OPINION: The Wisden Five – An Alternative View

By Richard Clark

Syd’s piece yesterday on the non-selection of a woman among Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year for 2021 raised some interesting points. However, I’m not entirely sure I agree with him.

It’s true that 2020 was a summer like no other, and that editor Lawrence Booth’s choices could quite reasonably have followed some ‘left-field’ thinking. In fact, even in normal circumstances, the selection of Georgia Adams (maybe less so Stafanie Taylor) might have been justifiable given her outstanding batting and leadership for Southern Vipers. Equally, though, I feel her non-selection can also be justified.

Like many, I’m sure, I felt that little pang of disappointment on Wednesday night, but this is not about Adams or Taylor. It’s about the wider question Syd asked yesterday – is the women’s game on a par with the men’s… or not?

The timeline of ‘The Five’ and Women’s cricket is an interesting one. No woman was chosen until 2009 (Claire Taylor) despite England having won World Cups in both 1973 and 1993. One wonders how long and hard the respective editors of the time pondered selections from those winning teams – I reckon I know exactly how long!

Bizarrely, from our vantage point now, even our 2009 Double World Champions saw nobody honoured – Taylor had been selected for her achievements in 2008.

Prior to the 2018 Almanack (that’s just three years ago!) only two women had EVER been chosen. Think about that for a moment – TWO! 2017 changed all that, of course.

The selection criteria have always been unique – influence on or excellence in the previous English summer, the fact that you can only be chosen once, and that it is in the editor’s gift. There is no other award in cricket – possibly in any sport – quite like it. Its mystique is precisely therein – as a Worcestershire supporter (apologies for digressing into ‘The Other Game’ briefly!), my fascination with ‘The Five’ was cemented by the selection of Alan Richardson in 2012, but you can’t tell me he was quantifiably one of the five best players in England the previous year.

Richardson’s selection is interesting, though, in the context that it was purely related to domestic cricket. Jamie Porter, Simon Harmer, and now Darren Stevens, have been picked on similar grounds more recently. Women’s domestic cricket in this country, contrastingly, had virtually no public profile until the advent of the KSL in 2016, less than five years ago.

In that context, the suggestion of someone like Georgia Adams even as a potential recipient is a sign of huge strides. In the longer term I hope that more players from the domestic game can force their way into the conversation, and onto the final list. Is this to say we should be grateful for what we get? No, but it is to emphasise the huge differences in profile historically between the men’s and women’s games. And although Wisden has been a very positive influence in shifting those sands, the differences – whilst shrinking – undoubtedly remain.

Despite the selection of women becoming a regular occurrence in recent years, I’m not so sure that this sets – or should set – an unbreakable precedent. The notion that there has to be a woman each year feels awkward. What if nobody genuinely merits the accolade, and the editor is left scrambling around for a name – any name – to fill the blank space?

Similarly, how would we have felt had Booth only been ‘allowed’ to pick one woman from England’s 2017 World Cup winning team? Three felt right, of course it did – anybody reading this probably wouldn’t have quibbled at all five – but being limited to just one?

Nor am I convinced by the idea of a separate ‘Women’s Five’. My own personal view is that anyone being chosen now is up there at the peak of the game, rather than being dismissed or ignored by many as a level (or more) below because they were ‘only’ on the women’s list. Let the dinosaurs rage, let the debate rumble, but at least let’s have that debate and use it as a tool to keep pushing.

I want any woman chosen to be there for absolutely the right reasons, rather than having the ‘token woman’ asterisk beside her name. And to repeat, this is not about Georgia Adams, Stafanie Taylor, or anybody else from the 2020 season.

If that means there isn’t one then so be it, and conversely should it mean all five are women, so be that too. 2022 – Ecclestone, Goswami, Jones, Levick & Raj – you read it here first!

—————-

Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

INTERVIEW: Scotland Coach Mark Coles – “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be playing in the T20 World Cup on a regular basis”

Mark Coles speaks to Jake Perry about his appointment as the first full-time head coach of the national women’s team.  

The new year has brought new beginnings for Scotland with the appointment of Mark Coles as the first full-time head coach of the national women’s team. The New Zealander, who succeeds Steve Knox, arrives with an impressive pedigree which includes two years at the helm in Pakistan.

“I’m extremely excited,” he said. “I’m very humbled and privileged to be given this opportunity.”

