KSL: Thunder v Storm – Part Of Cheshire Women’s Cricket League’s “Super Sunday”

Martin Saxon reports

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The Cheshire Women’s Cricket League and Lancashire Thunder jointly staged a ten-and-a-half hour cricket marathon at Chester Boughton Hall on Sunday, with Thunder’s match with Western Storm sandwiching the League’s four cup finals.

MORNING SESSION

· Trinity outgun Appleton while Hawarden’s batting fires to see off Didsbury seconds

CWCL T20 Divisonal Competition Final:

Stockport Trinity Fire 56-5 (15; Kate Harvey 18, Olivia Horsfield 3-9) BEAT Appleton Tigers 55 (15.5; Georgia Heath 18, Emma Royle 4-7, Hannah Wicks 3-8)

Eastern Division champions Trinity impressively outperformed Western Division champions Appleton to avenge last year’s defeat to the same opposition. This is the first time since 2011 that this trophy has been won by the Stockport club.

Emma Royle flattened the off stump with only the second delivery of the match and by the time she had bowled her four overs straight through, the Tigers were reeling at 20-5 with Royle having taken four wickets for seven runs.

Georgia Heath and Abbey Gore would be the only players to reach double figures, as Hannah Wicks took three late wickets. The bowlers were backed up by some excellent ground fielding and catching and this was perhaps one of the best fielding displays I have seen from a team at this level.

Appleton naturally needed to bowl Trinity out to defend their small total and the opening overs of the reply saw the unfamiliar sight in women’s club cricket of three slips and a gully. However, the Trinity openers took few risks in the opening overs and once Carys White came in at number three, the scoring rate increased dramatically. Having been on 20 after eight overs, White’s cameo of 17 from 14 balls took the score to 46 after 11.

From 48-1 Trinity lost four wickets when in sight of victory, with Olivia Horsfield taking three of these wickets but this only served to make the match look closer than it really had been.

CWCL Development Knockout Final:

Hawarden Park 143-3 (20; Nicky Deane 25ret, Thea Murray-Williams 25ret, Rachel Warrenger 25ret, Laura Wilson 25ret, Rachel Saunders 2-34) BEAT Didsbury 2nd XI 84-5 (20; Shamaila Zaman 21)

In contrast a high scoring match was taking place at the same time on the second ground in the final of the competition for division three and four teams. Hawarden have a number of batsmen who would certainly not look out of place at a higher level and here four of those all rapidly reached the retirement score. The first wicket fell with the score on 102 in the 15th over.

Warrenger then took a wicket in the first over of the reply to make Didsbury’s task even more daunting. Although there was some cultured batting from the likes of Shamaila Zaman, Zoe Conway, Marianne Lea and Zoe Rigley, their side never threatened to chase down the large target.

AFTERNOON SESSION

· Thunder come agonisingly close to ending Storm’s unbeaten run

As the Thunder and Storm players were completing their match preparations a softball event took place on the second ground. The participants from the host club and Heaton Mersey CC and Stockport Georgians CC.

In the meantime, some spectators were amused to note that the groundstaff were bringing the boundary rope in – the international players and other professionals would have a much smaller playing area than for the match that had just taken place between two local club teams.

Kia Super League:

Western Storm 160-5 (19.5; Smriti Mandanha 72, Sophie Ecclestone 2-32) BEAT Lancashire Thunder 159-8 (20; Harmanpreet Kaur 50, Tahlia McGrath 44, Anya Shrubsole 3-36, Heather Knight 2-27)

Still without a win, can Lancashire Thunder take comfort from the fact their last two results are a tie and this narrowest of defeats to the unbeaten leaders? It’s possibly all they can do after another match that exposed their weak batting line up and one-dimensional bowling attack.

Thunder’s openers scored nine off the first three deliveries of the match from Anya Shrubsole but unfortunately the fourth and fifth deliveries both resulted in wickets.

Harmanpreet Kaur shoulders a massive burden in this team and she delivered a 36- ball innings of 50 which included six fours and two sixes. After her departure Tahlia McGrath assumed the role of senior partner, and having batted rather correctly earlier, she was just starting to unleash her range of improvised shots when she fell for 44. The highest score achieved by any of the home-grown players was just 18.

Thunder dismissed Rachel Priest relatively early, but the other half of Storm’s superb opening partnership, Smriti Mandhana, was again in imperious form, scoring 72 from 43 deliveries with nine fours and two sixes. With the captain Kate Cross being Lancashire’s only experienced seam option, she obviously felt she had no option but to bowl spinners in the powerplay. It may be fine for a spinner to take the first over when the batsmen are yet to play themselves in but asking any spinner to bowl the final powerplay over at a rampant Mandanha is a daunting task, even for a world-class one like Sophie Ecclestone. Mandanha duly scored 18 off this Ecclestone over and took her side to 57-1 off six overs and this prompted not only a perceptible loss of interest from the crowd, but it also caused Thunder’s body language to change dramatically. Western Storm duly moved on to 106-1 without alarm.

Then suddenly everything changed. Ecclestone, returning to the club where she took her first steps in senior women’s cricket back in 2012, was able to have the protection of boundary fielders and Heather Knight duly found the safe hands of Sune Luus. Two overs later, Mandanha was dismissed by Emma Lamb, and Fran Wilson and Sophie Luff soon followed.

It all came down to seven from the last over, bowled by Cross, and even though she restricted the batsmen to singles from the first three and then bowled a dot ball, Deepti Sharma hit the winning boundary off the penultimate ball. A visibly distraught Cross could barely drag herself off the field at the end.

What started as a laudable attempt to ensure the North West’s best players turned out for their local KSL team has unfortunately meant that this Thunder team will be forever worried about their brittle batting – this year’s squad appears on paper to be even weaker than in previous years. Only 104 people attended a previous Thunder match this year – surely this must be, at least in part, due to the team not being successful?

