Sasha Putt reports
Before the tournament began, the Manchester Originals were one of the favourites to make the playoffs of the inaugural Hundred. They boasted a strong spin attack anchored by Sophie Ecclestone, and a batting line-up full of international talent.
But five matches in, the Originals find themselves seventh in the table with the worst Net Run Rate in the competition at -0.391. (This is, at least, something of an improvement – it was considerably worse than that before their first victory against the Southern Brave.)
But why has the team struggled in recent weeks, and what can be done to enable the Old Trafford side to finish the tournament strongly?
A key weakness has been an inability to capitalise on key moments and take control of the game. This was clearly displayed in the first game of the tournament against the Oval Invincibles, where the Originals had put up a good total of 135 and were taking early wickets. The win-predictor had the Invincibles at 7% after 35 balls: surely Manchester’s game to win. Then came a slew of dropped catches and missed opportunities, allowing Dane van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp to rally and take the game.
Manchester’s first home game saw a similar collapse. Excellent bowling from Ecclestone, Emma Lamb and Laura Jackson reduced the Birmingham Phoenix to 113 from their 100 balls. The Originals proceeded to record the lowest score of the tournament so far, managing 93 in their innings, with only two batters getting into double figures.
These two games have illustrated the problems Manchester have had so far, both with the bat and ball. In the loss to Birmingham, Harmanpreet Kaur was criticised for her slow scoring, making 49 off 47 balls. However, criticism belongs with the rest of the Originals’ top order. Until their game against the Southern Brave, Kaur had three out of five of the top scores for Manchester, and her 49* is the second highest score in a losing effort. The rest of the top five averaged below 20 at that point. Ecclestone has been the standout bowler, with a run-per-ball (rpb) of 0.91. Of the other Manchester bowlers to have played in all four games, nobody else features in the top 30 for the tournament.
Things were looking dire a few days ago. The Originals’ stars were performing, but their supporting cast failed to provide the backup needed to bring them over the line. Then, against the Brave, came the much-needed injection of fresh talent. Hannah Jones bowled excellently, removing Danni Wyatt, Smriti Mandhana and Anya Shrubsole at a rpb of 0.85. With Kaur out of the side for the game, the pressure was on for their top order to perform. As the rain came down, up stepped Lizelle Lee and Emma Lamb, bringing them to 97/1 after 70 balls, well above the D/L target of 81.
Manchester’s win in that game was the blueprint of how the team was expected to perform, but the big question is if this is sustainable for the rest of the tournament. Aside from Ecclestone, the Originals’ usual crop of bowlers haven’t performed as well as they would have liked, which places a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Jones to continue her form. This could partially be the result of a squad dominated by spinners, which may work at Old Trafford but runs into problems when playing away.
On the batting side, although Lee and Lamb batted well against the Brave, Lamb still averages 10 across four innings, with only two top-six batters averaging above 20. Kaur’s strike-rate of 109.47 is low, but her resilience at the crease should create the platform needed for the more explosive bats to put runs on the board later in the innings – unfortunately it has mostly failed to do so thus far.
There is still a good chance that the Originals can meet expectations in the latter stages of the tournament and give their younger talent some vital experience that they can take into next year’s competition. The final three games will be a good indicator of whether this side is over-hyped or merely suffered a few setbacks and lapses in concentration.
To succeed, the push has to come from the players surrounding Manchester’s top performers, who need to show that they can support an innings when one of their stars is firing. If they do, the Originals can turn a poor season into an average one and finish with four wins.