“I’ll obviously be doing a lot of listening and observing for the first little while to get an understanding of what’s required and the expectations of the players, and then [we’ll look to] build something around that.”

“I’m just looking forward to getting to Scotland and getting stuck in.”

After high-performance roles with Western Australia, Wellington and Northern Districts – coaching a Wellington Blaze team that included then-Scotland international Leigh Kasperek to the New Zealand Women’s T20 title in 2013 – Mark was given leave from Waikato Valley to join Pakistan in September 2017.

An initial engagement for a single series turned into an extended stay in which he oversaw a dramatic improvement in the culture and fortunes of a side that had been left in disarray after its winless campaign at the 2017 Women’s World Cup. Getting the inside line on the Scottish game will be his first priority, but Mark is also clear about the way in which he sees his new team developing.

“For me it’s about finding a style of cricket that suits Scotland,” he said. “When I first went to Pakistan it was exactly the same. It’s finding what works for Scotland – not trying to emulate Australia or England or New Zealand or whoever, but a style of cricket that suits our players.”

“I’d like to think that that’ll be a positive style of cricket, but I think that’s really important, finding the style that suits the players, that you can have some fun with and be brave with and then look to win games with.”

“Wherever you go in the world, every team is stronger in some aspects than others, so it’s about putting it all together in the melting pot, finding out what suits us and then working really hard with it.”

With the European Qualifier for the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup fast approaching, this will be a crucial summer of cricket for a side that, along with many of its peers, has lost more than a year of its development thanks to the global pandemic. But while the immediate task will be to regroup and refocus, the ultimate goal is still plain.

“The success of Thailand is a great example of what can be achieved and of what Scotland should be aiming for,” said Mark. “They found their own style – they were very quick in the outfield, they were quick between the wickets and they bowled accurately. They weren’t the fastest bowlers in the world, they weren’t the biggest spinners of the ball in the world, but they found the style of play that suited them and they just got really good at it.”

“Scotland has produced some absolutely amazing cricketers over the years, and there’s no reason at all why we shouldn’t be playing in the T20 World Cup on a regular basis.”

——

Jake Perry is the author of The Secret Game

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket

DEEP DIVE: Women’s County Cricket In 2021

By Richard Clark

Good news arrived late last week with the announcement* of the ECB County T20 Cup fixtures for 2021, as devoted fans of the weekly CRICKETher Vodcast will doubtless have noted.

(* It should not go un-noted that describing it as an “announcement” is over-egging things hugely. The fixtures appeared on Play Cricket, much like Mr Benn’s shopkeeper, ‘as if by magic’, and it is hard to escape the feeling that enthusiasm at ECB Towers for women’s county cricket and the promotion thereof is thin on the ground. Be that as it may, however…)

Having been granted a stay of execution for 2020 and 2021, last summer’s competition was mothballed initially – and ultimately cancelled – as a result of the Covid pandemic, and there had been some concern that impetus for one last fling might be lacking after a two-year gap, so it’s pleasing to see those fears allayed. The virus still holds us in its grip, of course, but let’s be optimistic and assume for now that county cricket will be played – and watched – in 2021!

The schedule looks a little different from the last T20 Cup in 2019 (and the abandoned 2020 campaign), when the format mirrored the 50-over competition in being based on three Divisions, with the lowest level organised into three regions. This time around the structure is wholly regional, based around six Groups of six teams (five in one case), and with no suggestion of a play-off system or similar to decide an overall champion.

The reasons for this are not explicit, but it is probably safe to assume that minimising costs such as travelling and overnight stops is a major factor, whether by edict from the ECB or at the request of the counties themselves. Either way there is some sense behind the change, even if it is not quite ideal in other ways.

Matches will take place over four consecutive weekends – Sunday 25th April, Monday 3rd May, Sunday 9th May, and Sunday 16th May. Once again the format is based almost exclusively around the tried and tested ‘triangular’ fixtures with three counties meeting at a single venue – the home team playing first and last – although one fixture in the North Group each week will be a straight back-to-back double-header with that Group consisting of only five teams.

Whilst the set-up works in allowing as many matches to be played as possible, it does have flaws in being limited to the four-week window.

Not everyone will play everyone else twice. In fact, some counties will not meet others at all. In the South East Group for instance, Surrey play Essex, Kent, Middlesex and Sussex twice each… but won’t cross swords with Hampshire at all. One wonders whether an extra round of fixtures could have been a simple solution to that…?

