The CRICKETher Weekly – Episode 93

This week, we look back on 2021:

  • Syd & Raf’s Favourite Moments of the Year
  • The domestic season: Capsey Comes of Age
  • England at Home: The ups and the downs
  • A two-Test year!
  • Overall, was 2021 a Good Year for women’s cricket?

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OPINION: Will Omicron Jeopardise the Women’s Ashes & World Cup?

COVID is currently ripping through Australia, with record numbers of cases being identified and the highly contagious Omicron variant spreading in New South Wales. Meanwhile, New Zealand has reintroduced border restrictions this week until the end of February at the earliest. With both those things in mind, are the Women’s Ashes and World Cup in jeopardy?

The good news is that the short answer is no.

The final match of the Women’s Ashes is scheduled to take place on the 19th February; with the opening game of the World Cup due to take place on 4th March, and England playing Australia on the 5th.

As the regulations on entry to New Zealand currently stand, both Australia and England will be required to complete 10 days ‘Managed Isolation Quarantine’ (MIQ) between that final Ashes match and the start of their World Cup campaigns. Whilst MIQ is emphatically not prison, it is nonetheless strictly enforced ‘hard’ quarantine; but if it is the price of playing in the World Cup, it’s something that most players will take in their stride.

However, there is still a risk that players could be identified as COVID cases during MIQ, having brought it with them from Australia to New Zealand. Under these circumstances, they would (as things currently stand) be required to remain potentially considerably longer in MIQ, from 14 days after the positive test. In theory, this means that MIQ could last as long as 24 days. Though 16-18 would be more likely, this still means that the teams could be in danger of being unable to fulfil their opening fixtures if they brought 5 or 6 cases with them.

This is where the Ashes potentially becomes impacted – if the ICC want to minimize the risk, they need to ensure that all the players are in the country ideally 18-20 days before the tournament starts, which would mean that England and Australia will have two options – to either curtail the Ashes, or to play the final matches between the ‘A’ teams, while the main squads fly earlier to New Zealand.

It is extremely unlikely that the New Zealand government, committed as they are to a ‘Zero COVID’ strategy, will relax their rules earlier than currently anticipated. Worryingly, it is much more likely that the rules will actually become more strict. With the lag between infections and deaths in the first world currently running at 17-21 days, it is possible that we may see a significant increase in deaths in Australia in mid-to-late January, and pressure subsequently on the New Zealand government for a total border closure which they may find difficult to resist.

Whether they would make a special exception under these circumstances for hundreds of players, managers, analysts and other staff to enter the country for the World Cup is an open question. The New Zealand government have previously publicly stated that the World Cup is their top priority in terms of sporting events taking place in the country this summer, but their priority understandably remains the health of the New Zealand public, and that’s what would be worrying me if I was the ICC.

Of course, as fans we can pursue a strategy of keeping our fingers crossed and hoping it will all be okay, but that’s really not something we want the ICC to be doing. If they have contingency plans, I’d hope they’d be giving them serious consideration right now, because the idea of teams having to withdraw at the very last minute, or worse while the tournament is actually being played, is not one we want to contemplate. If there is one thing worse than no World Cup, it is half a World Cup.

NEWS: Heather Knight Promises “Bold” Approach As England & England ‘A’ Squads Named For Australia

England have announced two squads, totalling 29 players, who will travel to Australia in January, with the main team contesting the multi-format Women’s Ashes series, and an ‘A’ team set to play 3 T20 and 3 One Day matches against Australia ‘A’.

There are no surprises in the main squad, which is just the contracted players, plus last summer’s two debutantes – Maia Bouchier and Charlie Dean – minus the injured Katie George and Georgia Elwiss, who is relegated to the ‘A’ squad.

However while the personnel might be largely familiar, Heather Knight has indicated that the approach to the Ashes series will not be, with a promise that the team would be “bold” – a word she used 5 times during her press conference – as they take on the Aussies for the first time since their 12-4 humiliation at home in 2019.

“We’re going to have to play very well,” Knight said. “We’re going to have to play out of our skin. We’re going to have to be bold, and we’re going to have to stand up to the Australians.”