EVENING SESSION

· Trinity make it a T20 double after a last over thriller, while Upton scoop further silverware in the Plate

CWCL Senior Knockout Cup Final:

Stockport Trinity Fire 100-7 (19.3; Kate Harvey 26ret, Rosie Wilson 3-15) BEAT Didsbury Swordettes 99-5 (20; Roshini Prince-Navaratnam 25ret, Laura Griffiths 25ret, Hattie Roberts 2-11)

With four finals to be played, the chances were that at least one would produce a tense finish and it proved to be this one as Stockport Trinity got home in the final over to make it a T20 double.

Three of Didsbury’s best batsmen were dismissed cheaply, two of them by Hattie Roberts, but Didsbury still had two dangerous T20 specialists in Roshini Prince-Navaratnam and Laura Griffiths, who duly got the innings back on track after coming together at 27-3.

Didsbury then lost momentum after the pair had reached 25 and been forced to retire, and the final total of 99 was not a daunting target, especially considering that the Chester ground has a great batting pitch and the boundaries remained at the shorter length used in the earlier KSL match.

Just as in their earlier successful run chase, Sarah McCann and Kate Harvey laid a good foundation with their opening stand, and when Carys White came in after the first wicket she played several fine strokes and got her team above the required rate.

However, every time it appeared someone might finish the job for Trinity, they would get out. White, Gaby McKeever and Emily Thomas all looked good for a short time but couldn’t stick it out and when Rosie Wilson delivered a double-wicket maiden in the 17th over it looked like the pendulum had swung Didsbury’s way. Trinity finally got home with three balls to spare with numbers nine and ten at the crease.

Didsbury’s first team, who are surely the only women’s club team in the country to have entered five different competitions this year, are still a good bet for silverware in the remainder of the season. They are unbeaten in Division 1 of the league’s 40 over competition and it is likely only one win from the remaining three matches will be required to clinch their first Championship title.

CWCL Senior Knockout Plate:

Upton 120-6 (20; Charlie Scudder 28ret) BEAT Stockport Georgians 82-7 (20; Maddy White 19ret, Phillipa Dagger 2-8, Hannah McGowan 2-10)

Upton’s imposing total proved too much for their fellow Division 2 side. Maddy White did her best in reply for as long as she could, thrashing three fours in the first over, but shortly after she admitted defeat with her injury, and then none of her team-mates could match her score of 19. Instead it was some excellent bowling from the likes of Phillipa Dagger, Hannah McGowan and Madi Arthur that brought the trophy home for Upton.

In the two seasons since the team was formed, the North Wirral club have now scooped three trophies, after winning Division 3 and the Development Knockout last year. This year they are still in contention for the second division title in a very tight five-horse race.

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PREVIEW: Kia Super League 2019 – KSL Goes Forth

By Raf Nicholson & Syd Egan

So here it is: the fourth and final season of the Kia Super League gets started on Tuesday, with Thunder v Vipers, Lightning v Storm and Diamonds v Stars – the latter live on Sky Sports at 7pm prime-time, which fans should make the most of, with Sky scheduled* to broadcast just six regular season matches this year.

Once again, the KSL promises to be a great competition, with some of the best players in the world, including Australia’s Alyssa Healy and India’s Jemimah Rodrigues [pro tip: it’s pronounced “rod-reeks”] making their Super League debuts.

Unlike the fourth season of Blackadder, no one will have to stick a pencil up their nose or wear their underpants on their heads… but sadly just like when Blackadder went forth, one thing is guaranteed: everybody will die in the end.

Lancashire Thunder

Last Season: 4th

Kate Cross (c), Georgie Boyce, Natalie Brown, Danielle Collins, Sophia Dunkley, Alice Dyson, Sophie Ecclestone, Ria Fackrell, Alex Hartley, Eve Jones, Harmanpreet Kaur, Emma Lamb, Sune Luus, Tahlia McGrath, Ellie Threlkeld

The Thunder have always been the team that have most consistently given good opportunities to their local players; and having missed out on Finals Day by a whisker last year, they have kept faith with their core of Lancashire county “pros” – the likes of Eve Jones, Emma Lamb and Ellie Threlkeld, who if you cut them would all bleed red.

They will be accompanied on the field this year by an “interesting” overseas contingent – Harmanpreet Kaur played arguably the greatest innings in history in that World Cup semi-final against Australia in 2017, but there is a reason her name is so often accompanied by the word “mercurial”; while Tahlia McGrath has never been more than a fringe player for Australia; and Sune Luus, despite standing in as captain recently while Dane van Niekerk was injured, is still struggling to really find a role for South Africa as more of a batting allrounder, since she started to struggle with her bowling radar a couple of years back.

The signing of Sophia Dunkley, who was the leading run-scorer in the Women’s County Championship, is a good move for both parties – Dunkley will get an opportunity to bat higher up the order than she had at Surrey Stars, with a view to making a case to England coach Mark Robinson ahead of selections for a winter which includes the T20 World Cup in Australia; while Lancashire could use her power hitting in a batting lineup that has perhaps at times looked a little too classical for the shortest form of the game. [SE]

Loughborough Lightning

Last Season: 2nd

Georgia Elwiss (c), Amy Jones, Abi Freeborn, Kathryn Bryce, Jenny Gunn, Jo Gardner, Tara Norris, Kirstie Gordon, Alice Monaghan, Georgia Adams, Lucy Higham, Sarah Glenn, Hayley Matthews, Chamari Atapattu, Mignon du Preez

The Lightning won the league stage of the competition last season, but flopped in the final as their overseas batting stars failed to fire. None of those overseas return, though in Sophie Devine’s case this was through injury rather than by choice; but the Lightning have taken advantage of a change in the regulations on overseas from non-ODI status nations to recruit four overseas this season – Scotland captain Katherine Bryce, who is a student at Loughborough University; T20 World Cup winner Hayley Matthews; Sri Lanka’s Chamari Atapattu; and the massively underrated former South Africa captain Mignon du Preez – expect the hard-running du Preez to shore up the middle order, allowing Matthews and Atapattu the freedom to play their shots around her.