There are also some geographical anomalies. As Syd noted on the Vodcast, his beloved Berkshire have relocated to the West Midlands. So have Somerset. And Wales. To make the journey from Berkshire to Wales along the M4 one travels south of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, yet those counties are in the South West Group. And Somerset will hike through Gloucestershire to reach parts of the West Midlands. Meanwhile, Shropshire is now in the East Midlands, despite being further West than four of the West Midlands counties.

Again the reasons for this can only be guessed at, but the suspicion must be that it’s an attempt to “level up” the competition. Somerset, for instance, might have proved too strong for a South West Division containing five counties which plied their trade in Division Three last time cricket was played. If you read this and feel tempted to shoot the messenger, by the way, (a) it IS only a guess, and (b) I didn’t compile the Groups!

Some Groups will be stronger than others – if this was a World Cup we would no doubt be talking the South East up as the proverbial “Group of Death”, whereas the East Group comprises traditional Division Three counties only. My advice would be not to let that fool you, however – if it turns out to be anything like 2020’s inaugural East of England Championship then some treats will be in store from those less heralded teams. The 50-over competition there took in six matches, and four of them were settled by one run, one wicket, two wickets and on a super over respectively!

One wonders about the North Group – Yorkshire and Lancashire up against North East Warriors (Durham and Northumberland combined), Cumbria and Scotland ‘A’. At the risk of encouraging more messenger-shooting that doesn’t necessarily look like the most level playing field for one or two teams, particularly if England players are available to the Roses pair.

And that brings us on to another unknown – will England players be involved? The timing of the competition is such that it would seem to provide an ideal warm-up opportunity ahead of the international summer, but the England hierarchy may feel there is more to be gained in ‘intensive’ training camps. We shall see.

On top of this, of course, we should see ‘unofficial’ 50-over competitions later in the season too. Surrey’s website confirmed the return of the London Championship for a second season at the same time as revealing their T20 fixtures, and the East of England Championship will also be back, with Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire joining Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire & Norfolk from last season in a ringing endorsement of its success.

Hopefully many other counties will look to play friendly matches, or maybe even follow the lead set by others and form their own regional competitions.

And finally – Women’s County Cricket Day will be back! No date set yet, but we can confirm that it will be one of those four ECB T20 days. Look out for further announcements in the New Year!

Full Fixture List here (select required Division from the drop-down menu):

ECB Women’s County Championship (play-cricket.com)

——–

Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

MATCH REPORT: Diamonds Do The Sparkling v Sparks

Richard Clark at Edgbaston

Diamonds dominated their clash with Central Sparks at Edgbaston, ultimately cruising home by nine wickets after Lauren Winfield-Hill (72) and Hollie Armitage’s (54*) opening stand of 139 had driven a coach and horses through the home side’s sub-par 144 all out, an innings holed below the waterline by a superb five for 20 from Katherine Brunt.

The Yorkshire pair got off to a confident start in their chase and were well ahead of the rate throughout, as Sparks strived for much-needed breakthroughs that never came. None of Sparks bowlers could stem the steady flow of runs and by the second sanitisation break after 12 overs, Diamonds were already almost halfway to their target on 61 without loss.

Issy Wong bowled with the sort of pace that earned her a call-up to England’s recent bio-bubble training camp, but there were seven wides in her five overs and England coach Lisa Keightley will want to find the key to ironing that out without compromising the sharpness that saw both Diamonds openers distinctly hurried now and then.

The spinners came in for particular treatment, Sarah Glenn and Anisha Patel conceding 71 between them in ten overs, but that was largely a consequence of the freedom afforded the batsmen by their dominance of the situation.

Winfield-Hill, especially, looked in good form, driving cleanly through the offside before cutting loose – adding to her nine boundaries with two lofted shots for six over mid-off once past her half-century – whilst Armitage played with intelligence in her supporting role. Even Nat Sciver hit the only ball she faced through cover-point for the crispest of fours, as if to emphasise the ease of the visitors’ win.

Edgbaston was an eerie place at the start of play with its vast, cavernous stands devoid of spectators, and the surreal feeling was added to by a distinctly off-centre pitch which meant a boundary of no more than 40-yards on the Western side of the ground, whilst the rope on the Eric Hollies side must have been close to twice that. Frankly it was not a good look for a tournament being marketed widely as important for the women’s game in this country, and a match being live-streamed. Perhaps this, then, was one occasion when we should be grateful for fixed cameras…

Sparks’ day started well enough. The Joneses – Eve and Amy – made steady progress to 30 without los after seven overs from Brunt and Beth Langston, but they perhaps lacked the fluency that Winfield-Hill and Armitage would later demonstrate, and Diamonds protected that shorter boundary well with disciplined line and length before Brunt had Eve Jones (15) caught behind from one that climbed a little off a good length, and then Langston enticed Marie Kelly (4) to drive loosely to Brunt at cover to leave the home side 41 for 2.