“We’ve got to meet fire with fire – we’ve got to make sure we’re trying to punch first and be aggressive towards them.”

With regards to the ‘A’ squad, England have chosen to mostly play it very safe. The squad has an average age of 24, and includes only two teenagers – Alice Capsey and Issy Wong. It means they are more likely to win what are certain to be very competitive matches; but it also means no spot for Grace Scrivens for example, who (Capsey aside) is the most talented of the up-coming generation, and would arguably have really benefitted from the experience.

With just 12 players named in the ‘A’ squad, it also seems highly likely that the ‘A’ team will be bolstered by players from the main squad left out of the concurrent Ashes games. So for instance, with the ‘A’ T20s scheduled at the same time as the Ashes Test, there’s a chance that England could play Danni Wyatt in the ‘A’ T20s, in preparation for the Ashes T20s which are scheduled for the week after.

But according to Knight there will also be the opportunity for players to go the other way, and step up to the main squad if they play really well.

“If those ‘A’ girls have a really good series and impress in those Australia a games, they’ve got the chance to make it into the full squad.”

However, Knight did (again!) admonish the media for getting over-excited about Alice Capsey, saying:

“She’s definitely one for the future; but I do think we need to be careful not to over-egg our players. Her time will come I’m sure, whether that’s at some point in the Ashes, in the World Cup, or down the line in a few years.”

England

Heather Knight (Western Storm, captain)
Tammy Beaumont (Lightning)
Maia Bouchier (Southern Vipers)
Katherine Brunt (Northern Diamonds)
Kate Cross (Thunder)
Freya Davies (South East Stars)
Charlie Dean (Southern Vipers)
Sophia Dunkley (South East Stars)
Sophie Ecclestone (Thunder)
Tash Farrant (South East Stars)
Sarah Glenn (Central Sparks)
Amy Jones (Central Sparks)
Nat Sciver (Northern Diamonds, vice-captain)
Anya Shrubsole (Western Storm)
Mady Villiers (Sunrisers)
Lauren Winfield-Hill (Northern Diamonds)
Danni Wyatt (Southern Vipers)

England ‘A’

Emily Arlott (Central Sparks)
Lauren Bell (Southern Vipers)
Alice Capsey (South East Stars)
Alice Davidson-Richards (South East Stars)
Georgia Elwiss (Southern Vipers)
Kirstie Gordon (Lightning)
Eve Jones (Central Sparks)
Beth Langston (Northern Diamonds)
Emma Lamb (Thunder)
Bryony Smith (South East Stars)
Ellie Threlkeld (Thunder)
Issy Wong (Central Sparks)

THE NUMBERS: Who Has Been England’s Most Impactful Player In Recent Years?

The last 5 years have been strange times for England. They won the World Cup at the start of that period, but were humiliated in the T20 World Cup final in the West Indies in 2018, and likely only avoided the same fate in 2020 because their semi-final was washed-out. They’ve won series against India, New Zealand and South Africa, and regularly thrash the likes of the West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but have twice failed to regain the Ashes. Not even the players’ doting grandmothers would argue that England have been the best side in the world over the past 5 years; but they’ve nonetheless pretty conclusively proved themselves to have been the second best.

We’ll all have our own ideas of who have been England’s most impactful players of this era, but can the numbers give us a more definitive answer?

We used our ranking algorithm to determine the top 5 batters and bowlers, combining the T20 and ODI stats over the past 5 years. (The metrics are pretty basic – Runs multiplied by Strike Rate for batters; and Wickets divided by Economy for the bowlers – and you can certainly create more nuanced ranking systems, but they tend to largely produce the same answers in the same order!) In addition, we’ve added a new measure: Impact Percentage – the player’s percentage of the team’s total batting and bowling ‘scores’.

Batters

In the past 5 years, England have played exactly 100 white ball matches – 47 ODIs and 53 T20s – and only one woman has played all 100 – Tammy Beaumont. So it won’t come as too much of a surprise that Beaumont is England’s leading batter in that period, with 3,318 runs – a fair way ahead of Nat Sciver in second place, over 700 runs behind with 2,557; and Heather Knight in 3rd with 2,657. (Knight has scored more runs than Sciver, but Sciver’s better Strike Rate lifts her ahead in the rankings.)