Of their England players, Amy Jones will be desperate to put a disastrous Ashes campaign behind her and score some runs in the relatively lower-profile environment of KSL; Kirstie Gordon will be keen to lay down a marker that her 2018 season, when she led the list of wicket-takers, was not just a one-off; and Georgia Elwiss will be keen to catch Mark Robinson’s eye for the “Jenny Gunn” role for England this winter; while… talking of whom… Jenny Gunn herself will want to go out on a high, if indeed (as rumoured [Edit: and denied]) this proves to be her last season before retirement.

If all of them play to their potential, Loughborough have every chance of making finals day again; but it is a big if, and if not, it might just put too much pressure on what is a slightly inexperienced second-string to really challenge in 2019. [SE]

Southern Vipers

Last Season: 6th

Tammy Beaumont (c), Danni Wyatt, Tash Farrant, Suzie Bates, Stafanie Taylor, Amanda-Jade Wellington, Charlie Dean, Maia Bouchier, Lauren Bell, Carla Rudd, Paige Scholfield, Thea Brookes, Marie Kelly, Issy Wong, Fi Morris

CRICKETher tipped the Vipers to win the Super League last year, which wasn’t quite a prediction they lived up to – after a good opening-day win against Surrey Stars, the wheels came off and what we’d thought was a sleek sports coupe finished the season looking more like a clown car.

For 2019, all-but half of last season’s 1st XI have been shipped out, or retired in the case of England veteran Arran Brindle; with England prospects Lauren Bell and Maia Bouchier coming into more front-line roles as a result. Bouchier opened the batting and the bowling for Hampshire in this season’s County Championship, and looked to be thriving on the responsibility; while Bell will be looking to build on the solid start she made to her professional career last season, coming into the starting XI as a replacement for the injured Katie George, which included bowling an unplayable first-over maiden to a bemused Lizelle Lee against the Surrey Stars at Hove.

The Stars won that game at Hove with 3 balls to spare, as they scrapped their way to Finals Day, but when the two teams met again in a warm-up last week, the tables were turned as the Vipers posted 130-7 before bowling the Stars out for 83, which could be a good omen for the season ahead. Much though will depend on the form of Suzie Bates. Bates has stepped down from the captaincy in favour of Tammy Beaumont, but she remains the Vipers keystone player – if she has a good season, the chances are they will. [SE]

Surrey Stars

Last Season: Winners

Nat Sciver (c), Aylish Cranstone, Gwenan Davies, Grace Gibbs, Amy Gordon, Eva Gray, Hannah Jones, Marizanne Kapp, Lizelle Lee, Laura Marsh, Bryony Smith, Rhianna Southby, Sarah Taylor, Dane van Niekerk, Mady Villiers

After scraping through to Finals Day by the skin of their teeth last season, Stars surprised everyone by going on to win the final against the previously dominant Loughborough Lightning. That victory came courtesy of a brilliant century from Lizelle Lee, who was probably re-signed on the spot for the 2019 season, having proved herself capable of pulling a big innings out of the bag when it mattered most.

In fact all of the the South African triumvirate of Lee, Dane van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp are back at the Stars this year – a good move from the club, who maintain the services of the best death bowler in global T20 cricket.

Losing Sophia Dunkley to Lancashire Thunder will have been a blow (and not a decision that Surrey were happy with, by all accounts), but the move may give some of their other young batsmen a chance to take on the lower-order big-hitting role, with Mady Villiers in particular looking to prove that her England selection was more than just a flash-in-the-pan. Surrey have also signed Gwenan Davies, the Warwickshire keeper, on the back of a strong showing in Warwickshire’s triumphant T20 Cup campaign. That probably suggests that they are not expecting Sarah Taylor (who played all but 1 match last season) to feature this time around.

Overall this is a strong squad who will do well, but I think they might find themselves pipped to the post when it comes to reaching Finals Day. [RN]

Western Storm

Last Season: 3rd

Heather Knight (c), Anya Shrubsole, Fran Wilson, Freya Davies, Smriti Mandhana, Rachel Priest, Deepti Sharma, Danielle Gibson, Ellie Mitchell, Claire Nicholas, Sophie Luff, Naomi Dattani, Amara Carr, Sonia Odedra, Alex Griffiths

Storm are the only team who have been present at all 3 Finals Days, and they are likely to maintain that 100% record this time around. With last year’s breathtaking display of dominance from Smriti Mandhana, the only thing that stopped Storm retaining their title was her enforced absence from Finals Day: this time around, she is expected to be present for the whole competition.

Rachel Priest will once again open the batting with Smriti, while their third overseas is a new signing, Smriti’s India teammate Deepti Sharma, who replaces Stafanie Taylor after she underperformed with the bat last season (admittedly given less opportunity to do so in the face of The Smriti Show). Despite not being the most well-known player, Deepti is currently ranked second in the ICC’s ODI all-rounder rankings (behind only, yes you’ve guessed it, Ellyse Perry), and could prove a genius signing by the Storm.

They also have some exciting new domestic players joining their ranks, including 17-year-old leg-spinner Ellie Mitchell – who joined the England Academy in November – as well as jobbing county pro Sonia Odedra, who continues to shine for Nottinghamshire and will add all-round strength to their squad.