Gwenan Davies joined Amy Jones and would play Sparks’ best hand of the piece, with 33 from 42 balls. Sensibly aggressive against Katie Levick in particular, she mixed defence and attack well, and at 75 for 2 after fifteen overs the pair were setting a decent platform at a good rate until Jones tried to go over mid-on but could only pick out the safe hands of Alex MacDonald. A rash shot that didn’t need to be played at that time, it exposed the middle and lower order when another ten or more overs of accumulation were called for.

Thereafter Sparks… ahem… lost their spark as the scoring dried up. Tellingly, there were just three more boundaries in the remaining 23 overs, and when Brunt returned for her second spell she did so with positive relish. The four over burst yielded four for eight – three of them clean bowled – as Sparks slumped from 123 for 4 to 144 all out, which would prove to be nowhere near enough.

Sparks return to Edgbaston on Monday to take on a Thunder side buoyed by their opening day win against Lightning, whilst Diamonds host Lightning at Chester-le-Street. By Monday evening the North Group could already be a two-horse race, or it could be neck-and-neck between all four…

—————-

Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

VIRTUAL MATCH REPORT: CRICKETish Cup Glory for Fenby & Co As Warriors Weave their Magic

By Richard Clark

With “real” county cricket in abeyance, we got together with @WomensCricDay, @WomensCricBlog and WomensCricket.net to run the CRICKETish Cup – a virtual women’s cricket competition played in cyberspace!

On a thrilling night at Lord’s, North East Warriors carried off the inaugural Cricketish Cup, defying the odds to defeat favourites Surrey by just two runs!

Division 1 newcomers Warriors had already taken the scalp of Sussex in the semi-final and repeated that underdog victory as Laura Ellison defended 7 off the last over in a nail-biting climax.

Surrey had looked in control as Sophia Dunkley (19) and Aylish Cranstone (18) took them within 25 runs of victory with more than four overs left, building on the foundation laid by Bryony Smith (29) and Nat Sciver (25), but both were dismissed in the space of five balls and the Surrey lower order couldn’t find a way over the line from there.

Skipper Hannah Jones took two off each of Ellison’s first two balls to leave her side needing four from four, but when she fell lbw two balls later it left Rhianna Southby to find a boundary off the final ball. She could only find Lizzie Scott at midwicket and the trophy was off to the North East amid huge celebrations.

Earlier, openers Laura Hockaday (21) and Layla Tipton (22) produced another solid opening partnership of 44, only to be dismissed off consecutive deliveries, and when Warriors subsided to 74 for 5 after the unfortunate run out of Ami Campbell for 13 they looked in danger of falling short of a challenging score.

However, youngster Ciara Boaden (30) more than made up for her part in Campbell’s departure as she marshalled the lower order expertly and helped set a target of 131 for Surrey to win.

Jones took three wickets for the Oval side, but the pick of the bowlers was undoubtedly Beth Kerins with 2 for 13 off four miserly overs.

Warriors backed up an excellent fielding display in the semi-final with similar vigour here as they threw themselves at everything to keep Smith and Sciver from cutting loose. There were two wickets each for skipper Helen Fenby, Bailey Wanless and Lizzie Scott who finished as leading wicket-taker for the competition with eight, whilst Tipton topped the run-scoring charts with 108 across the three games.

The Player of the Match Award, meanwhile, went to Boaden for her excellent innings and two fine catches to oust Sciver and Cranstone at critical moments.

So the Trophy travels up to the North East, and it may stay there permanently if rumoured plans to play real cricket again one day come to fruition…

MATCH REPORT: Diamonds v Vipers – Rodrigues’ Class Propels Diamonds To Last-Gasp Victory

Richard Clark at York Cricket Club

Yorkshire folk, given any opportunity, will tell you their county is special.  That may or may not be true.  If it’s not, though, there was certainly ‘something’ in the Yorkshire air on Sunday afternoon.

