prospect is to see the fantastic trio of Deandra Dottin, Deepti Sharma and Chloe Tryon in action together, making up what could be the best top-five of the tournament.

Although Dottin, Sharma and Tryon have offered something with the ball at times, this side will need its young bowlers to carry the load. In particular the duo of Freya Davies and Charlie Dean could prove to be difference makers, but the strength of the bowling attack comes in a clear second when considering the power up top.

This being said, the Spirit still have one of the strongest squads this summer, and only need two or three of their stars to get runs on the board to put up a total most sides would struggle to beat, marking them as an early contender for champions.

Manchester Originals

The Originals display a plethora of options in the bowling department, with England’s Kate Cross and world number one T20I bowler Sophie Ecclestone, backed by former international Alex Hartley, a fearsome attack that will look to take quick wickets early, whilst restricting any chances of scoring.

International imports reinforce Manchester’s batting, with Harmanpreet Kaur, Mignon du Preez and Lizelle Lee solidifying an explosive top order in plenty of form. Joined by Emma Lamb, the first centurion of the Charlotte Edwards T20 Cup and a very handy bowling option, and Cordelia Griffith capable of consistently chipping in with runs, the team at Old Trafford are one of the most complete sides of the tournament, with few weak spots besides potential depth.

Northern Superchargers

A return to top-heavy teams here with the Superchargers boasting an impressive collection of batters with Lauren Winfield-Hill, Laura Wolvaardt, Jemimah Rodrigues, Laura Kimmince, Sterre Kalis and Alice Davidson-Richards all having big scores in their locker. Key for the team will be to bat first and bat big, adopting a more aggressive approach from the outset due to the depth in quality and quick-scoring talent.

Beth Langston could prove to be a very useful pivot for the team, handy with both the bat and ball, but it’s difficult to see where wickets would come from with this side. However, that does set the ground for one of England’s young prospects to announce themselves in a high-profile domestic tournament.

Despite a solid batting core, barring the emergence of a young star I struggle to see this team making a serious impact unless they can consistently put up big totals.

Oval Invincibles 

If you’re a fan of the Proteas, then have I got the team for you. Three of South Africa’s greatest ever headline the South London side, with Dane van Niekerk, Marizanne Kapp and Shabnim Ismail a formidable core of players to build any team around. Although van Niekerk is returning from injury her experience will prove to be a lynchpin for the side, with Kapp currently the best ranked ODI all-rounder (third for bowlers) and Ismail the second best T20I bowler. The success of this Invincibles side is likely to come through this trio, particularly if they’re firing on all cylinders.

To call the rest of the squad a ‘supporting cast’ would almost be an insult, considering the talent available. England internationals Tash Farrant and Mady Villiers round out a very strong attack, and Fran Wilson provides experience with the bat.

Batting could be the Invincibles’ weakness, lacking the big-name stars of other teams in the tournament. However, Georgia Adams and Alice Capsey have both shown flashes of form, and so could be crucial for this top order to keep up with their bowling attack. The Invincibles are definitely a team that could surprise a few and make it to the knockout stages.

Southern Brave 

To me, this is by far the most exciting team in the competition. Above all is world number one ODI batter Stafanie Taylor, who comes into the tournament on a hot streak, having made 49, 105* and 43* in her last three outings. Deadly with the ball as well, the West Indies legend is a must-watch over the summer.

Even without Taylor the Brave roster would pose a problem for anyone. World Cup hero (and fellow Bathonian) Anya Shrubsole leads a fierce bowling attack, with Lauren Bell and Charlotte Taylor both able to pick up wickets regularly. Smriti Mandhana and Danni Wyatt have been in fine form during India’s recent tour of England and complement Taylor perfectly, and if Sophia Dunkley can continue her domestic form then this is a group of batters that could easily dispatch any bowling unit.

Even the Brave’s depth is strong, with Tara Norris providing a very useful left-arm option who has seen plenty of domestic success in the past couple of years. Clear favourites to win the tournament, a lot of pressure is surrounding this squad to perform.

Trent Rockets 

It seems like when drawing up their squad Trent Rockets management had just one word in mind: all-rounder, with 11/15 of their squad being listed as so. The Nottingham side was hit hard by the delay of the tournament, losing Beth Langston and Mady Villiers to other teams, then Elyse Villani and Sophie Molineux pulling out due to pandemic concerns.

As a result, the Rockets are left reliant on their England stars, which isn’t the worst consolation prize. World number one T20I all-rounder Nat Sciver is a perfect talisman to build around. Seamer Katherine Brunt and leg spinner Sarah Glenn can both tie up an end, and Australian replacement Heather Graham has been in excellent domestic form with the bat. New Zealand veteran Rachel Priest could establish herself as a fan favourite, particularly with her talent behind the stumps.

Aside from Teresa Graves, the rest of the Rockets’ depth could struggle if Brunt and Sciver aren’t dominating. Those stars could still help cause an upset or two, however, and so shouldn’t be counted out.

Welsh Fire 

Alongside the Rockets the Cardiff-based team have also been depleted by the pandemic. The losses of Jess Jonassen, Meg Lanning and Beth Mooney leave large gaps in both the bowling and batting departments. However, their replacements could still be exciting, with Piepa Cleary and Hayley Matthews solid all-round options, and keeper Georgia Redmayne in incredible recent form, averaging nearly 240 across her last 5 innings.

The loss of key stars doesn’t take away from the true draw of this side: the return of Sarah Taylor, undoubtedly England’s best keeper this century. Already finding her groove behind the stumps for the Diamonds in the Charlotte Edwards Trophy, the Hundred will provide an incredible opportunity for some fantastic glovework to appear on our screens.

Although lacking in big-name stars elsewhere, the Fire have plenty of domestic talent ready to break through. Sophie Luff and Georgia Hennessy have both shown themselves to be capable of building big innings, albeit in the longer limited-overs format, and Bethan Ellis has shown flashes with bat and ball.

It might just be my excitement to watch Sarah Taylor but this side looks poised to make some serious waves and cause a few upsets over the course of the tournament, and could sneak in to the final three.

Five Must-Watch Games:

  • Invincibles vs Originals – 21st July – first game and a South African showdown
  • Spirit vs Rockets – 29th July – contest between England’s stars at Lord’s 
  • Originals vs Brave – 5th August – two top teams squaring off 
  • Invincibles vs Spirit – 14th August – Battle for London with playoff implications 
  • Superchargers vs Phoenix – 17th August – a potential run-fest

(A full list of fixtures can be found here.)

Pre-tournament, will soon be proven wrong predictions: 

Winners: Southern Brave – bowling, batting, everything – where is this team’s weak spot? 

Final Three: Southern Brave, London Spirit, Manchester Originals 

Player of the Tournament: Sophie Ecclestone

International Star: Stafanie Taylor

Surprise Star: Charlotte Taylor

Worst team name: Manchester – When the Manchester Bees was floated as a potential team name anything else is a let-down 

Best/Worst Kit: Birmingham – I’ve been sat here for an hour trying to come up with a reason for why I like this jersey but have managed nothing. I still have strongly considered getting one.