Meanwhile opening bowler Freya Davies, having at last been rewarded for her consistency in the KSL with a full England contract, will be looking to send a strong signal to Mark Robinson that she deserves more opportunities at international level. Anyone who’d bet against Storm reaching Finals Day probably hasn’t been paying enough attention. [RN]

Yorkshire Diamonds

Last Season: 5th

Lauren Winfield (c), Katherine Brunt, Alice Davidson-Richards, Katie George, Linsey Smith, Hollie Armitage, Alyssa Healy, Jemimah Rodrigues, Leigh Kasperek, Helen Fenby, Katie Levick, Bess Heath, Beth Langston, Cordelia Griffith, Georgia Davis

Diamonds have traditionally been the underdogs in the KSL, finishing in fifth place in all three of the previous editions of the competition, but somehow they seem to have pulled it out of the bag in the final season with some top-notch overseas signings. That includes Aussie wicket-keeper Alyssa Healy, who has a claim to being the best T20 batsman in the world right now after winning the Player of the Tournament award in November’s World Twenty20.

Alongside Healy the Indian 18-year-old Jemimah Rodrigues will be making her KSL debut, having launched her international career to great fanfare only 18 months ago. Leigh Kasperek, meanwhile, comes in as their third overseas, a last-minute replacement for Chloe Tryon. The off-spinning all-rounder will feel right at home, having represented Yorkshire in the Women’s County Championship for the last two seasons.

Mark Robinson clearly retains belief in Katie George, who was recently bumped up to a full England contract; it will be interesting to see how she gets on “up north” after sitting out of much of last season for Southern Vipers, as well as the first half of this, with recurrent injuries. However, with home-grown talents Katherine Brunt, Katie Levick and Beth Langston ready to do their thing, perhaps she won’t be needed.

One other exciting signing is Cordelia Griffith, who joins the Diamonds after a great premier 50-over domestic season for Middlesex which included a century against Somerset. Griffith missed out on selection in 2018 after representing Stars in the first two seasons of the tournament, but now has a great opportunity to make her case for a contract in next year’s new semi-pro set-up.

I love a good underdog success story, so maybe I’m being sentimental here, but I reckon that this could just be the Yorkshire Diamonds’ year. [RN]

Predictions

Raf:

  1. Yorkshire Diamonds
  2. Western Storm
  3. Southern Vipers

Syd:

  1. Southern Vipers
  2. Western Storm
  3. Surrey Stars

——————–

* At time of writing, Sky’s cricket schedule shows just 6 KSL matches through August.

Women’s County Cricket Day: A Reflection

The man behind Women’s County Cricket Day, Richard Clark, reflects on the campaign.

I never expected Women’s County Cricket Day to have a massive impact. I hoped maybe it would encourage a few cricket lovers to take an interest in the women’s game, perhaps even watch a match or two, but there was no serious expectation beyond that.

If it has achieved anything then that is largely down to the support of Syd and Raf, plus Martin Davies at Women’s Cricket Blog and Don Miles at Women’s Cricket on the Net, who threw themselves into it wholeheartedly.

Support came most notably too from Sam Morshead at the Cricketer, Dan Norcross of TMS and Tanya Aldred at the Guardian, as well as others. Thank you, folks.

And thank you to the people in the Shires – far, far too many to list individually – for embracing this idiot who you’d never heard of but who for some unfathomable reason wanted to champion your game. It’s been a pleasure getting to know so many of you just a little.

My original intention at the start of the season was to just support Worcestershire as often as I could, but as the campaign gathered pace and support began coming in from all parts, I realised that was too narrow – I was hearing from all these people involved in the game and I wanted to find out more.

So I’ve found myself at North Maidenhead, at the picturesque Milford Hall CC, at Brixworth, with its intriguing ‘barn conversion-style’ pavilion, briefly on familiar territory at Kidderminster and New Road, and finally in the heart of the Quantocks at Wombat.

I’ve seen Staffordshire beat Derbyshire in a match that ebbed and flowed every bit as much as last Sunday’s, I’ve watched Northamptonshire romp to a 9-wicket win over the Netherlands in a winner-takes-all title decider, and I’ve bitten my nails as Worcestershire pulled off a tense run-chase against Somerset (who will probably be glad to see the back of me!) I could not have enjoyed myself more!

I’ve seen stars of the game dominate (Heather Knight’s century against Worcs was as outstanding as it was inevitable) and unheralded youngsters perform exceptionally under pressure (take a bow, Meg Austin of Staffs).

Not necessarily by design, I’ve watched all my cricket in the lower Divisions. Perhaps there’s a bit less pressure there, a little less intensity, away from the top level where those battling to gain, or hold onto, international recognition are fighting to get themselves to the head of the queue under more severe scrutiny. Perhaps that makes it more FUN? And that’s not to detract or demean in any way – there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the game!

Meeting and speaking to people from all over the country, the same recurring themes have come up time and again.

Commitment, passion and a sense of community.

The time and energy players, coaches, parents and oft-maligned administrators put into the game – without hope, expectation or desire for any kind of “reward” beyond doing representing their county and doing something they love – is incalculable and invaluable.

I could give you so many examples – Hayley Brown at Northants speaking about how much it meant to the team to play at County HQ the week before and the team’s sense of achievement in winning five out of five in Division 3B, or Lisa Scott at Northumberland of her pride in her daughter Lizzie’s five-wicket haul against Scotland are just two that spring to mind.

I sat quietly and listened to a conversation between a group of parents at Wombat on Sunday. Only after a good few minutes did I twig that they weren’t all on the same side, but they were talking about shared experiences and friendships both as parents themselves, and from their daughters’ point of view. It hadn’t occurred to me before this season the extent to which the game – particularly perhaps in the lower divisions – is one big family.

But you know all this.

And now it’s over? My over-riding feeling is that we are losing something which matters to a lot of people. Something which counts. Something which may be a bit off the beaten track, and which some might have you believe “doesn’t contribute to the pathway”, as the modern jargon has it, but which has value all the same. I think that’s a pity, I think it’s unnecessary, and I think it’s avoidable.

But what do I know…?

