It’s the age-old question in cricket – should a captain be selected first, and the team put in place around them; or should you select your best XI, and then choose a captain from that? Or, to put it a different way, how much does the wisdom and charisma of a captain matter, over and above their cricketing skills?
The Oval Invincibles management seem pretty clear on the answer to the above. In their match against Southern Brave on Sunday, they were happy to dispense with established skipper Dane van Niekerk, in order to be able to field their three other overseas players Marizanne Kapp, Shabnim Ismail and Suzie Bates. “We have four quality [overseas] players and the management decided that this is the best combination”, stand-in captain Bates said at the toss.
It’s pretty universally acknowledged that van Niekerk’s captaincy created a team environment last year which was conducive to success and ultimately led to Invincibles winning the title. OK, she didn’t have to bat in the opening game on Thursday; but dropping her seemed, well… brave. [Ed: That’s the type of pun I expect from Syd, not you.]
Whether it cost Invincibles the game is (obviously) hard to quantify, but it certainly didn’t help.
Brave had two “big” phases of their innings. The 25-ball powerplay saw Smriti Mandhana having lots of fun smoking boundaries, with Danni Wyatt’s main role at the other end being to get her partner on strike and keep her there.
Invincibles pulled it back well in the middle phases – Brave lost 5 wickets for 40 runs between the 37th and the 72nd balls. Sophia Smale was excellent yet again – a late replacement for the competition in place of the injured Emma Jones, could she be the Hundred’s equivalent of Linsey Smith, who was a last-minute injury replacement in the first year of the KSL (and went on to catch the eye of then-England coach Mark Robinson)?
After Bates put down a simple chance at midwicket off Smale’s first ball of the day, the 17-year-old kept patient, and smart. In her next set, she tempted Wyatt down the track a couple of times, and ultimately had her stumped. She then did for possibly the best T20 batter in the world at the moment, Tahlia McGrath, courtesy of an absolutely brilliant catch from Kirstie White diving forwards at short third. Perhaps most importantly, 10 out of the 20 balls Smale bowled were dots.
But at the back-end, Freya Kemp and Georgia Adams were able to take advantage of Bates’ decision to front-load her best bowlers, adding 47 runs off the final 25 balls.
With Invincibles already light on bowling due to the absence of Alice Capsey (sitting out with “stiffness” after Thursday night’s ankle injury), and Bates unable to turn her arm over due to her long-standing shoulder issues (she hasn’t bowled a ball in anger since the 2020/21 WBBL), it seemed to make even less sense to assume they could do without van Niekerk’s leg-spin.
Invincibles’ efforts at the death were also damaged by the fact that they dropped behind the required over rate, and were therefore only allowed three fielders outside the circle for the final 10 balls of the innings. There seemed to be a LOT of chat going on between balls and “sets” between Bates, Kapp and Ismail – too many captains spoiling the broth? – which certainly didn’t help matters.
In reply, Invincibles got off to a decent start, with Winfield-Hill and Bates adding 38 runs in the 25-ball powerplay. Kapp, too, did her best to jog things along, smashing 16 runs from Amanda-Jade Wellington’s second “set” of the day, including a slog-swept six.
But the “golden arm” of Georgia Adams, who bowled both Winfield-Hill and Kapp in the space of 14 balls, proved ruinous to their run-chase. There were some brave fireworks from Ryana Macdonald-Gay, but a lack of contributions from the Invincibles’ middle-order had essentially already cost them the game by that point.
If only they’d had the player who was the competition’s leading run-scorer in 2021 at their disposal – a specialist in the middle-order, if you will – to stabilise their chase…
One of the reasons why Invincibles were able to win the 2021 Women’s Hundred was their team culture. It makes this decision, which appears to have been imposed on the players with little to no notice, even more bizarre. Let’s hope it’s just a blip, or things could quickly get very difficult indeed for the Oval-based team.