Whatever that ‘something’ was it carried Ben Stokes on its wings, and 30 miles or so away in York it carried Yorkshire Diamonds’ Jemima Rodrigues as well.

The prospects were as promising for the Indian youngster as they appeared to be for Stokes.  Propelled out of the blocks by Danni Wyatt (42 off 20 balls), kept going by Suzie Bates (47 off 39) and Tammy Beaumont (33 off 29), and finished off by Maia Bouchier (23* off 13) and Amanda Jade Wellington (24* off 12), Southern Vipers had just amassed 184-4 off their 20 overs.

This after being inserted by Lauren Winfield, who knew that it was her side’s only hope of claiming the bonus point win essential to any lingering hopes of reaching Finals Day.

Convention has it that you need a good start in a hefty chase.  What you definitely don’t need is to lose one of your openers to the second ball, Winfield skying Tash Farrant high to the inrushing Bates at cover.

Every cloud, however…

The early loss brought Rodrigues to the crease.  Her first KSL campaign had begun quietly, but 178 runs in her previous four innings – for just twice out – suggested a player in form, and she set about illustrating that.

With Alyssa Healy dominating both the strike and the scoreboard, Rodrigues settled quietly.  A dot, followed by a single, and then a boundary from her first three balls, and she was off and running almost without being noticed.

By the end of the fourth over she had still only faced those three balls, but now Healy was out, and Hollie Armitage was there for company.  Time to step up.

A boundary in the fifth over, two more in the sixth, another in the seventh.  But this was calculation and precision, rather than muscle.  The partnership with Armitage would garner 90 runs from 54 balls, only eleven of them dots and three of those from Armitage’s first four balls as she played herself in.  Orchestrated by Rodrigues, the pair found the gaps and pushed the ones and twos, always keeping the scoreboard moving.  An object lesson in T20 batting.

Armitage fell with the score on 118.  By that stage, Rodrigues had reached her half-century from 26 balls.  Nine fours had been hit, every one of them off the middle of the bat.

So far, so good, but could she deal with a crisis?  Bess Heath departed second ball, and the Alice Davidson-Richards in the next over.  Diamonds batting order has not been noted for its durability this season but in Leigh Kasperek, Rodrigues now found an able accomplice.

Five boundaries, including her only six, came off the next two overs.  Lofted effortlessly over mid-off it cleared the rope by a distance.  Four overs to go, and from nowhere only 36 required.

Now it began to get a bit tricky.  With Rodrigues visibly tiring in the 30-degree heat, Vipers returned to their pace bowlers in an attempt to give her the “hurry up”.  It worked to a point – after a boundary off Bell’s first ball, only seven runs came from the next eight balls.

Then, the shot of the day, and probably the only one Rodrigues played that could be considered in any way unconventional – an inadvertent head-high full toss from Farrant upper-cut over the keeper for four more.  Given that singles by this point were being run as if wading through treacle in boots of lead, the clarity of mind to deal with the delivery so adeptly was remarkable.  It took her to 96.

More singles, and perhaps a stroke of luck?  Another full toss – this time from Bell – perhaps did take her by surprise a little and was slapped/slogged high to Paige Scholfield at mid-off.  Already, though, the umpire’s arm was out for the no ball and instead of walking off Rodrigues ran through to move to 99.

Bell went on to complete a hat-trick of sorts, having Kasperek “stumped” off the subsequent free hit, and then legitimately caught next ball.  Rodrigues was still one short of her century and Diamonds needed 15 off ten balls as Linsey Smith strode to the middle.

Having crossed with Kasperek, Rodrigues reached her century with the simplest of pushes into the off side, calling Smith through for the single to spark a prolonged standing ovation from all corners.

The job was still there to be done, though.  Four more runs were taken from the remainder of the over and Diamonds needed ten off six, with Rodrigues on strike and Bates set to bring all her experience to bear with ball in hand.

It needed at least one boundary, not least because one doubted Rodrigues’ ability now to run up and down ten times, and she found it from the second ball of the over, turning the ball behind square and beating the fielder on the rope.  Not for the first time, awareness and perfect placement coming to the fore.

Still, a dot followed, and it was down to four from three.  Rodrigues manoeuvred the ball to long on and looked to be settling for the single until Smith, realising the need for her partner to get back on strike, virtually implored her to come back for the second.  Logic said the England spinner should have been going for the danger end, but Vipers were alert to Rodrigues’ exhaustion and threw to the keeper.  I don’t know how Rodrigues got there, it’s likely she doesn’t know either, but as she sprawled head-long for the crease the one man whose opinion mattered said she did.