Player Matches Runs Strike Rate Impact %
1. Tammy Beaumont 100 3,318 87 18%
2. Nat Sciver 97 2,557 104 16%
3. Heather Knight 95 2,675 94 15%
4. Danni Wyatt 85 2,062 118 15%
5. Amy Jones 83 1,868 100 11%

Bowlers

The fact that bowlers have it harder than batters in terms of injuries is something of a “truism” in cricket, but it is sometimes hard to appreciate just how true it is until you see the numbers – Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole have each missed over a quarter of England’s matches in the past 5 years through injury and rotation. Sophie Ecclestone has missed a similar number over the 5 year period, but of course was not part of the squad for the 2017 World Cup, when she was still in full time education. In the past 4 years, she has played 87% of the team’s matches; and she is the only bowler to have registered over 100 wickets in that period – ranking her at No. 1, some distance ahead of Brunt and Shrubsole.

Perhaps the one surprise across the lists is Kate Cross – ranking 5th in bowling, just a smidgen ahead of Sarah Glenn who has taken a couple more wickets (45) but at a significantly inferior economy rate (5.06).

Player Matches Wickets Economy Impact %
1. Sophie Ecclestone 79 114 4.58 19%
2. Katherine Brunt 73 87 4.71 14%
3. Anya Shrubsole 70 81 4.90 12%
4. Nat Sciver 97 68 5.12 10%
5. Kate Cross 30 42 4.58 7%

Overall Impact

Sophie Ecclestone’s wickets and economy give her an impact score of 19% – a touch ahead of Tammy Beaumont, whose runs and strike rate give her an impact score of 18%. Then again, Nat Sciver makes it into the top 5 on both lists, giving her a combined impact score of 26% – some way ahead of the other allrounders on the team, with Katherine Brunt and Heather Knight both scoring 19% combined.

So does this definitively settle all the arguments? No – bartenders of the world can breathe a sigh of relief that Martin from Women’s Cricket Blog and I will still have plenty to argue about over drinks late into the night for many years to come! And perhaps that’s actually a big part of the reason for England’s relative consistency and success over the Heather Knight era, Australia dominance notwithstanding? The best teams aren’t dependent upon one or two players. Sophie Ecclestone might have had a fifth of the team’s bowling impact, but the rest of the squad have had the other four-fifths… and that’s maybe the real lesson here.

NEWS: Scotland Look To Qualify For Commonwealth Games As Costs Spiral For Competitors

Countries who wish to take part in the Qualifying Tournament for the 2022 Commonwealth Games will be required to pay their own hotel and travel costs, CRICKETher understands.

The Qualifier, which is due to take place in Malaysia in January 2022, will decide who takes the final, eighth spot in the women’s cricket event at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in July, alongside hosts England and the six highest ranked T20 sides – Australia, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, South Africa and Barbados (representing West Indies).

All Commonwealth countries featuring in the current global T20 rankings were invited by the ICC to participate in the Qualifier. Scotland have already confirmed their participation, alongside hosts Malaysia, but with a substantial travel and accommodation price tag now attached to participation it looks less and less likely that other teams will be able to join them.

Northern Ireland have already confirmed that they will not be participating, due to the fact that the majority of players in the Ireland national team originate from the Republic of Ireland, rendering them ineligible according to current CWG criteria.

With the new Omicron variant wreaking havoc with global travel (and leading to the abandonment of the ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifiers in November), there is also a risk that any qualifier may be derailed and teams hit with a possible quarantine bill on return home. This may well serve to deter other possible entrants.

For Scotland, this set of circumstances represents a real opportunity to qualify for participation in the Commonwealth Games – an exciting prospect for a team who have never yet featured in a World Cup tournament.

But for other countries, the reluctance of the ICC to provide adequate resources to facilitate participation in the Qualifying Tournament will be a severe blow. The ICC have previously labelled the CWG “a huge opportunity to turbo-charge the growth of the game”; unfortunately, it appears that this “turbo-charging” does not extend to countries outside of the elite few.