MATCH REPORT: Devon Take The Spoils As County Cricket Signs Off

Richard Clark reports from Wombat CC

The simple story of this match is that Devon beat Somerset by 2 wickets. But that really is just the simple story, because there was so much more to it than one team beating another.

It may not quite have “had everything” in the way that a certain other match taking place on Sunday seemed to, but it had “most things” needed to make a compelling tussle, and as a final instalment – if that is what it was – in the story of the Women’s County Championship it did the game proud.

There was, of course, nothing at stake. Tell that to the players, though! Local pride is never to be sniffed at, and for Somerset’s part they were clearly eager to secure the six points required to climb above Worcestershire and out of the notional “relegation” zone.

Arrival at Wombat CC – a beautiful setting, and tremendously proud and enthusiastic hosts on the day – brought a scene to encourage any cricket lover. Yes, both teams warming up with the gusto one might expect ahead of the opening game of a new season, but also a lively All Stars session in full swing, with around 20 youngsters enjoying the warm sunshine

And those children would have a role to play shortly afterwards as they lined up for a guard of honour for the Devon team and the two Somerset openers as they took to the field. A lovely touch, the loveliest of touches.

The early stages gave little indication of any drama in store. Skipper Sophie Luff and Nicole Richards settled in, picking off the odd boundary and rotating the strike, whilst Devon were guilty of helping them along with a (un)healthy dose of wides. At 61 for none in the fifteenth over all was going swimmingly for the home side.

Enter Charlie Phillips with her gentle spin, first inducing an edge from Richards to Amara Carr behind the stumps, and then two balls later trapping Rebecca Odgers LBW for a duck. 61 for 2, and Somerset would never quite regain the control of the game that they looked to have during that initial period.

But Luff was still there and ticking along nicely. Along the way, she tucked Sophie Florides into the leg-side to move to 23 and in doing so passed Bryony Smith to become the leading run-scorer for the season across both forms of the game.

However, Phillips would prise her out on 30 with one that perhaps bounced a touch more than expected and took a top edge to lop up to Georgia Hennessy at slip, and then Hennessy repeated the dose at midwicket to claim Nat Wraith off Becca Silk. Somerset now 90 for 4 and in one of those could-go-either-way positions.

Emma Godman and Niamh Holland added 28 for the fifth wicket, but both went in the space of a few balls and from there the innings petered out somewhat. With more than seven overs unbowled Somerset were dismissed for 137, collecting just two bonus points, and meaning that they would almost certainly need to win the game (or take nine Devon wickets) to collect the points needed to lift themselves above Worcestershire.

The visitors began their reply in bullish style, Hennessy driving Georgia Tulip through extra cover, and then straight, for two picture-perfect boundaries in the opening over, but Tulip had her revenge soon afterwards as Hennessy feathered the ball through to Wraith to depart for 9. Game on?

Carr joined Claire Varcoe in the middle and the pair batted as fluently as any batsmen had all day, adding 41 for the second wicket. Both hit sixes – Carr depositing hers into the adjoining tennis courts – and for a while the match seemed to be heading inexorably Devon’s way until Luff turned to Richards, whose second over threw a major spanner in the works.

First Carr, who had looked utterly untroubled, attempted a sweep and was pinned in front for 16; two balls after that Emily Edgcombe picked out Godman at midwicket; and then from her second ball Olivia Churcher went the way of Carr for another duck. Three in five balls. 58 for 1 had become 58 for 4. Inexorable had become anything but.

And drama became crisis when, having watched all this unfold from the other end, Varcoe, on 28, then tickled the very next ball from Tilly Bond into Wraith’s gloves. Four in six balls. 58 for 5.

In hot water all of a sudden, Devon needed a cool head, preferably two of them. Rebecca Halliday and Milly Squire provided stability for a while, adding 18 for the sixth wicket before Richards picked up Squire for her fourth wicket. 76 for 6. Edgy stuff, this…

Once again a partnership developed as Becca Silk joined Halliday for 20 precious runs. Silk accumulated intelligently, whilst Halliday found the boundary from time to time, but with 42 still needed Niamh Holland found the perfect yorker to rattle her stumps and swing it Somerset’s way once more.

Luff rang the changes with her bowlers, but Silk and Phillips continued to collect the singles and Devon’s target came down, run by run. For a match that had nothing of any significance riding on it this was seriously gripping stuff. With 19 needed, Wraith claimed her third victim as Phillips edged Jodie Filer behind for 6. 119 for 8.

Yet again, a partnership, as Silk and Amanda Higginbotham stuck at their task, and this one would take Devon home pretty much one run at a time. Somerset did nothing wrong, there were no loose deliveries, no horrendous misfields, nothing handed to Devon on a plate. They had to work for every run.

To Tulip fell the honour of delivering the final ball in “official” Women’s County Cricket, and to Higginbotham the pleasure of swinging it out to deep midwicket and running through for a single. And that was that.

Silk deserves a mention here. A bowler by trade, her 15 wickets saw her finish as one of four joint leading wicket-takers in the Championship, but her batting won this day. Before the match her highest score in competitive county cricket this season was 5 (although she has a career top score of 40). Carrying her team to victory with 28 of the coolest and calmest unbeaten runs you could hope to see made her my player of the match.

That apart, one could pick at the bones and examine where the game was won and lost, the little things here and there that add up to make a difference, but somehow it feels irrelevant. It was a cracking match, and that’s all that needs to be said.

Somerset skipper Luff was philosophical afterwards. “It’s always challenging defending a below-par score. We back ourselves to defend anything but we probably missed two key bowlers yesterday. We didn’t quite have that fire power to bring back on to try to finish Devon off.”

On her own success with the bat, Luff added, “Personally it’s been a decent season, there have been a fair few times when I haven’t gone on and gone big and that’s been frustrating. You always want to be better, I guess. But in the majority of games I’ve led from the front and that’s something I really pride myself on.”