It would have been appropriate – romantic, even – to finish with a boundary, but a single was all she could find, so it fell to Smith to push the final ball of the match up to mid-on where a fumble allowed the run that settled the game and brought more applause, and this time cheers too.

The numbers say that Rodrigues hit 112 not out off 58 balls, with 17 fours and a six.   She led her team to a four-wicket win, the highest successful chase in KSL records and the second highest chase in ANY Women’s T20 fixture.

Her score was the second-highest individual score in the KSL’s four seasons (behind Bates’s 119 for Vipers v Lightning in 2017), and at 51 balls it was the quickest of the six centuries scored in the competition (four balls faster than the previous record held by Lizelle Lee).

It was also the second highest individual score by any player in a Women’s T20 chase, behind Wyatt’s 124 for England in India 18 months ago, the only higher successful chase.

She played just ten dot balls, and not once did she play two consecutively.  She scored off 30 of the last 34 balls she faced.

But numbers alone never tell a story.

She didn’t hit the ball, she persuaded, cajoled and caressed it so that it did as she wished at every turn.   The way she seemed to move from 50 to 90 in particular, almost without hitting a shot in anger, yet still accumulating fours and scoring at close to two runs per ball, was akin to a conjuring trick.

Apart from the two no balls that produced the upper-cut and the ‘slap’ that saw her caught she didn’t play one shot that didn’t come straight from the coaching manual.  Her driving through the off-side was magisterial, her ability to pierce the in-field and bisect the boundary-riders on either side forensic, her knack of picking up a run almost every ball uncanny, her maturity and focus when patently running on fumes admirable.

Oh, and by the way, Jemima Rodrigues is 18 years old.

——–

Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68

Thanks to @_hypocaust for the stats!

MATCH REPORT: Carlton Romp To Victory In Beyond Boundaries Women’s Scottish Cup Final

Jake Perry reports

——

Carlton 126 for 3 (R Willis 60, F Gardee 2 for 6) beat McRea West of Scotland 85-7 (R Hawkins 34, G Henderson 2 for 14) by 41 runs

Carlton claimed the Beyond Boundaries Women’s Scottish Cup after an imposing all-round display in the Final against McRea West of Scotland. A magnificent partnership of 106 between Ruth Willis and Abbi Aitken-Drummond, backed by two wickets each for Samantha Haggo and Georgia Henderson, was enough to take their team to a comfortable 41-run victory in Stirling.

Carlton had begun the day by posting 180 for 3 in their 136-run Semi-Final win over George Watson’s College, but on the expansive lower pitch at New Williamfield runs initially proved harder to come by. West of Scotland opening bowlers Rachel Hawkins and Faatima Gardee conceded only 10 between them from the first three overs, and when Heather Tait (7) was bowled by Gardee off the second ball of the fourth, Carlton, at 10 for 1, were in need of a foothold on the game.

It came via the experienced Scotland pair of Aitken-Drummond and Willis. Although the deep-set boundary and slow outfield made the rope difficult to find in the early stages of the innings – a terrific lofted drive over the top from Aitken-Drummond providing a notable exception – the two set about building the total with a fine display of running between the wickets.

Willis, fresh from her unbeaten 80 in the Semi-Final, was in excellent touch again as she raced past 30 in a combination of twos and threes, while Aitken-Drummond began to find the boundary with more regularity, bringing up the fifty partnership with a towering six over deep backward square off the last ball of the tenth. With Carlton 63 for 1, it was now West of Scotland who were feeling the pressure.

Still the runs came, and in the 15th over Willis brought up her second half-century of the day with a crunching drive to the rope past mid-off. Both perished before the end – Willis (60) lbw to Maryam Faisal (1 for 7) and Aitken-Drummond (41) was bowled – but Carlton’s closing total of 126 for 3 looked above par nevertheless.

Not that West of Scotland had been left without hope. A half-century from Rachel Hawkins had proved the difference in their Semi-Final win over Stirling County, and the Scotland all-rounder was fast out of the blocks again as she took 12 from the first over. Three quick wickets in the third and fourth put the batting side on their heels, however, and when Hawkins herself fell, caught by Heather Tait off the bowling of Georgia Henderson for 34, it struck a blow from which they would never recover.