“We’re a very young group and I’m desperate to lead by example at the top of the order. Ultimately the way I played in a number of the T20s was down to the way we performed as a unit with the ball – chasing down less than a run a ball allowed me to take responsibility opening up the batting.”

Luff also expressed pride in the team’s T20 Division 2 triumph.

“I’m super proud of the girls for the way we performed in the T20. To finish top of the table is a fantastic achievement for this young group. They deserve that success and recognition and it’s been a complete team effort throughout that competition.”

Of the youngsters in the Somerset squad, Luff picked out Holland as one to watch for the future.

“Niamh is only 14 and has shown just what she is capable of at senior level. A genuine all-rounder, she’s been a great find with the ball for us this year. Having worked with her over the winter as her coach, to step on the field with her as her captain has been a real highlight. Seeing how she’s developed has been really pleasing.”

“Representing Somerset means an awful lot. It’s something I’ve done since the age of 12. It’s been a huge part of my life and to captain the team over the last couple of years has been a real privilege. Playing in what may be the last ever match is something I’ll probably look back on in years to come, and it’s fitting that it was against Devon. It’s always a close contest and a game I’ve always looked forward to over the years. Amara and I have played against each other for as long as I can remember so for us both to be out there as captains shows the journey within the county game. We’re great friends and I think that’s definitely a special element of county cricket and what it offers.”

Carr echoed Luff’s thoughts on the County game.

“County cricket over the years has opened up a lot of opportunities in the women’s cricket pathway and enabled me to experience different challenges along the way. I started my county cricket career as a shy 13-year old where women’s county cricket was the only cricket really available and I’m finishing having captained my home county for many seasons.”

“It’s exciting to see how much the women’s game has developed even since my childhood and all the opportunities it now has to offer young girls. I feel very proud to have been a part of the process and playing alongside some of the younger girls who I’ve since coached and seeing them playing their own part has been very rewarding.”

MATCH REPORT: Oxford University v MCC at Lords

By John Skinner

There was a mixture of trepidation and excitement as the teams lined up for the photocall in front of the historic pavilion on Tuesday prior to the MCC match with OUWCC.

Oxford Uni v MCC

Under leaden clouds the MCC lost early wickets before the sun glimpsed through, whilst Claire Taylor (41) and EM Porter (20) repaired the early damage with a stand of 68.

There were three wickets apiece for A Hearn, EA Harbourne and CE Dack, ably backed up by ME Bouchier and AVB Skinner. Quality bowling led to three of the top five MCC order falling without scoring and being in difficulty at 25-4 and 41-6, before the class of the former England captain told, helping the MCC to a defendable total of 127. The Oxford fielding was exceptional at times, as was that of the MCC later, including two catches of the highest standard.

Oxford started cautiously, building a stable base through the openers by the break. A century opening partnership and a huge 6 from Bouchier settled any nerves there might have been in the student camp. Bouchier, the Southern Vipers and Hampshire player, fell for 82 after brutally dispatching the MCC bowlers to various parts of the ground. Her partnership with VM Picker saw the Dark Blues home by 9 wickets to cap a memorable day, where every player did themselves justice.

PREVIEW: Women’s County Championship 2019

By Raf Nicholson & Syd Egan

With a radical restructure on the cards for next year, the 2019 Women’s County Championship is set to be the last in the current format, which has been running since 1997, when it replaced the old Women’s Area Championship.

The purpose of the restructuring is to strengthen the top tier, but ironically Div 1 looks the strongest it has been for some time – there are no obvious “easy games” and any one of these teams could end up champions… or relegated – albeit academically, as the restructure won’t take into account this year’s positions in determining the membership of the new (semi) professional top tier from 2020.

Predicting the eventual winner feels like a fool’s errand. Could last season’s champions, Hampshire, do it again? Or the previous winners, Lancashire? Or Yorkshire, who came second by a combined total of just 5 points in both of those seasons? What about Kent, who have won it 7 times? Or Sussex with 6 titles? And don’t rule out Warwickshire (who came third in 2016 and 2017), Notts or Surrey!

(But if predictions are what you really want, you’ll find ours at the end!)

Hampshire

Last Season: Champions

Whether Hampshire can replicate their astounding performance last season, whereby they leapt straight from promotion to the top of the pack, remains to be seen. They were fortunate to emerge the winners in several very tight contests last season, and will once again be heavily reliant on last year’s leading Division 1 run-scorer Suzie Bates at the top of the order (who will be MIA for the first 3 rounds, playing in the Women’s IPL in India). Having said that, 18-year-old Charlie Dean – following her promotion to the Senior Academy in October 2017 – came into her own with the bat last season, and after another winter at Loughborough will be looking to replicate that in 2019. New captain Katie George will be fit for the start of the season (she has been out in India training with the Academy), which will be a bonus. Overall, it will certainly be an interesting test for new head coach Charlotte Edwards, who confirmed just this week that she has stepped away from a playing role, having enjoyed that final championship-winning “hurrah” in 2018. [RN]

Squad:  Katie George (C), Fi Morris (VC), Suzie Bates (WCC only), Sam Betts (T20 only), Maia Bouchier (from Middlesex), Ella Chandler, Providence Cowdrill, Clover Crosse, Charlie Dean, Ariana Dowse, Lucia Kendall, Naomi Lynch, Alice Monaghan, Tilly Callaghan, Dani Ransley, Mel Story, Charlotte Taylor, Emily Windsor.

Kent

Last Season: 3rd

After winning the championship in 2016, Kent lost Charlotte Edwards and Suzie Bates to Hampshire, and narrowly avoided relegation the following year. In 2018, they did better – finishing 3rd, but some way off the pace set by Yorkshire and Hampshire, having struggled for runs. In this respect, the recruitment of Fran Wilson from Middlesex is definitely a smart move; and if England let Tammy Beaumont play the full season that’ll help too. Bowling is less of an issue – Megan Belt led them with the ball again last season with 18 wickets across both formats (why, oh why hasn’t anyone given her a chance in the Super League?) and Grace Gibbs has a bright future ahead of her, having hopefully fully recovered from the horrific freak knee injury she sustained in the KSL last season. The key to it all for Kent, though, is all-rounder Alice Davidson-Richards – she was outstanding last season, as she rode the high of becoming an England player for the first time; but now that England seem to have decided to go with other options, can she refocus mentally and accept a possible future as “just” a very good county player? If she can, and she brings her A-game with both bat and ball, Kent will be challenging for a top spot in 2019. [SE]

Squad: Tammy Beaumont (C), Alice Davidson-Richards (VC), Megan Belt, Laura Marsh, Izzy Cloke, Phoebe Franklin, Jenni Jackson, Molly Davis, Lauren Griffiths, Hannah Jelfs, Lottie Bryan, Fran Wilson (from Middlesex), Tash Farrant, Grace Gibbs, Chelsey Rowson

Lancashire

Last Season: 4th

After winning the championship in 2017, Lancashire slipped back into the pack last season. This season, they’ve signed Georgie Boyce, who scored a hatful of runs last year for Notts, to strengthen a batting line-up that already had two of the top 3 batsmen in the County Championship’s “Never Played For England XI” – Eve Jones and Emma Lamb*. Their front-line bowling attack, led by Kate Cross, Sophie Ecclestone and Alex Hartley, is second-to-none – though their second string are a bit weaker than some, and they will definitely feel the absence of Ecclestone while she is at the Women’s IPL. Overall, if you are a Lancashire fan, you can freely hope… but it is probably best not to necessarily expect[SE]

[* Kirstie White is the other… since you asked!]

Probable* Squad: Eve Jones (C), Natalie Brown, Georgie Boyce (from Notts), Jess Couser, Kate Cross, Rachel Dickinson, Alice Dyson, Sophie Ecclestone, Alex Hartley, Laura Jackson, Emma Lamb, Nalisa Patel, Ellie Threlkeld

[* Squad not announced at time of writing]

Nottinghamshire

Last Season: 6th

Notts escaped relegation last season by the skin of their teeth, and while they will be relieved to still be up in the top flight, they now have the challenge of competing against the other Div 1 teams with a broadly similar squad to 2018. They have lost Academy player Georgie Boyce to Lancashire (following her move to Thunder for the 2018 KSL), which will be a worry given that she was their second-highest run-scorer in the 2018 season. The meteoric rise of last year’s leading wicket-taker Kirstie Gordon is also a double-edged sword, given that England players are often unavailable for at least some Championship matches. However, Scotland’s Sarah Bryce (who featured in last year’s ICC Global Development Squad) is a good “buy”. Interestingly, they have also secured the services of New Zealand keeper-batsman Polly Inglis, who will no doubt be looking to make a mark with an eye to future selection for her national side. [RN]

Squad: Sarah Bryce (from Scotland – WCC only), Megan Burton, Jodie Cook (Dibble), Amy Gauvrit, Teresa Graves, Yvonne Graves, Kirstie Gordon, Jenny Gunn, Lucy Higham, Megan Hodkinson, Hannah Hughes, Polly Inglis (OS, NZ), Sophie Munro, Sonia Odedra, Rachael Potter (from Oxfordshire), Rebecca Widdowson

Surrey

Last Season: Promoted (2nd in Div 2)

Having worked their way back into Div 1 via a long-term rebuilding project, Surrey have the kind of solid, home-grown heart which every great team needs – unlike some sides, you don’t feel they are totally dependent upon their “big” England player, Nat Sciver, who will be playing in the Women’s IPL in the early part of the season anyway. Hannah Jones – who officially takes over the captaincy this season – is the bellwether for a new generation who have the potential to go on to do amazing things. “Potential” though is the operative word here –  it is probably still 2 seasons too early for them to really fulfil their promise – England Academy and Training Squad members Amy Gordon, Eva Gray and Rhianna Southby are the future, but not quite yet the present. Surrey will win some games, but they will likely lose some too, and the real question is how those young players will respond and grow as a result. [SE]

Squad: Hannah Jones (C), Mary Ali, Charlie Bawden, Kira Chathli, Priyanaz Chatterji, Aylish Cranstone, Amy Gordon, Eva Gray, Dani Gregory, Jasmine Jones, Beth Kerins, Laura Sandy, Nat Sciver, Bryony Smith, Rhianna Southby, Alex Travers, Kirstie White

Sussex

Last Season: Promoted (1st in Div 2)

On paper, you look at Sussex and think: how on earth did this team ever get relegated to Div 2? (The answer is it was by the squeakiest of squeaks – 3 teams had a 3-4 win-loss record that season!) But they did… and they bounced straight back up as Div 2 winners. With 5 current England players, on paper they look very strong; though there are a couple of injury question marks there, and of course Danni Wyatt will be missing for the first half of the season at the Women’s IPL. Though they’ve got their share of younger players coming through the squad – the likes of Ella McCaughan and Ellie Robinson (yes, that name does ring a bell – she’s the daughter of current England coach, Mark) – they have also got the likes of Georgia Adams, Chiara Green and Carla Rudd, who should all be entering their peak years as county “pros”… albeit unpaid ones! I’d back Rudd in particular to shine this season after a change of scene, having come back to her childhood club Sussex after 8 years at Berkshire. [SE]

Squad: Georgia Adams (C), Ellen Burt, Izzy Collis, Freya Davies, Georgia Elwiss, Chiara Green, Nancy Harman, Beth Harvey, Cassidy McCarthy, Ella McCaughan, Tara Norris, Ellie Robinson, Carla Rudd (from Berkshire), Paige Scholfield, Linsey Smith, Sarah Taylor, Ella Wadey, Lucy Western, Danni Wyatt, Hollie Young