The West’s remaining batters fought hard, Maryam Faisal leading the way with a battling 14, but victory was confirmed to give the Edinburgh side victory in the showpiece knock-out event for the third time in their history.

“I’m just delighted for everyone in the team to be honest,” said winning captain Ruth Willis. “It’s been a really hard season, much of which has been played without our Scotland players, and it’s so pleasing to see the team come through and do well.”

“It’s a real testament to the hard work that our coach Caleb Whitefoord and interim captain Ellie Hird have put in throughout the year, and a huge part of our victory today is down to them. It’s fantastic for the girls and you can see how delighted they are.”

In the Third Place Play-Off, Becky Glen’s 41 and an unbeaten 37 from Lois Wilkinson helped Stirling County chase down 124 against George Watson’s College with more than four overs to spare to add the finishing touches to a day which was a tremendous advertisement for women’s cricket in Scotland.

——

Jake Perry is a cricket writer based in Scotland.

Twitter: @jperry_cricket / Facebook: Jake Perry Cricket

KSL: Thunder v Lightning

Martin Saxon reports

——

Loughborough Lightning 157-7 (20), Lancashire Thunder 74-6 (13.4). Lightning win by 35 runs on D/L/S

Once again Lancashire Thunder went down to a heavy defeat when playing at Old Trafford. This was the fifth occasion on which they had played on Manchester’s Test ground, and the first four resulted in defeats by 95 runs, 33 runs, seven wickets and 55 runs. This one can certainly be added to that list, with Thunder a long way behind on Duckworth/Lewis/Stern when the umpires took the players off.

All but one of these five matches have been televised and three were double headers with men’s Blast games, so Lancashire’s elite women’s team really haven’t made the most of their ‘showcase’ matches. That said, here the crowd was well down on the 875 who attended the only other standalone Thunder match at Old Trafford, which was back in 2016. We’re so used to women’s cricket moving forward that sometimes we need to remind ourselves that things can sometimes go in the opposite direction. The previous results at ‘headquarters’ may have put off some Lancashire CCC members from attending tonight?

Thunder enjoyed an almost perfect powerplay at the start of the match but nothing went their way thereafter. Those who have played or managed any sports team that hits a bad patch will know the feeling, and even if you enjoy some periods of being on top, things always seem to go wrong in the end.

After the first five, Loughborough Lightning’s batting line up did not look fearsome, on paper anyway, so when a wicket for Kate Cross in the second over was followed by one for Sophie Ecclestone in the third it seemed this might be Thunder’s day. After two early wickets, Chamari Atapattu chose to dig in initially, then the moment she played an attacking shot she top edged a catch.

Lightning were 18-3 after six overs and few would have expected them to post a daunting total, but they managed to score at almost 10 per over thereafter. Things started to go wrong when Alex Hartley came into the attack – sadly this World Cup hero is not enjoying the best of times of late. KSL rookie Alice Dyson also bowled some nervy overs where she struggled to find her length, and this helped to give Lightning vital momentum.

Georgia Adams may not have hit the headlines with big scores, but those who follow the tournament closely may have noted that she had only been dismissed once. Her 50 from 33 balls with three sixes is possibly her career highlight to date. Georgia Elwiss was second top scorer with 38 and Kathryn Bryce made 32 from 18 balls, adding 82 in seven and a half overs with Adams.

Ecclestone’s 15 dot balls from 24 deliveries and overall figures of 3-17 was yet another demonstration of her world class talent, and while she may have taken some punishment in her final over, Cross’s 2-23 was also a fine effort. The other Thunder bowling analyses were less than perfect though.

Tahlia McGrath hit two sixes and a four in the fifth over, but then contrived to hit a rank full toss to mid off in the next, even though it took a fine one handed effort from Atapattu to dismiss her. Sophia Dunkley was then sent back to the pavilion two balls later as Loughborough started to get on top.

Sune Luus played some impressive strokes but her 30 runs were made at less than a run a ball, and Harmanpreet Kaur struggled for 15 balls before departing for just seven.

Kaur’s dismissal at 65-3 after 11 overs marked the point at which the required rate hit ten per over, and this was probably the point at which Thunder lost hope. 16 balls later the score was 74-6 and the innings was showing every sign of ending with a whimper when the weather brought about an early finish.

Kirstie Gordon finished with 3-18 and Hayley Matthews with two wickets for one run, and Thunder also struggled to score against Sarah Glenn and Elwiss.

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

Martin Saxon reports

——

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.

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.