Warwickshire

Last Season: 5th

Warwickshire’s big signing ahead of this season is an England all-rounder with nearly 90 caps across a 10 year career… who will not pick up a bat or bowl a ball! The answer to this riddle is Laura MacLeod, who took up her post as Warwickshire’s Director of Women’s Cricket last October. If the County Championship was awarded to the nicest team in England, Warwickshire would have won it a few times recently – how can you not love a team that includes The Kelly Gang (Marie and Sian), Amy Jones, Kathryn Bryce and (when the occasion presents itself) Sophie Devine? MacLeod’s challenge will be to add some cold, hard steel behind the nice – something one of those aforementioned players, Amy Jones, seems to have found a way to do for England recently. If Jones can bring just a bit of that mettle back to Brum this season and share it around, things could be looking up for the Bears in 2019. [SE]

Squad: Marie Kelly (C), Eve Alder, Thea Brookes, Kathryn Bryce, Jess Couser, Laura Crofts, Gwenan Davies, Georgia Davis, Nyah Edwards, Bethan Ellis, Ria Fackrell, Jo-Anne Gardner, Milly Home, Amy Jones, Amelia Kite, Anisha Patel, Emily Perrin, Liz Russell, Issy Wong

Yorkshire

Last Season: 2nd

Once again last season Yorkshire were just pipped to the post on the final day, failing to catch Hampshire on bonus points – after finishing twice two years running, they’ll be hoping to avoid a similar fate this time around. New Zealand’s Leigh Kasperek is returning to the mix, having taken 15 wickets in the 2018 season. That should strengthen a bowling line-up which was already one of the strongest in Div 1, featuring county stalwarts Katie Thompson and Katie “Secret Weapon” Levick, who last season became the leading wicket-taker of all time in the WCC. They are also joined by Abby Freeborn, who may well take the gloves ahead of Lauren Winfield, allowing the opener to focus on pinning down her spot in the England XI ahead of this summer’s internationals. [RN]

Squad: Hollie Armitage (C), Katherine Brunt, Hannah Buck, Leah Dobson, Abby Freeborn (from Sussex), Elise Good, Beth Langston, Katie Levick, Leigh Kasperek (OS, NZ), Alex McDonald, Charlotte North, Ella Telford (from Lancashire), Katie Thompson, Jess Watson, Lauren Winfield

Our Predictions

Syd

The last two championships have been won by teams newly promoted from Div 2, and I’m backing Sussex this season to turn that stat-trick into a hat-trick. In doing so, Sussex would draw level with Kent on 7 all-time championship wins, which seems a fitting place to end things between the two great rivals of the tournament’s history, both of whom look likely to not exist next season.

Raf

In what is almost certain to be the last version of this iteration of the Women’s County Championship, I’d love to see Warwickshire take home the title. They’ve come agonisingly close to winning on several occasions, but have never quite brought home the bacon – so I’m going to take a leap of faith and say they will finally manage it in 2019!

Div 2

Teams: Berkshire, Wales, Devon, Durham, Essex, Middlesex, Somerset, Worcestershire.

Having been relegated from Div 1 by only the narrowest of margins, and then gone on to win the T20 Cup, Middlesex looked clear favourites to stroll through Div 2 this season. Their loss to Essex in the opening game was therefore something of a shock, but the smart money will still be on them to come out on top at the end of the season and win back “moral” promotion to Div 1, where they are expected to be playing anyway next season as part of the restructure.

Among the challengers, Essex made the early running with that win against Middlesex; whilst Berkshire will be hoping they can put on a better show this season than last season’s 5th place, though this will partly depend upon the availability of Heather Knight and new signing Anya Shrubsole. Meanwhile Rachel Priest-powered Wales will be aiming to replicate the form that saw them promoted last year to Div 1 in the T20 Cup, and provide a platform for their presumed step up to the big-leagues on the back of their Hundred franchise in 2020.

SPONSORED FEATURE: SM Cricket UK Launch Expanded Women’s Range – Designed By Women For Women

SM Cricket UK have launched a range of new women’s cricket equipment as part of their signature Heather Knight Collection, including pads, gloves, bats, wicket-keeping gear, bags, balls and teamwear all designed specifically for women’s and girls’ bodies.

It makes them the only company in the country to offer a full range of kit that is designed especially for women and girls.

SM Kit

The range has been launched after extensive feedback from female cricketers spanning a whole range of abilities. As a result SM Cricket have produced a lighter, brighter, and more comfortable range of cricket equipment with zero compromise to the quality of their products.

The range is already in use by England players Heather Knight and Kirstie Gordon, as well as former Scotland captain Abbie Aitken and Academy players Danielle Gibson and Ria Fackrell.

SM Heather Knight

SM Cricket UK pride themselves on offering top quality kit that is made to last, be comfortable and have a great fit for girls and women who might otherwise struggle to find appropriate sized kit for them. Their women’s bats, for example, come as light as 2lb 6oz with a super shock absorbent handle and extra thick edges to enhance the sweet spot.

SM Bat

In addition to playing equipment, SM Cricket UK also offers a fantastic range of teamwear, again appropriately sized for women and girls’ bodies, with a variety of custom designs in as well as to the opportunity to create bespoke teamwear. They are also offering free delivery for the whole month of April, using the code FREEDELIVERY on all orders over £30.

The full range is available here.

Women’s and girls’ clubs can also sign up for SM’s Club Cash Builder Scheme, which is a great way to raise money for your club. Clubs can sign up for free to earn back 20% of all sales generated by club members on SM branded goods. You can find out more here.

The aim is to expand the Heather Knight Collection next season based on a survey of female cricketers in the UK, which will be launched in the coming months – look out for a link to this on the CRICKETher Twitter.

The Heather Knight Collection: Designed By Women, For Women.